Pet Care on the Cheap

This is a guest post from Theophanes Avery. See their blog here for more on homesteading and raising chickens!

It’s an increasingly unusual thing these days to live without a pet in the United States. In fact 68% of households keep at least one here. That’s eighty-five million families sharing their lives with animals. Among these lucky creatures dogs and cats are by far the most popular with 78 million dogs sharing their lives with us and 86 million cats. If current trends continue there will only be more households with pets in the coming years and wow, do we as a nation, love to spoil our furry friends! Business is booming for the pet industries! In 2018 an estimated 72.13 billion dollars was spent exclusively on our pets, everything from their absolute needs such as food and health to their luxuries and creature comforts. But pet care doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. In fact I am a firm believer that even the poorest among us can usually afford at least one pet and it doesn’t always have to be 50 cent feeder fish from Wal-Mart swimming around a second hand bowl either.
In this article I will focus on dogs and cats as they are the reigning kings and queens of the pet trade. I remember when I was growing up out in the backwoods it seemed like almost everyone took pity on stray cats and fed them out of their barn or had a dog for protection or companionship, but in those days their care was minimal, their maintenance was cheap. Before widespread spay and neuter campaigns in the 70’s and 80’s most people didn’t even fix their animals for the most part. Now this is expected, almost demanded, but such investments can be steep. Today I will be writing about how there is a nice middle ground here where there is space to take the same measures of care for a pet while keeping it on the cheaper side.

Spay & Neuter Options
Spay and neuter options in some areas can be pretty steep especially if your new pet is on the heavy side because they are often charged by weight. However there are a lot of programs out there to help people in need of these services. If you live under the poverty line there are a bunch of state run services in many different places that allow for the free or discounted spay or neuter of one pet, usually a cat. It’s worth checking out. Some cities also fund the same service, especially for cats or pit bulls, and it’s worth a call to your local shelter or humane society to check. They should have all the information you need. Other possibilities include using mobile Spay and Neuter vans or clinics that specialize in nothing but these procedures. This normally keeps costs a lot lower. Or you could potentially adopt a pet who is already altered or decide to use other forms of birth control (i.e. keeping them away from other pets when they’re in heat!) The latter is often frowned upon as it’s not 100% effective and accidents do happen but sometimes you just got to do what you got to do until funds can be raised.

Cutting the Costs of Feed
Dog and cat food these days can range enormously in price. You can get a tiny bag of cat food at the dollar store on the cheap or you can spring for a fifteen pound bag of top of the line dry dog food for $50 or more. To add to this there’s also wet food to consider. Sadly cost isn’t the only thing that needs to be researched in this instance, so too does quality. Most of us are aware of the repeated recalls on pet food, especially those brands made in China, when poisons inadvertently find their way in them, but it’s not even just factory mishaps you have to worry about – it’s the nutritional value of the food itself. Cats for example are carnivores by nature. Left on their own to survive in the wild they subsist on rodents and birds and yet dry kibble is mostly wheat and corn based. It’s not at all surprising to me that pets fed only dry kibble frequently end up with dietary diseases later in life like obesity, chronic UTI’s, or diabetes. And that’s when you find yourself spending $40 on a bag of specialty feed. I find prevention is the best way to deal with this issue. If it’s at all possible to afford wet food this is helpful even if it’s just a supplement to their regular kibble. Learning to read labels and picking the food with the highest meat and protein contents and the least wheat and corn is also a good option or you can go completely rogue and feed raw meat. It sounds like it’d be expensive but actually if you catch the right market you might be surprised, a package of chicken livers or hearts or other rarely bought meats can be very cheap and if you’d rather go through a pet food distributor there’s always places like Oma’s Pride to buy raw meat from. Again, this can be supplemental or you can throw yourself into researching it and go all the way – which takes time and energy to figure out what is the best ratios to feed. Eggs, both raw and cooked, can also be great and cheap to add to a dog or cat’s diet as well.

Grooming at Home
Taking a dog or a cat to the groomer can be costly and usually is but that isn’t to say this is something you need to hire a professional for. I have found if you get an animal young enough and get them used to having their paws handled and their hair brushed or clipped they can usually be sorted at home. Costly de-clawing procedures can be avoided by merely clipping the toenails of your cat every two weeks or so and the same goes for dogs. Depending on hair type you can invest in a variety of different brushes or clippers that suits your pet best and go from there. Even if you have a poodle you don’t have to be fancy about it, a puppy cut suffices and still looks nice! Bathing at home can also be done quickly and effectively with time, patience, and training. A removable shower head is always a really nice thing to have when you’re washing up a large dog and small dogs and the occasional cat can make use of the spray nozzle on the sink.

Pest and Parasite Control
Keeping fleas, ticks, and even mosquitoes at bay can be an unending task. We have to maintain a pest and parasite free environment so our pets don’t suffer from worms, Lyme disease, and even leptospirosis for our city dwelling friends. There are a lot of options out there and sadly some of the cheaper ones like flea dips and collars can be downright deadly. As it turns out washing your pets in pesticides isn’t always a safe or bright idea. When I asked a local vet about this he claimed he sees two cats or dogs a year at his practice that die due to flea dips. Some natural remedies like spraying certain essential oils may help but ultimately flea and tick control these days usually comes down to topical treatments like Frontline, Revolution, and Advantage. If you have small dogs you can keep the cost of these treatments cheap by buying the boxes that are meant for the largest dog possible and then learning to dose them by pound for smaller animals. You can do this with cats too as long as the treatment you chose is safe for cats (not all are!) If you need help with dosing there are charts online that help or you can even read on the box how much is suggested per pound in each species. Oral ML syringes can be bought at your local feed store for a few cents to make sure your measurement are accurate. If you don’t live in the country you can sometimes obtain these little oral syringes from pharmacies or even dentists. If you’re feeling particularly daring you can even worm your cats and dogs at home with horse and pig wormers if you’re comfortable with figuring out the dosages yourself. Panacure and Ivermectin combined kill almost everything wormwise a dog or cat can get and even makes up the drugs used for preventative heartworm treatments. Just don’t give Ivermectin to any dog that may have Collie in their background. For some reason collies tend to have a severe allergic reaction and it can blind or kill them. However Ivermectin is also the go-to daily treatment for mange and trust me getting it at the feed store will save you hundreds compared to getting it at the vet for months at a stretch!

Health Maintenance
These days a lot of vets make their money on annual exams where you bring in your pet, they figure out if there’s any more vaccines they can give it, and they do a once over to make sure everything looks OK. This is great for vets, it keeps their business going, but for those that can’t afford it this practice can be… unnecessary. This by no means is an endorsement to never take your animal to the vet I’m just saying there’s probably not much reason to do so if your pet isn’t experiencing any real problems at the moment. It’s probably a good idea to do these examinations yourself on a monthly basis anyway just going over your pet, making sure there’s no weird behavior, no odd noises, no suspicious lumps or bloating, making sure their eyes and ears are clean and bright, their teeth clean, their breath fresh, and their overall body healthy. If you have a purebred do some research into what their common ailments are and educate yourself on what to look for. But then there are vaccines… which is another huge money maker for vets. Here’s the low down on vaccines. The only vaccine that you are legally required to give dogs and cats is the rabies vaccine. If you cannot afford to go to the vet for $100 a pop then there are very affordable options for getting the rabies vaccine. Most towns have an annual clinic that only charges a few dollars and most pet stores these days also do weekend clinics which are basically drive-through pet care where you can select what you need out of their menu of vaccines and not have to pay any additional fees. And for the absolutely cheapest option – in some states it is still legal to buy and administer your own vaccines but this involves needles and at least a tiny bit of training to do correctly so this option is mostly left to breeders and rescuers rather than single pet owners. But what besides rabies do your pets need? This is a largely circumstantial question. For instance if you have a house cat who never goes outside or socializes with other cats then you don’t need anything more than the legally required rabies vaccine because it’s intensely unlikely it’ll ever catch any communicable diseases on its own. However if you have a dog that likes to go hiking in the woods the Lyme vaccine might be beneficial and if you have an animal that wanders an urban environment the leptospirosis vaccine might be good for them. Most of the vaccines for communicable cat diseases can be avoided just by instating proper quarantine of new cats coming into the household and from forbidding them outdoor access. As such you’ll need to look up all the options for yourself and decide what is appropriate and what is overkill for your pet.

And now we come to the purely fun part. Even if you only have a couple pennies to rub together we all enjoy spoiling our pets and believe it or not you don’t need to be rolling in dough to do so, all you need is a little bit of creativity. We all know cats love boxes and they’re usually free, add an old sweater to the bottom and you have a free cat bed that most felines will be more than happy to use. Toys for cats can be anything from feathers, to rolled up balls of tinfoil, to homemade scratching posts made from rope. Dogs can be slightly more difficult but don’t have to be. At one point I was annoyed my pit bull could chew through anything except a Kong and they were getting expensive! That’s when I learned from a lovely Rottweiler owner at Home Depot that toilet plungers are made of the same indestructible rubber. Take off the stick, smear some peanut butter in there, and voila! Giant Kong! And of course out here in the sticks people have been giving pit bulls old tires for years for the same reason. They’re good for outdoor play and aggressive chewing. Another helpful hack was to use old plush toys for chew toys. Normally the Salvation Army and other second hand stores have tons of these they’ll sell to you for a few cents and the dogs don’t know the difference!
And so there we have it. You don’t have to compromise on pet care even when you don’t have all the money in the world. All you need is a few simple hacks and a lot of creativity.


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  6. Consider giving dogs or cats a tiny quantity of canned food as a treat if you only offer them dry food. If your pet isn't lactose sensitive, yogurt and cheese could also be good treats for them. Additionally, think about utilizing your pet's kibble as a treat. For example, measure out a sufficient quantity of dog food each day and use that amount for meals and treats.

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  7. Simplified feeding with this dog feeder! Ideal for busy pet owners, it streamlines mealtime and ensures your pup is well-nourished.


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