Cats can be fairly low-maintenance pets. If you keep yours indoors (the sensible, safe choice) then your furry companion can have a long and healthy life requiring little more than food, water, a litter box, annual veterinarian visits, and a healthy dose of affection.

Sometimes, however, things go wrong, and your cat may need medical attention. That can get expensive, but a new survey conducted for Royal Canin, a pet food company, showed that 90% of cat owners would spend $1,000 or more if their cat needed surgery.

A house cat.

Your cat may end up costing you. Be prepared with insurance or by having a pet care fund. Image source: Getty Images.

The cat's meow

Owning a cat means bearing the expense of caring for it. That's generally not much of a burden, but a willingness to spend bigger bucks on medical procedures varies based on income, according to the Royal Canin survey.

  • 41.8% of cat owners with a household income under $75,000 would spend $3,000 or more if their cat needed surgery.
  • 29% of cat owners with a household income over $100,000 would spend up to $10,000 if their cat needed surgery.
  • 44.6% of cat owners with a household income under $35,000 would spend up to $1,000 if their cat needed surgery.

"More often than not, people don't bring their cat to the vet until the cat is visibly ill," said Dr. Natalie Marks, Royal Canin veterinarian spokeswoman, in a comment emailed to The Motley Fool. "Because cats are such stoic animals, when they show signs of illness or pain, they are really hurting, which is why it is so important to take your cat to the vet on a regular basis. Otherwise, cat owners may end up spending significantly more time getting their cat back to better health."

What can you do?

As a pet owner, it's important to budget for problems. Cats' medical care can be expensive.

It's smart to consider one of two options. You can either create a fund to pay for your pet's possible health needs -- perhaps by contributing a small amount each paycheck until you have $5,000 or so set aside -- or you can consider pet health insurance.

If you opt for the latter, be careful to read the fine print to understand what's covered, and make sure you're buying a policy that your vet accepts and that will actually cover your pet's needs.

You never want to be in a terrible position where you have to decide between prolonging the healthy life of your cat and your personal finances. So plan ahead to make sure that finances don't prevent you from making the right choice for your animal friend.

Cats can live a long, healthy life, and many will never need significant medical care. But you should be prepared in case that's not the experience you have. This is a classic "hope for the best but expect the worst" situation. A financial plan can protect you and your cat if the worst happens.