7 Ways to Save on Cat Care

By Kathryn Katz on 9 October 2009 18 comments

According to the 2009/2010 National Pet Owners Survey, Americans will spend approximately $45.4 billion on their pets. Before you get out that frugal yard stick and start lecturing about spending too much money on cat trees, catnip toys and feather ticklers, understand that the majority of those expenses are spent on vets. Cat owners spend 55% of their budget on routine and surgical vet visits. Some of these visits are necessary; however, many could be prevented.

Last year, my short haired, domestic ball of energy, Smokey, had an emergency vet visit for a kidney stone. His urethra was partially blocked and it required emergency surgery. After the emotional and financial rollercoaster ride, I asked my vet what I could do to prevent future episodes, and he gave me a few simple cat care tips:

1. Upgrade Your Cat Food

Humans can't live on junk food alone, and neither can cats. Cat food that has a grain, such as corn meal, as a primary ingredient is nothing more than a filler. These foods promote overeating and poor nutrition. Try upgrading to a cat food that has meat as the primary ingredient, or use grain-free cat food. Paying more for cat food can save you more in the long run, because it prevents health issues, such as obesity, in your pet.

2. Dump Clay-Based Litter

According to the Bureau of Waste Management, approximately 8 billion pounds of spent cat litter is dumped into U.S. landfills every year — that's over twice the amount of disposable diapers. As this litter absorbs waste and water in landfills, it can become 15 times its original size. Additionally, the dust from the litter can enter the cat's urethra, swell to a larger size, and cause urinary tract blockages. Switching to eco-friendly, clay-free litter helps your cat and the environment.

3. Brush Their Teeth

Periodontal disease is common in adult cats. Just like humans, cats can get tartar on their teeth. The tartar irritates the gums and causes inflammation, otherwise known as gingivitis. If left untreated, the tartar can build up and start to separate the gums from the teeth, causing more bacterial growth, leading to periodontal disease. This disease is irreversible and can lead to your cat losing teeth, getting painful abscesses and bone loss. Studies show that 4 out of 5 cats over the age of 3 have periodontal disease. Brushing your cat's teeth now can help avoid expensive vet bills in the future.

4. Do-It-Yourself Grooming

Cats naturally groom themselves; however, many owners feel that their cat needs a little extra hygiene help, and choose to bathe, brush and clip their kitties at the groomers. Instead of taking your cat to the groomers, do the grooming yourself. Use a grooming glove to remove loose hair and spend some special bonding time with your cat. The more you handle your cat, the more tolerant they will be when you try to give your cat a bath. Trimming your cat's claws is not as hard as you think. It just requires a little preparation and know-how. Make sure you have the cat supplies you need before starting the grooming process, use gentle tones when grooming your cat, and try to restrain them as little as possible.

5. Early Spay/Neutering

Sterilization of your cat can help him/her live a longer, healthier life. An altered cat can live an additional 3 to 5 years. Altered animals have a lower risk for mammary gland tumors, prostate cancer, perianal tumors, pyometria, and uterine cancer. Additionally, bad habits, such as roaming and spraying, are less likely with an altered cat. Lastly, you'll be doing your part to reduce cat overpopulation.

6. Pro-active Kitty Care

One of the things that saved Smokey's life was that I noticed he was hunched over, in front of my bedroom door, and struggling to urinate. This wasn't normal for my cat, and I knew something was wrong. If you get anything out of this article, remember to pay attention to your cat's routine. They may not tell you anything is wrong, but if you watch for the health warning signs in your cat, you may be able to catch a health problem while it's still small.

7. Ensure Your Cat is Insured

Veterinary costs have more than doubled over the past 10 years. New lifesaving treatments, like surgery and chemotherapy, are available to cats; however, these procedures can be expensive. For the vet bills that can't be avoided, pet insurance can be a low cost solution to ensure you get some of your money back. Some pet insurance plans even offer reimbursement on wellness care. Make sure to do comparison shopping and that you buy an insurance plan that fits into your budget.

Lastly, avoid putting your cat's expenses on a credit card, because you will end up paying more for cat care if you don't pay off the balance at the end of the month. Smokey's emergency vet visit cost me $700. If I had put that bill on a credit card with 14.99% APR, and only made minimum payments of $25, that vet visit could potentially cost me $194.03 in interest and take 3 years and 8 months to pay off. Add your cat's expenses to your monthly budget and try to set some money aside each month for yearly vet visits and vaccines.

This is a guest post written by Kathryn Katz, who is a Certified Personal Finance Counselor and works for Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, educating consumers via the Internet about managing credit and money responsibility.

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Guest's picture

Great article Kathryn. Switching the dry food your cat gets would probably make the biggest difference. Including wet food in their diet (at least 50%; more if possible)makes a huge difference too.

Most kitties are poor drinkers so the extra moisture in the wet food really helps cut down on kidney stones, UTIs, etc.

Guest's picture

Pet insurance seems like a good idea but I haven't found a policy that made much financial sense. The pet insurance I've seen seems to have relatively low maximums on what they'll pay. So if you have a $4,000 bill the insurance may only cover $1,000 of it. To me such low caps on coverage defeat the purpose of insurance in the first place since you can cover the lower cost bills out of pocket. If there is a "good" pet insurance policy out there that doesn't have this kind of draw back then I'd be interested in it.

Guest's picture


Have you looked into ASPCA pet insurance? They offer 80% reimbursement on allowed covered charges and $100 deductible that only needs to be met once a year. Now there are exclusions (http://www.aspcapetinsurance.com/pet-insurance-plans/how-it-works/what-w...) which you should check out before getting a policy. They offers examples of the different plan levels so you can see what you're buying. Lastly it benefits the The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA) so your money is going to a worthy cause.

Hope this helps!

- Kathryn

Guest's picture
Kitty Doggins

Dump the cat.

Dump the idea of having pets and just enjoy animals where they should be, in the wild. Pets are a selfish indulgence.

Guest's picture

re the response from Kitty Doggins: Getting pure bred 'vanity' pets from a breeder or pet store and letting your pets is self-indulgence and perpetuating a system that doesn't work but domesticated animals should have homes and good lives. Get your pet from someone who can't keep theirs, a animal rescue group or a shelter (cheaper anyway) and make sure they're fixed. You're saving a life that will benefit yours. I have two cats and a bird that were all rescues, none will have litters/young, the bird cost a little from the shelter, the cats I found on the street (and was unable to find their owners).. As a single woman in an expensive city it means I'm more content to stay home with their company rather than just going out for the sake of having life around me.

Re this list: I really recommend getting a water fountain, cats don't like stale water, mine completely ignored their water dish but would come running for the sink when it was dripping until I got the fountain. What little it costs me in electricity (I only run it during the day) will likely save me when it comes to urinary tract infections in my male cat and helps with the female cat's hairballs, will likely help both avoid kidney problems and diabetes so it will save me in medical costs, helps me cut down on expensive wet food and keeps them healthy and happy.

Guest's picture
Smart One

Let me give you one way .... don't own a cat! :)

Guest's picture

I agree with the comments about the cats.
The only way to save on having a cat is by never having one.
That and that whole thing about cats being emissaries of satan and all.

Guest's picture

Give my cat a bath? Brush her teeth? I don't know what kind of cat you have, but my demonspawn critter would have me bleeding six ways to Sunday.

I do feed her quality food though. The way I view it, I don't eat fast food, so neither will my kitty.

Guest's picture

These pets have been taken in by the humanrace thousands of years ago and forced into their unnatural dependency on human civilization and cannot be allowed to run feral and breed excessively in the wild, while humans still do so to the harm of civilization. Most pounds-rescues euthanize millions of strays yearly but raising them and keeping them as pets is still less of a social ecological cost than having them running the streets. And how many smart ass posters even care to adopt human children who a in abundance and uncared for in similar large numbers in our world. STFU and don't post in or read the article.

The ways to save money though is to not expect your pet to live forever once they get old and to just provide a healthy diet and exercise. Vets are into making money now and push expensive useless shots, check ups and pills. I had to tell my vet after adopting a street mom/kitty that they were healthy in the street-alley, I just don't want them with ticks, rabies and worms in my house and needed neutered/spayed. After that they have no problems except to make sure male cats are fed wetter food or moisten their dry food with water and get the not too expensive type with urinary tract base minerals.

Guest's picture

I agree with comment 7. We have forced these animals into their positions as pets. We should spay/neuter 100% of all pets. That way, in a generation, we would be rid of most or all of them. We won't have to kill any of them. They would just go humanely extinct. Just imagine how much money would be saved. BTW #7, comment on the article, not the comments. Try to be civil.

Guest's picture

I understand the views that people have about pets being forced into an artificial situation. However, it is too late to turn back. Feral cats live a dangerous life because of cars, other feral cats and people who are not friendly to animals among other things. I think it's narrow minded to say there's no way to save money while having a cat. For those that do have cats, these are good options. I would also recommend that people include veterinary care in their budget. The same way car maintenance is in your budget, so should preventive health care for your pets (any pets) be included. It seems like people think that just because you can get a cat for free that their health care should be free. It won't be. So if you can't afford the health care, you can't afford the cat (or dog, or whatever).

Also, pet insurance that seems worth it to me is VPI Pet Insurance. http://www.petinsurance.com/ There are maximum pay outs and exclusions of hereditary, congenital/pre-existing conditions and others depending on your plan. But for the hit by car animal and other emergencies, pet insurance can open up some treatment opportunities that owners might not have had otherwise.

Guest's picture

Non-clay litter? Brushing their teeth? Kitty health insurance?

I love my cats, but in this economy those three things are luxuries I can't afford.

While I won't skimp on their food (unless I can't feed myself) if kitty gets hurt she's in the same shape I'm in - too poor to go see the doctor and left with nothing but band-aids and NyQuil to fix it.

When most Americans don't have health insurance, including myself, the idea of paying for pet insurance that doesn't even cover real issues is ridiculous.

Guest's picture

NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES will I take any cat to a vet....Insurance??!! You must be kidding!

That said,I had a cat once...Feed him junk his whole life, If he wanted a good meal, he had better go kill it!

He basically lived outdoors, responded to basic commands like a dog, He went outside...no kitty litter, He'd been hit by a car( twice), Slashed his lower abdomen in a auger on a farm(..almost died there), Scratched the hood of my car(..I almost killed him)...

He never once missed a Simpsons episode...He lived 14 happy years. I maybe spent 12 bucks on him the whole time!

Guest's picture


Guest's picture
GE Miller

Wait, did anyone else realize that this article was written by Kathryn 'KATZ'. Coincidence? I think not! Meow meow. Has anyone ever tried brushing a cats teeth? Freaking impossible.

Guest's picture

My boyfriend and I plan to happily spend whatever is necessary on cats for our entire lives. We will also be donating to animal charities wherever possible.

Where we will save money is not having children, or donate to any charity that benefits human beings. We figure that even given a worst case scenario with our pets, we will come out ahead of anyone who has a child. And be happier, too.

Great article.

Guest's picture

Also.. I had VPI briefly, I found it pretty worthless since they didn't cover anything they should have...

On the other hand I have a friend who says its been awesome for her, one of her cats has gotten sick several times from swollowing strings, floss, rubber bands and they covered that expense.

Insurance is a gamble, I've chosen to create a 'pet emergency account' as one of my ING accounts to cover most things, their regular care is all budgetted. The emergency account isn't fully built up yet but once it is I'll feel that they are taken care of and I'll know how far I can go in spending on medical care for them.

I figure with pets that once you take on the responsibility they rely on and trust you to take good care of them, they believe completely that you'll make them better. A car doesn't care that it has a dent in it, but no one questions the cost of fixing that, yet people are always saying 'its just a cat/dog' when you spend the same amount making them feel better. A pet improves your life, your health and mental well-being.

Guest's picture

Keep you cat as an indoor cat only.