Why Do Animal Shelters Charge an Adoption Fee?

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  • How much does it cost to adopt a cat from a shelter?

    The adoption fee can range from $100 to $250. Factors that influence the price are the age and the health of the cat. Kittens are the most expensive, followed by adult cats, seniors and cats with underlying health conditions (such as diabetes) or disabilities generally cost the least.

    Why does it cost so much to adopt from a shelter?

    Most of us know that animal shelters are at or over capacity, so why do they charge for us to adopt an animal?

    Animal shelters are not for profit charities with huge expenses which include pet food, cat litter, disinfection, veterinary fees, medicine, parasite control, electricity, maintenance, staff wages, accounting fees, insurance, property rent or mortgage and council fees.

    Costs associated with taking in a new animal:

    • Initial veterinary check
    • Worming
    • Microchipping (if not microchipped)
    • Desexing (if not desexed)
    •  Medical care (many animals surrendered to shelters are unwell)

    The care for some cats can run into hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Some require surgery, critical care, long-term care or physiotherapy, all of which is expensive. In addition, shelters will cover medical bills if the adopted pet requires veterinary treatment for an infectious disease that occurs within 14 days of adoption.

    Shelters rely on donations from the general public, but these don’t come close to covering expenses. Adoption fees not only recoup the expenses incurred from previous animals in their care, but they go towards future animals the shelter will take in.

    Not all surrendered animals are in poor health so why do they all cost a lot?

    Even if the animal is in good health, he or she will still be assessed by a veterinarian, treated for parasites, fed and housed until adopted. In some cases, the animal has already been desexed and microchipped, therefore reducing costs to the shelter. But, all adoption fees and donations go into a pool and is used for those animals who do require medical care.

    Older, shy and disabled animals have a harder time finding homes than young and outgoing animals, some may remain in the shelter for weeks or even months, which of course comes with the ongoing cost of providing food and care. The adoption fee doesn’t increase for animals who have needed extensive veterinary care or have been at the shelter for an extended period, and it doesn’t decrease for cats who have had much less care and/or are adopted quickly.

    Charging a fee stops impulse buying

    While adoption fees and donations pay the bills, the adoption fee also reduces impulse decisions to adopt without considerable thought. People only value what they pay for. Adopting a cat is a 15-20 year-long commitment and shelters want to make sure that potential owners are serious about the emotional and financial commitment that comes with pet ownership.

    With regards to the expense of adopting, that is a small fee compared to ongoing and veterinary costs. Just one small injury can cost $1,000 or more to treat.

    Charging a fee prevents animals from getting into the wrong hands

    Animals given away for free are at risk of ending up in the wrong hands. Dog fighters and animal abusers scour classifieds looking for animals to use as bait for fighting dogs.

    Would it be cheaper to adopt a free kitten?

    The fees paid to shelters may seem expensive, but they are quite reasonable when you consider that the cat has been microchipped, wormed, vaccinated and desexed. If we break down the costs, it’s easy to see that the free kitten ends up costing more in the long run.

    • Kitten: Free
    • Core vaccinations: 3 x $70 = $210.00
    • Microchip: $50.00
    • Desexing: $200.00
    • Parasite control: $50.00

    Total cost: $510.00

    The cost to adopt a kitten from the RSPCA (NSW, Australia) is $230.00, so as you can see, it is considerably cheaper than that free kitten.


    Adopting a pet from a shelter is still the best value for money. Shelters need to charge adoption fees so that they can provide shelter, veterinary attention, food, parasite control, vaccinations, desexing and microchipping for animals in their care.

    When we adopt an animal from a shelter, we free up space for more animals in need, and our money is going to help future animals.


    • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

      Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio