By Elizabeth Elkin, University of Missouri

I found my cat outside the office where I worked in the summer before my junior year of college. I hadn’t planned on getting a pet this early in life; I figured that when I had graduated and had a stable job and didn’t plan to move in the near future, I would adopt a kitten from a shelter. The best laid plans, am I right?

My sweet baby was four weeks old and 0.8 pounds when I found him. He fit in the palm of my hand. He was a perfect little gray angel. Taking him home cost me absolutely nothing. And he was a cat. How much could a cat really cost to take care of?

It turns out, a lot. My free cat has cost me (and my incredibly kind and giving parents) thousands of dollars over the three years I’ve had him.

Every time I took Oliver to the vet, it seemed like there was another thing wrong. There are, of course, costs that come with getting your pet vaccinations and getting him or her fixed. But my kitten had fleas, worms and ring worm, which he had acquired as a baby living outside in the Alabama heat before I rescued him. He had to have tests done, medications carefully administered, and follow-up appointments.

Owning a pet costs more than you’d probably think. The average yearly cost of having a cat is about $809, and for the first year of ownership, Fluffy costs an average of almost $1,200, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This includes more than $200 for food alone. If you’re like me, and your cat is diagnosed with a food allergy, you could end up paying about $60 a bag for dry food. That is a LOT of money.

Cats aren’t the only pets that are expensive. The annual cost of owning a dog runs from more than $700 to more than $1,000, according to the ASPCA. For the first year of ownership, that dog could cost anywhere from $1,400 to over $2,000. That doesn’t include the cost of adoption or buying the dog from a breeder. Even getting fish will cost an average of about $200, largely for aquarium equipment.

I absolutely adore my cat, and I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the world. But without my parents, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to keep him. My junior year of college, I was completely broke. I worked at my college newspaper, which paid some, but not nearly enough to cover his vet bills.

People often talk about how much time and attention a pet requires, and it’s true that getting a dog or a cat is a huge time commitment. However, something college students sometimes forget about when considering getting a pet is just how much money caring for another creature costs, besides the initial adoption fee.

Yet as I write this, my cat lies asleep next to me, and I know I would pay any amount of money to make sure that he is safe and loved.

Elizabeth Elkin is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.