Frugal Pets: Five Tips

by Kelly · 14 comments

in Living Frugally

Meet the latest addition to our family: Rosie. She is not a cloth covered box, she is in fact, a kitten. And you’ll have to believe me when I say that although most kittens aren’t very cute as a general rule, this one will knock your socks off with her adorableness.

But enough drooling for the moment, let’s talk instead about being able to afford Rosie.

Pets cost money. In fact, any time you bring a new responsibility into your life it costs money, be it for a child, an animal or a new car. And before taking on a new obligation, it is important to think of what is involved. I’m not going to talk about what kind of pet works best for your family or lifestyle, because that is a choice that you have to make for yourself. On the other hand, once you have made the choice to adopt an animal, there are many ways that you can take care of your new beastie frugally.

First up is where you acquire your animal. We got Rosie through our local Freecycle group so we didn’t pay anything. Another frugal choice is the local animal shelter. If you absolutely must buy a certain breed of animal, try the envelope method, and save up until you can pay cash.

Once you have your new pet at home, you need to feed and entertain him or her. We didn’t have any extra upfront expenses because we already had cat food and dishes, litter boxes, toys etc. I did add a feeding station and litter box upstairs, using repurposed children’s bowls for food and water and an old dishpan for a litter box. Use a cloth placemat or a dishtowel under the food and water bowls; for large dogs you can use rag rugs. My stepmother feeds their dog from a metal pie plate, my cats eat from thrift store finds.

Don’t buy lots of toys either! Like small children, most animals will be more intrigued by the wrapping than by the object within. As shown in the above picture, Rosie is fascinated with one of my daughter’s stacking blocks. Any small object that rolls will occupy a kitten for hours, while puppies like to chew- anything and everything. Try knotting old sports socks together, one inside the toe of the other, to make a hard, rope-like teething object. These adorable felted wool balls were intended for children’s toys, but I think that they would make cute cat toys too. Another toy idea, also via The Crafty Crow, is this way to turn your child’s drawings into cat toys from What Knot.

When it comes to food, don’t skimp on quality. Here, as with your health, prevention is the best cure. Buy a good brand of pet food, although you don’t necessarily need to pay for the best, and your pet will thank you with fewer health problems and smaller vet bills. Supplement his or her diet with healthy snacks, like carrots for dogs or pieces of well cooked chicken from your dinner.  Exercise your animal as well, with regular walks or play sessions. You’ll be better for it too.

While feeding healthy food will lower your vet bills, it won’t get rid of them entirely, and it shouldn’t! Your pet needs regular medical checkups (as do you) and should be vaccinated against the most common illnesses. Most cities (in the United States and in France) have a low cost vaccination clinic. You can also ask your veterinarian to recommend the most necessary shots, as well as the generic version. Some medications can be given cross-species as well. It might be cheaper to buy the human version of the treatment for your dog’s arthritic knees, than the canine version. You should also spay or neuter your pet, as this too reduces potential medical expenses.

Adopting an animal is not a decision to be taken lightly. But once you do, your new pet can be a happy and frugal member of your home for many years to come.

Any other frugal animal tips? How many pets do you have? Has money ever been a consideration when making decisions about acquiring a pet or for your existing pets?


1 Karen October 22, 2008

We definitely considered money when we made the decision to adopt our dog. We spend a little over $300 a year just on his preventative medicines, vet check up, and vaccinations, and that’s not including food and treats or extra vet care if he gets sick! It’s important to remember you’re paying for a lot more than just food.

It’s cheaper to buy his medicines (flea and heartworm prevention) in bulk, and his vaccinations and check up only comes once a year. To reduce the burden when he’s due for new medicine or vaccines, we put aside $25 a month in a savings account. When it’s time to pay for Howie’s health expenses, we withdraw the money and it doesn’t affect our regular budget.

Karen´s last blog post..Looking on the bright side: Benefits of the economic crisis

2 Grace October 22, 2008

What a great post–we’re multi-pet owners (currently we have two dogs and three cats of our own, as well as two foster dogs), and we spend a large chunk of our income on our pets. Something around the order of 8%-10% of our budget, I think. Your suggestions are all good ones. Another one I would add is to consider pet health insurance if you have a large breed dog or an older dog (maybe cats as well, my cats are all young and healthy so far and I haven’t found insuring them to be cost effective). We pay about $35/month to insure our two big dogs, and the insurance has more than paid for itself every year so far.

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3 Betsy October 22, 2008

Hear, hear on pet insurance, although I highly recommend shopping around for a good deal (and checking to see whether your vet will accept it, or if you will be responsible for the receipts, which is the most common situation).

Another point of frugality — for dog owners, at least — is that taking your dog (especially aging dogs) for a walk every day is good for his health and yours.

Betsy´s last blog post..Blog round-up: Costume edition

4 Kelly October 22, 2008

Those are both great ideas! I forgot about the buying in bulk, mostly because I don’t have the access to good bulk stores, so I don’t do it. But my father says that his $35 Costco membership is earned back in one trip when they buy a month’s supply of dog and cat food.

I’ve never insured my animals, but I can see how it would be very worthwhile. I have two old lady cats, in addition to our two young-uns and while they don’t have health problems now, they’re getting to that point.

5 Sarah H. October 22, 2008

Excellent set of pet tips! Your new kitten is adorable. We have one cat and I have tried lots of different methods to save money without creating any kind of disadvantage for him. For example, our vet told us he should go on diet food, which costs more. Not wanting him to have health problems in the future, I caved on the more expensive food. However I was able to find it in bulk in a nearby big city and that actually made it cost the same as his regular food per volume. I agree that we shouldn’t skimp in quality to save a few bucks, but just like we try to find deals for our own food, there are deals to be found for our pets too. 🙂 One downside with buying in bulk is that food can go stale overtime (and our one cat, despite being fat, doesn’t eat very much). So we bought some large plastic sealable containers to seal in the freshness and this has helped a lot. It also keeps other pests out.

Sarah H.´s last blog post..Bring on the bell peppers!

6 Kelly October 22, 2008
7 Michelle October 23, 2008

Awww. What a cutie. I love OTHER PEOPLE’S pets. I can’t deal with the hair, fleas, poop, vet bills and pet babysitters for when you go on vacation… I think it will be a long time before I get another pet.

Michelle´s last blog post..Nighttime Wakings with Fussiness

8 Vintage Mommy October 23, 2008

I was just talking to a friend the other day about the two times my younger cat has tangled with the neighborhood "mean cat", both times requiring $200-300 worth of treatment. But what can you say when they tell you the cost? No, I don't think we'll save his life today . . . now we're trying to keep a better eye out for the mean cat!!

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9 melissa s. October 24, 2008

thanks for the shout-out kelly! some great tips on here!

melissa s.´s last blog post..I have no time for a cold

10 Frugal Babe October 25, 2008

She is adorable! Our family includes one cat and one dog. Some people have hobbies – we have pets (or at least that’s how it feels when we pay for their upkeep!) We adopted both of them from the humane society, so upfront costs were minimal (about $80 each, which included shots and part of the cost of spaying). But we decided a long time ago that since avoiding chemicals and crud in our own food is one of our top priorities, we would do the same with our pets. Our dog eats Innova, and our cat eats Pinnacle. And that means we eat rice and beans more often than we would otherwise, because those foods are not cheap. But neither pet has ever been ill, so maybe it’s working out for us after all. Our cat is strictly an indoor cat, so she doesn’t come in contact with any dangers or illnesses. Our dog goes for runs and walks with us everyday, and loves the outdoors, but is never outside without us. We have health insurance on both of them.
While we do spend a lot of money on food and insurance, we spend nothing at all on toys. Our cat still plays with the toys she came with almost four years ago, and our dog loves nothing more than old socks with knots tied in them.
Thanks for sharing the wonderful picture. Makes me want to get a kitten. But I’m pretty sure our cat would not approve if I did 😉

Frugal Babe´s last blog post..Carrot Apple Salad

11 One Minute Blogger October 25, 2008

I followed you from your comment on Simple Mom. I like your blog! This post came at just the right time. I'm on maternity leave and finding it hard to dish out $50/month to feed our two dogs – but I love them SO much! Hope you’ll visit me at

<abbr>One Minute Blogger´s last blog post..Friday's Fun Find: Honest Baby</abbr>

12 Rhea October 25, 2008

I definitely feed my Lhasa apso the best organic food. But I don’t buy a lot of toys. He has about 20 toys and he isn’t destructive with them so I don’t plan to buy any more for a while. Also, he loves kicking around empty plastic soda bottles.

13 JEANNE October 26, 2008

Too funny – I just wrote a post about cats and $$$ saving tips. Basically the gist was 1) don’t get a male, 2) don’t get a manx, and 3)cedar pellets make great litter. Here’s the link for more details:

I like your blog – I’ve bookmarked it (btw cute pic of your new kitty! 🙂

JEANNE´s last blog post..Oprah and Kindle

14 anabelle April 17, 2009


I wanted to tell all dog and cat owners of a new site I found about a
month ago, it’s called, They sell fragrant
tags that attach to the collar, and provides a nice soft scent to your
pet. I purchased a couple of the coconut Frescopets for my dog
Hershey. She now has a soft coconut scent in between baths. Check out
the site. 😉 Anabelle..

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