Frugal Pet Ideas

by Katy on February 7, 2016 · 20 comments

This article first appeared on

Welcoming an animal companion into your home can be a rich and rewarding experience, but if you’re not deliberate with the expenses, it can become a real money drainer. But just because having a pet can be expensive, doesn’t mean it’s an absolute. There are almost endless ways to keep pet costs in check. Look to these dozen money saving ideas to save a few bucks on dear Fido, Fluffy or Fang.

Do your research on health problem before choosing a purebred dog

You may have your heart set on a certain purebred dog, but it’s important to make an informed decision. The breeding that gave your dog that sweet and squashy face may come with certain health issues that can quickly drain your bank account, or worse put you in the heartbreaking situation where you’re choosing between euthanasia or expensive and painful surgery. Talk to your vet about breeds to avoid before you bring home your next four-legged family member.

Exchange pet sitting with a neighbor

Boarding a pet while on vacation is an expensive endeavor that’s easily remedied when you and a neighbor care for one another’s pets. This is certainly easier with cats, who don’t need to be walked, but can work with dogs as well. Out for walk with Fido? Bring the neighbor’s dog along! A friend of mine who lives in a Queens, NY apartment, reports that her entire building watches one another’s pets and says it’s a great community builder.

Stop buying pet toys

Whether it’s a simple milk ring for the cat to bat around or a tennis ball inside of an old sock, simple pet toys are often the best. Your animal doesn’t know the difference between a pet specific toy or a cheap-o alternative. You can tie your own rope pull-toy and you can certainly dangle a length of braided yarn for the cat. And don’t discount the most frugal dog toy ever invented . . . the stick!

And while we’re on the subject . . . pet costumes? Really?!

Click HERE for more homemade pet toy ideas.

Avoid Costly Grooming

Certain dog breeds can get matted fur without regular grooming, but there are choices beyond the pricey big box groomer. Just like we humans can save a few bucks by going to a beauty school for our styling needs, the same is true for Fido. And while you’re there, put your phone down and pay attention to the technique. Many people groom their own dogs, and a grooming kit can pay for itself within a few uses. First attempt not a roaring success? Keep trying, as you’ll only get better.

Want a pet but it doesn’t fit your lifestyle? Foster instead!

If you feel incomplete without a pet, but aren’t in a situation for a long term animal, fostering might just be the solution to your problem. Whether it’s caring for tiny kittens, a dog who’s just had surgery or a cage full of ferrets, rescue organizations are always looking for responsible people who are willing to open their homes for short term pet stays. And since expenses are usually covered, this can be a great way to spend time with a furry friend when your budget doesn’t allow for a new family member. Just make sure you’re not the type to adopt every pet who enters your home!

Look to your humane society for small animals

Sure, your humane society is home to dogs and cats just waiting for their forever homes, but they can also be a source for small and caged animals. Whether you’re looking for a guinea pig, a turtle or a cockatiel, make sure to go beyond the pet store for your small animal companion. And once you’ve chosen that small pet? Check out secondhand sources like Craigslist for used equipment.

Look beyond your veterinary clinic for medication and spay-neuter services

Many area shelters and animal rights groups offer low cost or free medical care and spay-neutering. It may take some research to find these services within your community, but a call to your humane society or even your own veterinarian’s office can glean a wealth of information. Don’t put off this important component of pet care due to a low bank balance.

Work as dog walker

If you’re a dog lover, but not at a point of life that allows for a four-legged companion, being a dog walker might be the perfect compromise. You’ll get to establish relationships with your neighbor’s dogs, enjoy healthy exercise and then go back to your dog-free home. No feeding, no vet bills, no soiling of your new carpet, and you’ll even put some extra money into your wallet!

Adopt an adult pet

Yes, kittens and puppies are sure to melt your heart, but adult animals need loving homes as well. They’ll come fully vaccinated and spay/neutered, plus they should be well past the piddling on the couch phase of life. See? You just saved the cost of a new couch!

Skip the designer pet food and head to Costco

Costco brand pet food is highly rated and recommended by many humane societies. You can have the knowledge that you’re feeding quality food to your dog or cat, without the financial pain. And while you’re at Costco, make sure to check out their low cost pet medications.

Choose hearty fish for your aquarium

Sure it’s fun to have an aquarium full of exotic fish, but the most frugal choice is always going to be the heartiest fish. Whether you choose guppies, which provide guppy babies or the lowly goldfish, it’s best to leave the tricky-to-keep-alive fish to the experts. Talk to the staff at your pet shop and do your research before bringing home another poor doomed animal.

Embrace the mutt

Not only are mixed-breed dogs less likely to have breed specific health issues, they’re also wonderful companions who will enrich your life. Think of them as one of a kind designer animals who were created specifically for you! You get the best of multiple breeds, and you’ll likely just pay a low adoption fee. And the best part? You won’t be supporting unsafe and unethical puppy mills. If you’ve got your heart set on a certain breed, find a rescue organization that specializes in that specific breed. Be patient and you’ll find one that’s a perfect fit for your family.


Whether you’re a dog person, a cat person or even a chameleon person, there are multiple ways to keep your expenses under control. Adopt responsibly, keep your purchases in check and research your health care choices. Pets enrich our families’ lives and they deserve our best.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Greta February 7, 2016 at 7:53 pm

So proud to be a small part of this great post!


Charli February 7, 2016 at 9:24 pm

We go camping with our dog when we are holidaying. That saves on pet sitting. She got a rash from the cheaper food so I started giving her a few table spoons of kefir each day and the rash cleared up and she’s healthy and happy. That’s not exactly what a vet would have suggested but I thought it worked. We buy tick and flea treatment on line and it’s a lot cheaper than the same stuff at the vet. She’s a good little ratter and has killed numerous snakes in the past year so our little jack Russell, mini foxie, chihuahua mutt is worth every penny we spend on her. We love her to bits.


Krystal February 7, 2016 at 10:23 pm

Lots of human food leftovers work for dogs. We often take mix of small leftover vegetables and cook up with brown rice for meals (brown rice can be bought for cheap in bulk) and our dog loves it. Cheap and zero waste!


Loretta February 8, 2016 at 12:19 am

Such a timely post! Our lovely next door neighbours are currently fostering an abandoned greyhound puppy. Who will need a home soon, and we want another dog, and her name is Leia, and my son is the biggest Star Wars fan. I think it is a sign, just have to convince my husband…


Leslie February 8, 2016 at 10:20 am

You might check out the Frugalwoods blog for the frugal advantages of a greyhound over other breed choices.


Juhli February 8, 2016 at 3:20 am

Great advice! I would like to add though that even the most frugal dog or cat can develop expensive medical problems. We currently love a dog who has developed Addison’s disease which requires a monthly shot and medication to keep her alive. Worth every penny to us but some people may take in a pet only thinking of current costs and find they can’t handle the increased vet costs if they come.


Ruby February 8, 2016 at 4:56 am

Our family has five rescued pets — two dogs, three cats — and I would recommend that you ask to see the pet’s medical records when adopting. We had the experience of adopting a cat with a chronic illness (feline herpes) that was not disclosed by the rescue organization but was documented in her medical records. It’s something we eventually got under control and she’s healthy now, but her first year with us was very expensive.

I totally second adopting an adult dog. A healthy, well-adjusted adult dog is so easy to have around!


Elise @ Simply Scaled Down February 8, 2016 at 5:19 am

I would also say to puppy proof your house just the way you would for a child. We have had so many unexpected vet bills because the dog got into something that could have easily been put out of his reach. Lesson learned…from now on the dinner rolls rise on top of the fridge (rather than in his stomach!)


tonya parham February 8, 2016 at 5:58 am

I must say, medical expenses drained my finances for my cats over the last several years. I don’t regret the money I spent on them, but it’s something to keep in mind–just like children, they can require lots of expensive care!

The last go round I had a male cat who was only 18 months old develop IC (bladder and urethra irritation with crystals in his urine–not diet related) and he had to have his penis removed! This crisis was expensive and while the surgery saved his life, he still stubbornly refuses to pee in the litterbox. (Preferring instead the sink, the hallway, and occasionally the bed.) It’s frustrating but I love him and I don’t begrudge him the money spent or the time spent cleaning– but, it just goes to show, you never know what a pet might cost you down the road.


Sarah February 8, 2016 at 6:04 am

Other options for fostering, especially if you are worried about the temptation of adopting the animals you foster: organizations that place the animals of service members on deployment in long term fosters, organizations that seek fosters for women leaving abusive situations and service dog organizations (usually involves helping puppies training to be service dogs get real world experience in lots of situations.)


meg February 8, 2016 at 6:42 am

Also in my community, in addition to the low cost spay/neuter options there are free/very low cost vaccine clinics. As long as your pet is otherwise healthy, it’s a big money saver! Ours is called “pet wellness clinic” and the animal control does some too.


Marieann February 8, 2016 at 6:49 am

We have always had cats, and they have cost us plenty. From Diabetes, to broken limbs to Hyperthyroidism.
The 2 we have now are indoor only…way cheaper, no broken bones,no abscesses from cat fights, no expensive flea control etc.
I feed my kitties the best food I can and I’ve done my research and price is not a consideration. Their dry food costs $75 and lasts 2-3 months. I’m also trying to get them to eat canned food, unfortunately they don’t want to eat it but I keep trying, so there is a lot of waste.
I make all their toys,beds and blankets. I also make dog coats because they are so cute….that’s my entertainment. I have been known to knit hats for cats, being aware they will never be used….again so cute and I love doing it.
What I used to do when we had less money to spend on the kitties was to put a set amount by each month(sort of my own pet insurance) that way when emergencies came up I was not choosing their treatment based on how much it would cost.
I love all the points you make, especially about adopting from Humane Societies. My 2 lads came from one and the adoption fee also included the neutering charge, and since I adopted 2 at once I got one for half price


Jennifer February 8, 2016 at 8:02 am

The topic of pets is a touchy subject for me. I love cats, well, and dogs. I have just decided my family is ok without them for the time being. I don’t like them in my home because of my children’s allergies and keeping them outside comes with it’s own set of responsibilities. I also feel like I am maxed out on taking care of people at the present to add anything more. I miss having a cat but I know if I get one to stay outside the neighbors dog would use it for a chew toy. We tried fish and I’m not a fan so I was secretly kinda glad when the last one died. I also never got over the fact that I ran over our family dog 2 years ago. Loving and losing is so painful.


cheryl February 8, 2016 at 8:06 am

My neighbor recently started grooming her own dog, rather than spend the money at the groomer. She had always given haircuts to her son and husband, and the thing she liked, while grooming the dog was more difficult, was that the dog doesn’t complain about her haircut.


Heidi February 10, 2016 at 8:54 am

This is great! Made me laugh. Thank you.
I enjoy brushing and grooming my dog as much as I can at home because of the bond and trust that it has established between us, plus I KNOW if there are any fleas, that way. But I hadn’t thought about the fact that he can’t complain about the haircut! LOL! (He does, however, give very grumpy looks and pouts when he doesn’t like it or doesn’t like the experience – nothing a good scritch in his favorite spot can’t fix, though.)


Vickie February 8, 2016 at 8:13 am

I agree, wholeheartedly.

I have four dogs, three were strays and one rescue. Two are outside farm dogs, the other two are inside small dogs. I highly recommend rescuing mutts. All of our dogs were at least 6 months old before they adopted us. The one chihuahua we rescued was an older dog, we’re pretty sure was a neglected breeder.
They range in age from 15 to two years old. I started feeding them Blue Buffalo, which cost more, but it’s the only food one of my small chihuahuas can eat. She has an intestinal issue and the cheap food was making her sick.
If you stick to a good brand, the vet bills are minimal and the dogs seem to live longer. Our old farm dog was in ill health until I started feeding him the better brand and giving him glucosamine treats.
One thing my vet stressed was not to let them get overweight. I feed the farm dogs fat from leftovers and such, but they expend more energy staying warm, during Winter months, than the inside dogs do.

When my daughter, a single Mom of 3, was considering getting a dog I counseled her on the costs of shots and the monthly food cost. Plus, she lives in the city and has a fenced backyard, which means waste clean-up. Once she realized the cost, she decided she couldn’t afford a dog right now.

My wish is that everyone would seriously consider the cost and time a pet can entail. I feel we’d have less strays and shelter pets, if people would think through their decisions well before taking on animals.


janine February 8, 2016 at 8:21 am

O&M is the elephant in the closet. We have loved and cherished our cats and dogs over the years but many of them have had medical problems as well as issues relating to their backgrounds that often prove expensive. In our experience, it doesn’t seem to matter whether we buy from a breeder or find one at our local humane society. We have always preferred the hunting breeds (Irish Setters, Brittanys) but currently are owned by an elderly beagle who insists on a firm schedule and plenty of attention or we receive punishment (the usual message). We adopted her at age 8 and have never regretted it.

We once were adopted by a mutt whose owners threw him out of their car one early Sunday morning, and into the park located across the street. A few weeks later our city’s mayor came out to see my husband and fell in love with this dog. They had just lost their dog and his children wanted a replacement. We already had two animals and agreed to the adoption. Doggie became “First Dog” in our city, was often mentioned in local newspapers and magazines, and was the inseparable companion of the mayor. I have often wished that the callous former owners had learned what became of their lovable and loyal pet!

One more point – it is often a good idea to develop a good relationship with a Vet – they get to know your animal and that knowledge helps with their ability to treat these precious family members.


JD February 8, 2016 at 9:39 am

Excellent post! It is straightforward about the costs involved, but doesn’t condemn anyone for wanting to own a pet anyway. Instead, Katy offers solutions.
As a pet owner who has two rescued dogs, three rescued cats and a small pond of “rescued” gold fish (they were going to be fed to bigger fish), I can say that yes, they can get expensive. Research, research, research for good holistic and homemade preventative care and feeding, listen to a good vet, give them their check ups, vaccinations and heartworm meds, and study your breeds before adopting. And, as mentioned in the article, our adopted mixed breeds have been our healthiest dogs.
We don’t NEED to spend money on pets, that’s true, but they bring joy to us and we know they needed our help. And, I still spend less on them all than I do on my sponsored child and children’s charities, so I have that answer for those negative people in my life who want to condemn me for “wasting” money on animals when there are people in need.


Heidi February 8, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Other frugal options: many vets, groomers or daycares offer prepaid packages at a discount. For example, our dog has a vet package that we pay a flat, monthly rate for. His package includes the following each year: 2 checkups (including fecal exams and any necessary deworming), all vaccinations and boosters, unlimited free office visits and a 10% discount and all other products and services from the vet. We did the math and since these are services we ALWAYS use for our dog, we are saving about 30% annually on vet care.

Our dog has long hair, which is NOT frugal because it needs grooming and upkeep, but it IS frugal because it is hypoallergenic and saves me from allergy treatments. I haven’t mastered the COMPLETE home groom, YET, but our groomer is very nice and has given me tips and pointers to keep him washed and combed out and his face and paws trimmed, which stretches out the time in between trips to the groomer. Babysteps!

I keep patching up his same favorite dog toy. My mom bought him a second, identical toy and we rotate them out, as needed, for patching and mending. He LOVES have his favorite pal around, no matter what.

Since getting a dog, we gave up our gym memberships! We have a moderately energetic mixed breed that needs a bit of walking every single day. We each put in at least half an hour walking the dog, each day.

We adopted him and opted to pay his adoption fees with the money we would have otherwise used to buy each other wedding gifts. He was our wedding gift to each other!


Molly February 8, 2016 at 3:39 pm

Re: our shelter dog:

“What kind of dog is that?”



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