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Pets On a Budget

By Nick Vassilev

They say that people who keep pets tend to live longer, healthier and happier lives. This may be because keeping pets means that we have something to talk to that responds happily to cuddles and strokes, something that loves us back and listens to us, and (if we keep dogs) something that will make sure that we go for regular walks. However, pets can also come expensive. If some experts are to believed (usually the experts who are trying to sell us something, it should be said), pets need top-quality food, regular treatment for worms and fleas, vaccinations, special toys, treats to train them with, special beds, coats to keep them warm… The list just seems to go on and on. Even humble goldfish seem to have an extensive list of things that they need to keep them healthy and happy. It almost seems as if the price tag that comes with pets outweighs the stress-beating benefits of owning a pet.

This isn’t quite true. Quite a few of these things can be done on the cheap without any ill effects on your pet. This article will look at some of these for cats and for dogs, as this is what the writer is most familiar with.

First of all, it is important to state that you should not cut costs by avoiding desexing cats (especially female cats) or by skipping annual vaccinations. Also, you should see your vet if your pet is obviously in pain or unwell. However, you don’t need to race to the vet for every little scrape, bump or cut – cats are easily able to sleep off a cut or abscess (see the vet if your cat goes off his/her food), and dogs also heal up pretty easily from cuts, as long as they do not become infected. Dogs are easier to restrain, so you can get away with not desexing them, although an on-heat bitch will be a bit messy indoors. Keep up a regular worming schedule, but you can use over-the-counter worm pills, which are cheaper than getting the vet to do it (crush them and add them to food, or wrap them in something tasty to get a pet to eat them).

First of all: food. Dogs are pretty omnivorous – scavengers, even – and they do not need fancy brands of pet food to be happy and healthy. Dogs are very good at eating the fat you trim off meat, not to mention bones left over from roasts, chops and stews. It is said that you should not give a dog chicken bones. However, our dog used to nick them off the compost heap or out of the rubbish with no ill effects, so now we give them to him directly. Dogs eat all sorts of leftovers – any meat, dairy or starch product will be wolfed down gratefully, plus the occasional bit of leftover potato or pumpkin. Dairy products in particular seem to give a dog a nice glossy coat. If you don’t get enough leftovers from the bottoms of saucepans, rejected (or dropped) crusts, fat, bones and other unwanted bits, kids who have eyes bigger than their stomachs, and stuff scraped off plates at the end of the meal prior to washing, then cheap dog sausage or dog biscuits can fill the rest of the way. Beware of giving a dog too much starchy food if he/she spends time indoors, as this will make them break wind frequently.

For cats, bear in mind that cats need a higher amount of protein in their diets than dogs do, so don’t try to feed them on leftover porridge too much. However, leftover meat and trimmed off fat is always appreciated. Cats can be fussy about their food and only accept certain brands, so start on the cheap and buy cut-price or home-brand cat food so you don’t have the problems of trying to get a cat to switch off a high-class brand if you need to save a few pennies. If you put a collar on a cat (which you don’t really need to), don’t put a bell on it – your cat will then be able to supplement his/her diet by catching mice and birds. Don’t be squeamish about this – a cat is a predator by design and instinct, so let them hunt. Do not try to cut costs by feeding a cat on dog food – dog food has a higher starch/carbohydrate level than cat food and won’t meet their needs. You can, however, give a dog cat food.

When training your dog, don’t buy proprietary doggy treats – cheap cat biscuits are usually appreciated, and so are bits of “human food” – my dog does tricks for hot chips.

Pennyroyal deters fleas quite effectively and without irritating your cat or dog too much, and it grows easily in the garden. Grab a handful and rub it on your pet’s coat (they won’t like this, but persevere), and put a few sprigs in your pets bed. It works.

Don’t bother with special toys for pets – look at what you already have. Sticks and ropes work well as chew toys for dogs, although my Staffordshire Bull Terrier likes to chew a 4×4 tyre suspended from a tree branch. Cats will play chase with all sorts of things like string, balls of paper, handkerchiefs, even large marbles – one cat I owned used to chase cricket balls.

A pet can bed down quite nicely on old clothes and tatty blankets that are unfit for human use. A dog will appreciate having its own spot, such as a kennel or a basket, but a cat will sleep anywhere it feels safe and comfy – some spots that my cats have chosen to sleep include the linen cupboard, the dust sheet on a printer, the end of the bed (a winner with most cats), a toybox full of teddies and a drumkit.

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