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Posted in Articles by BCR | 65 comments

Buy A Big Cat

How much is that “kitty” in the window?


If you are thinking it might be really cool to have a big cat as a pet, take a few minutes to consider the costs.  But first check out the slideshow to see what it means to the cat.  Most people think the cost of the cat is the big expense, but that is just the beginning. (Although keep in mind that statistics show that 98% of the exotic animals bought as pets die in the first 2 years.)

We have 100+ cats representing 16 species and eleven years of experience in caring for them so our estimates can be trusted as pretty accurate, if not conservative.  It is cheaper by the pound for us to buy 17,000 pounds of meat at a time than for you to buy a week’s worth for one cat.  People have done it for less, but the cat suffers from nutritional deficiencies or physical and psychological impairment due to lack of space and opportunity to be a cat.  If you think these figures are high, just try and cut corners and see how huge your medical and subsequent bills will be.

Exotic cats range in price from a $900.00 Bobcat to a $2500.00 tiger cub.  Most of the mid size cats, like Servals and Caracals cost $1500.00 to $2200.00 and Ocelots can run as high as $15,000.00.  The more rare the cat, the higher the price.   Even though it may be a cute and cuddly cub right now, within the year it will reach almost it’s full size and will be spraying (no matter how young you neuter him or spay her) so you must have some things ready when the cat comes home.

You will have to have a Veterinarian on call who has already agreed to take care of your wild cat.  There are not very many with experience and fewer still who will want deal with the liability of having their staff exposed to your big cat, not to mention their regular clientele.  You will have to have a stainless steel squeeze cage that is capable of holding your cat at it’s max weight.  One of our tigers weighs 800 pounds and is 12 feet from nose to tip of tail.  A small squeeze cage will cost you 250.00 used and you could easily spend $2000.00 for one big enough for a lion or leopard.  You will need a forklift to move a tiger and they rent for $300.00 per day with an operator.  Even our vets, who do nothing but cats, and have done ours for many years, will not  bring a big cat into their office unless it is already confined to the squeeze cage.

How will you transport your cat to the vet for all of it’s yearly vaccinations, check ups and boo boos?  Even a little cat, in it’s squeeze cage isn’t going to fit into your compact car.  You will need a van and it has to be in tip top shape because being stranded on the side of the road in the middle of no where, or worse yet, traffic, with a freaked out wild cat in the heat, rain or snow is a nightmare of  extreme proportion.  Been there, done that and bought the $28,000.00 van to keep it from ever happening again.  If you are dealing in small to mid size cats you might find a dependable mini van for $15,000.00.  You can’t rely on borrowing one because believe me, when a cat needs emergency veterinary treatment it is always at the most inconvenient times.

Most states have cage requirements of varying standards.  In some states you must have no less than 5 acres if you want to own a big cat.  Acreage where I live is $75,000.00 per acre, but a lot of rural places near you may be as low as $10,000.00 per acre.  Most states and federal guidelines require then that you have an 8 foot perimeter fence which on 5 acres can easily run $8000.00.  You are not allowed to use this outside wall as any part of your cage, so your cage will be another $2500.00 for a small to mid size cat, like a lynx to $7500.00 for a lion, leopard or tiger.

You will need a roof to prevent escapes so consider in your design how you will support it.  These are just your first year, start up costs.  You will never be able to move with your big cat because the Captive Wildlife Safety Act prohibits moving big exotic pet cats across state lines.  Many progressive states are banning the practice of keeping wild cats captive and you could be investing tens of thousands of dollars and then when your pet dies you cannot buy another one.

Some costs keep reoccurring every year.  Good food and vitamins for a mid size cat will run you $730.00 per year and for a big cat closer to $2000.00 per year.  You have to be able to defrost it for them every day and 15 pounds of bleeding meat in your kitchen every day is a health hazard unto itself.  If your cat just gets it’s annual shots and doesn’t need any emergency care your vet bill will be about $127.00 to $250.00 depending on the size of the cat.  They have to be vaccinated every year for rabies and all the regular cat diseases.  Worming your cat every month, if you do it yourself will cost $45.00 to $60.00 and flea prevention costs $120.00 to $250.00 per year per cat depending on size.  You will have to learn a new trick every month for fleas and wormings as the cats hate both and can smell you coming a mile off.

Good Pets vs Bad PetsYou will need state and federal permits and if you have never dealt with these governmental agencies you are in for a life time of headaches and heart breaks that just won’t stop.  None of them want to deal with “pet people” and they will do every thing in their power to make you wish you had never brought home that little bundle of joy.  You have to pay for the privilege and  these licenses and dues can run you well over $200.00 per year.  If you don’t keep your permits up to date they can confiscate your cat and kill it.

These agencies will often require you to carry liability insurance and that can run you $1000.00 to $14,000.00 per year depending on your safety record.  Most homeowners insurance policies will cancel you if they find out you have an exotic animal and many states are purposely reporting your permit status to the public to make it easier for your insurance carrier to find out.  If you have a mortgage on your home, you have to have insurance and may not be able to get it, which means you could be foreclosed.

Some things are fun, like buying toys for your exotic cat, but you can’t buy them stuff on the racks because they will destroy and eat it and then you’ve got some major medical bills.  Our big cats like an indestructible ball that weighs 125 pounds and costs $250.00 including shipping.  The smaller cats can get along with a $50.00 ball, but that is just one ball and they need lots of things to keep them entertained.

All wild cats, neutered or not, male or female, will spray bucket loads of urine all over everything they wish to claim as theirs (including you) because this is how nature has taught them to guard territory. Having worked with 150+ cats, representing 23 species for nine years I can assure you that there is no way to prevent this behaviour.  Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t have a mature cat on their hands yet.  The reason I mention it here is that the urine is very caustic and will destroy their cage walls in a very short period of time, so you will be constantly rebuilding.  You don’t even want to know what it does to the sheet rock walls of your house or to wood.  Those trips to the vet will leave your car smelling like a sewer and nothing will get that smell out.

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Consider also that nature has hard wired exotic cats in such a way that once they are mature they no longer feel any love for their mother and if they run into her in the wild will kill her for the territory.  Even if you raised them with all of the love and nurturing that their natural mother would provide (and she would die to protect them) they will not feel love, nor respect for you as the parent when they are full grown.  Thousands of years of instincts tell them that you are competition and that their survival depends on them being solitary.

This is the most frequent email we get from exotic cat owners: “Hey, I’m really in over my head here!  I got this thing as an infant. I bottle-raised it. Everything was great. But I can no longer handle this cat. I cannot housebreak it. It tries to attack people. I just don’t know what to do with it.’” This was an actual quote about a Serval, but we have had hundreds of similar letters about every kind of exotic cat.

To sum it all up, you can expect to invest almost $22,000.00 your first year into owning a small to mid size wild cat and your annual expenses will cost you around $2300.00.  If you want the big cat experience, the set up cost is over $94,000.00 and the annual care is over $8000.00 IF you have no emergencies and no one gets hurt and sues you for millions of dollars.  Everything has a price and this is the price of doing right by the animal.  Are you really prepared?

Read what happens to all of the animals who don’t work out as pets HERE.


Real letters from real exotic pet owners:


Hi: I have two male servals, the oldest male who is five urinates and sprays all over the house (although he will use the litter box as well) What do you recommend to remove the smell of cat urine from my home, we have removed all the carpets and now have wood and ceramic tile, but the place smells horrible, I have tried soapy bleach, ammonia, and an enzyme product but cannot find anything that gets rid of the small. The house looks spotless alll the time, but just reeks. Can you help me out? I love my cats and never get rid of them for this reason, but I would like to cut down on the stifling odors. Thank you Cheryl



Thinking about a hybrid cat, like a Bengal Cat or Savannah Cat instead?  See what real hybrid cat owners say about it.


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  1. "I want" is so selfish and immature. As the owner of a cat rescue with various degrees in biology, i find that most people aren't even capable of taking care of a regular house cat, although they will tell you otherwise as they aren't fully educated about the animals' true needs. Yet, some "want" big cats?!? This is soooo scary to me! Too many children trapped in human adult bodies…

  2. What?
    Even if a wild cat is miraculously domesticated, it still has the natural instincts, even in small house cats, to hunt. Be it a playful act, the dangers are there, even kill by expressing theirselves in cat kind of way.

  3. If you want a big cat experience, why not take what you would spend in the first year, donate it to a wild cat rescue, and volunteer at the rescue. They need the funds, and the help. :-)

  4. I've wanted a bobcat for years now, and I didn't know how much it would cost, I was thinking about buying a 5 acre property in like Nevada, or something. But I didn't know it would cost that much. Wow, that's for saving me from a financial downfall

  5. What's scary is this guy wants a cheetah but cannot spell LEGAL

  6. Carole Baskin Im the one that started this, and I have to agree with big-cat rescue, however I would like to add something, I do know that 'owning' a big cat is not a responsible thing to do but short of ed-populating the areas in Africa where the big cats are in danger what can be done to assure that they do not disappear, altogether? The real problem in the 'stone-age 'goat herders' that keep killing off the cat's and taking the land they, (the cat's) need to survive. the second big problem is china, 95% of the pouching in the world can be layed at there door, and that will not change until the western world forces them to do something about it. as for me i'm all for de-populating Africa, and turning it into a large animal preserve.

  7. Okay, the current theory is that cats domesticated themselves, Yes, this is a thing. Wild cats would hunt the rats in the pyramids and around the temples. They just got used to the presence of humans. This can happen all the time with animals. The difference is, the Egyptians started putting human contact into the picture after the wild cats were already used to being around them. Call me an idiot, but there has been extensive research done on this subject.

  8. Kathryn Inez Streeby Youre and idiot. animals cannot "domesticate themselves."

  9. Own? We have such a messed up perception of ownership. Something that we did not create… its said. Work on protecting these great animals, ensuring they survive and thrive in the animal. not in a chain link fence. People used to and still do think its ok to own people. its just not right. Freedom, live and let live. We keep destroying creatures and habitats simply to satisfy our own wants, pleasures and desires with total disregard to ecosystems, locally and globally

  10. You're probably thinking of the domestication of today's house cat. House cats domesticated themselves in Ancient Egypt. No wild cat is domesticated. There is a difference between the word "domesticated" and the word "tamed".

    Humans have only tamed about 3 species out of the other millions that are out there. Horses, cats, and dogs.

    Domestication is when a species has gone through generations and generations of breeding and genetics while being selected for certain traits that are desirable to humans.

    Taming is a process in which a wild animal is subdued into adapting and submitting to a human's control.

    Huge differences.

  11. Thank you for your article. That is outstanding and honest. I think maybe it is even harder than you stated to own big cats, but you didn’t want to come across too strong or afraid it might turn people off.

    In my case, I want to raise Savannahs and Bengals. I had considered having a Serval to use for breeding purposes, but I’ve read on multiple sites about the urine spraying that is uncontrollable.

    I plan to have a separate attached cattery, air conditioned, and with separate quarters for cats that do better alone than mixed with others. Or perhaps just separating some of them. Either way, the cats would not be allowed inside the house except when I am with them to watch them.

    The Savannahs and Bengals I hear are not too bad about the spraying. I imagine an F1 Savannah is still going to spray even after having him fixed (since he would be sterile anyway).

    Fantastic article. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

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