My Cat Is Ruining My Credit

Pets are very expensive.

I was working from home when I noticed my cat squatting in the corner of the living room. She was sitting on her haunches, staring off into space, making the same little chirping noises I sometimes hear emanating from the litter box when she’s doing her business. After a moment she got up, sniffed the floor, and scratched her nails across the hardwood like she was trying to cover up something that wasn’t there. She paced around the room for a moment before finding a new spot and repeating the process.

I knew immediately she had a UTI. She’d had them before, but not for years. I used to buy her a special brand of wet food which was supposed to keep crystals from forming in her urine, but they stopped making it a few months ago and I switched over to the regular stuff, hoping for the best. She seemed to like it just the same. Now, sitting at the new dining room table I’d assured my girlfriend I could afford to split with her (I couldn’t), I looked across the room as Rico strained in the corner, obviously uncomfortable and confused, and knew the depth of my failure as a pet owner. When she got up this time, she left two small bright red dots on the floor.

I texted my girlfriend. “Rico has a UTI. I’m taking her to the vet.”

My mom had warned I didn’t know what I was signing up for when I volunteered to take the cats after college. My roommates and I were only supposed to have been watching them for the year, but graduation rolled around and we learned Buster and Rico’s owners weren’t coming back for them. I knew what happens to three-year-old cats when you drop them off at the Humane Society — and they definitely don’t get adopted. Nobody else wanted to take them though, so I said I would.

“They’re going to complicate things,” mom said. “Pets are expensive. You won’t be able to travel if you want to.”

“I hate traveling,” I said. “It’ll be fine, Mom. They’re just cats.”

10 years later and of course, she was right.

I love Buster and Rico, though. A lot. I spent a fair amount of my 20s living alone, and in winter, when the sun’s already been down for an hour and a half by the time you get home, having something else that’s breathing in the apartment greet you at the door can be the difference between glass of wine before bed and a bottle.

Animal people get it. Your pets see you at your worst — when you’re unemployed, angry, sad, not returning friend’s calls — but they never look at you any different. They never hesitate to jump on your lap and push their head into your chin, or let you squeeze them a little tighter than they would probably like when you’re reeling after a bad interview or break up. So you don’t begrudge them that you have to pick their crap off the floor every once in a while despite having literally just cleaned out the box.

But they’ve ruined my finances, as most things that cannot take care of themselves (babies, I assume) tend to do. When you’re 22 and thinking, “Hey, having cats around would be pretty cool,” you’re not thinking about how much cat food and cat litter are going to add to your financial obligations. Per month, turns out those two things alone are the equivalent of one of my student loan payments.

A vet visit at the minimum is going to set you back $200. Just walk through door, and you’ve (if you’re me) already spent more on the cat than you have on your own health in the last two years combined. While I have (and hate) to admit I haven’t taken my pets to the vet as often as I should — jury’s still out on whether indoor adult cats really need annual vaccinations — peeing blood hopefully isn’t one of those things you have to Google the experts’ opinions on. You just get out the cat carrier and go.

The vet’s office was cold, and we were soaked after an unexpected downpour walking from the train. Few animals like the vet, but since Rico has only gone every couple of years, the environment is especially foreign. It certainly doesn’t help that the last time she was here, it was to get her lower jaw wired together after my old roommate accidentally stepped on her head getting out of the shower. He paid the lion’s share of the $4,000 bill for that surgery, and I spent the next month and a half feeding her through a tube in her neck every two hours.

Once we got in the exam room, Rico stayed in her carrier. The veterinary assistant was nice and soft-spoken as I went through Rico’s history — I was obviously as anxious about all of this as the cat. Eventually, the vet came in and we pulled Rico out for the exam. They had to do a urinalysis to check for an infection. That would be $350. The vet also prescribed a painkiller to help with Rico’s discomfort ($50), muscle relaxant to relax her sphincter ($50), and wipes to use on her “recessed vulva” — something I was not aware was she had or could have. The exam and waste disposal fees came to $200. They wanted to do blood work, as well as vaccines, which would come to another $350, forcing me to make the dreadful admission that I am a Bad Pet Owner.

“I can really only afford to pay for things directly related to the UTI right now,” I said, looking down, but what I was actually saying — and what the vet and veterinary assistant were telling me with their kind, warm, understanding faces — was “I’m prioritizing money over my cat’s health. Despite being almost 32, I am not capable of taking care of this living being, which is not fair to her, because she is unable of taking care of herself. I am irresponsible for taking on this responsibility a decade ago when I was too young to possibly know what I was getting into. The idea that ten years later, I don’t have a spare $350 dollars to spend on my own health, much less my cat’s, points to something deeply wrong with my person.”

They kindly and warmly said of course they understand.

Out in the lobby, the person at the front desk billed me for all of the charges, which I had to put on my credit card, as I don’t have any savings. (Temping, freelancing, or a $32,000 annual salary as a copywriter don’t exactly leave you rolling in the dough when you’re paying New York City rent prices.) The real gut punch was that the only reason I had $650 free on a credit card at all is because I had recently transferred $2,000 of my $8,000 debt onto a new interest-free card in an attempt to pay it down. I knew opening up a new card would further hurt my already dismal 500-range credit score, but I figured I could at least make some progress on my negative net worth in the next year. My cat’s urinary tract ended up having other ideas.

A few days later, the urinalysis came back, and Visa had to front me another $350 to cover an antibiotic shot and more vet fees. My girlfriend, who loves the cats more than I do, insisted on helping to cover the bills, but still, my net worth went further into the red. So much for paying it down. Rico also needed to be put on prescription wet and dry food, which will cost a combined $120 per month for the rest of her life. She’s peeing fine now, though, and sleeping next to me, snoring softly, as I write this.

Unfortunately, Buster, the other cat, is developing a very bad rash on his leg and belly, so I’ve also got a tab open researching credit cards with zero or low interest introductory periods.

Drew Salisbury is a writer living in Brooklyn who can be read daily at Death and Taxes. Follow him on Twitter at @raisedinthecity.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.