Thrifty Pet Ideas for Frugal Living

Do you have pets? Here are some thrifty pet ideas that can help you maintain a frugal lifestyle while raising and caring for your family pets.

Do you have pets? Here are some thrifty pet ideas that can help you maintain a frugal lifestyle while raising and caring for your family pets. #frugalliving #pets #homemadepetfood #frugalpetideas #frugalideas

Thrifty Pet Ideas for Frugal Living

It’s becoming harder and harder to be able to have extra pets these days. Vet bills are going up, food prices are going up, everything is going up….I thought I’d write an article today about how to cut some costs when taking care of animals. I’m a huge sucker for anything abandoned. I went to the animal shelter back in the Spring to look for a puppy and came out with a new cat, I couldn’t help it, she gave me beggy eyes! Needless to say, my husband said I’m no longer allowed at the Animal Shelter. A few months after that I took in 4 abandoned 2-week old kittens. I just couldn’t find it in my heart to leave them. They took feeding every 3 hours, even through the night. I did manage to give away a few but when you are that close to an animal it’s hard to let them go.

With lots of animals, it gets expensive to feed and vaccinate and spay them. Here are some of the ways we’ve saved money with what we do to take care of them.

Side note: This article of pet ideas has garnered a lot of negative comments so if you came here to leave more, I will delete them. If you can’t afford to have pets at all, it’s probably not a good idea to get more, however, if you find yourself in a difficult financial position and you have pets already that need to be cared for, hopefully, these pet ideas will be useful to you. 


Pet Housing

My husband built both our dog and cat houses. The dog house he made out of cheap plywood with steel siding that was a “leftover” from Menards. Inside we put straw. This is a cheap way to keep the dog warm plus it’s something she can’t chew up!

The cat house is also made of plywood and other scrap wood. The cost of both houses was about $50. I know you can buy pre-made houses but we built these to fit our needs. With the cat house, my husband made it into a jungle gym for the cats plus we can keep their food in the bottom part so the neighbor’s dog doesn’t come over and eat it. We can also lock them inside if we would need to.

The cats love their house! They’ve gotten so lazy since we built it that I haven’t seen any dead mice laying on my doorstep for a while….. Inside the cat house, we put an old rag rug for them to lay on. Since there are 2 they like to snuggle to stay warm so I’m not too worried.

Inexpensive Pet Food

I don’t have too many tips for buying cheap pet food. I know there are good deals to be had on it sometimes. We used to buy just the cheapest kind for the cats but that made them sick so we spend a little more on it now. We have usually bought cat food from Target since they tend to have the most sales on it and we buy dog food at Menards because of sales.

I also thought I’d share this recipe for homemade kitten formula. When I got the baby kittens to take care of they were only 2 weeks old and kittens need to be fed milk until about 6 – 8 weeks. I searched and searched for a milk replacer recipe (it is VERY expensive at the store, especially when you are trying to feed 4 kittens!) Here’s what I finally came up with.

I know the thrifty cat food recipe sounds odd but kittens need a lot of fat and protein when they are growing. I’m happy to say I didn’t have much problem with feeding them this mixture and they all made it and were very healthy and fat babies. I got tiny bottles at the local farm store, the ones at Walmart were way too flimsy and fell apart. It’s been 10 years since I came up with this recipe and the cats that I fed it to are still healthy and happy.

Kitten Formula

12 oz. cold water
1 envelope unflavored Gelatin
12 oz. whole evaporated milk
2 tablespoons mayo
2 tablespoons whole yogurt

Boil the water, stir in the gelatin. Add 1/2 the milk, then the mayo and yogurt, and then the rest of the milk. Mix well. This sets up like a white jello and should be stored in the fridge. Feed it to the babies at room temperature. As the kittens grew older I started putting this in a bowl for them and when they got used to that I mixed it with pureed meat and eventually switched them to dry food. If you want more advice on this process just email me and I’ll be happy to answer your questions. It’s a long ordeal but very worth it in the end.

*Do not feed to older cats


Homemade Treats

I haven’t bought treats in a very long time. Here are some simple and frugal treats to try out.

Homemade Dog Treats

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cup oatmeal
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup warm water

Add in options 1/3 cup grated cheese or 1/4 cup peanut butter

Mix all the ingredients together. Roll into a roll and chill for 1 hour. Slice roll into 1/4 in. slices and bake on a lightly greased cooking sheet at 300F for 50 minutes or until done.

–Find another frugal dog recipe for homemade dog treats in my book, Little House Living: The Make Your Own Guide to a Frugal, Simple, and Self Sufficient Life.

Homemade Cat Treats

1 1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup tuna oil/chicken broth/or beef broth

Mix all the ingredients together. Roll into small 1/2 inch thick biscuits. Bake on a greased cooking sheet for 30 minutes or until browned.



I’ve been lucky enough to find a vet that’s close to our house and that provides very inexpensive services. Call around before you pick a vet, ask about prices. Also, it’s worth going to a vet even if they charge a little more than someone else if they give you the service and care that you deserve. Early shots for cats are available at local farm and ranch stores for very cheap. You can order other meds from websites such as Pet Meds for different illness’ such as worms.

One of the biggest cost savers with animals is to have them spayed. Think of all the extra expenses you would have with 5 extra cats running around rather than just paying $100 and fixing them now. It’s definitely worth it in my book. Another way to get cheap spaying/fixing is to call your local animal shelter. They usually will do this for you and base it off your income so the cost can be minimal.

I’m such an animal lover I always believe that having pets is worth the cost. I am glad, though, for the frugal living ideas that I can do to save money with them as well.

Here are some more posts that you might enjoy:

DIY Animal Mineral Feeder

How to Make Horse Treats

Why You Should Raise Goats

How to Keep Your Chickens Full and Healthy

Home Made Fly Spray

Do you have any money-saving tips for taking care of animals?

This article with Thrifty Pet Ideas was originally published on Little House Living in November 2009. It has been updated as of January 2020.

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  1. I love some of these ideas on making homemade treats. I too an a sucker for animals… 3 cats, 2 dogs, and 2 horses. Horses are by far the most expensive to treat, although surprisingly the amount I spend on dog food and horse grain and hay is roughly the same per month (except that you have to buy the horse hay all at once in the summer). Below are some homemade horse treats which mine love! I never figured out a price/unit for them but they are WAY cheaper than the $12/bag of horse treats at the feed store and they are not loaded with preservatives and other stuff.

    Carrot and Apple Cookies
    * 1 cup sweet feed
    * 2 cup bran
    * 1 cup flax seed
    * 4 large carrots, shredded
    * 1 cup molasses
    * 1/2 cup brown sugar
    * 1 cup applesauce
    Mix molasses, brown sugar, carrots and applesauce in one bowl.
    In another bowl mix the dry ingredients. Slowly combine the molasses
    mixture with the dry ingredients. Add only enough molasses mixture to
    form a thick dough, add more bran if necessary. Line cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Using a tablespoon, drop batter onto cookie sheet and flatten slightly to form portions about the size of a silver dollar. Bake at 300 degrees F for about 1 hour. Flip and bake for an additional 45 minutes until they are dried out. Keep checking to make sure they don’t burn.

    Whinny Bars
    * 2 Cups Dry Oatmeal
    * 3/4 Cup Grain
    * 3 Cups Bran
    * 1 Cup Molasses
    Mix Oats, Grain and Bran together in a bucket. Drizzle in Molasses while
    mixing with you hands (you’re looking for a consistency a little thinner
    than Play-Doh). Place dollups (about half a handful) on a cookie sheet
    and bake at 350 for ten minutes. These have a tendency to burn. They never get completely hard, but they store nicely.

    Microwave Horse Cookies
    * 2 cups of flour
    * 5 cups of oatmeal
    * 1/2 cup corn oil
    * 1 clove of garlic
    * 1 cup of diced carrots
    Combine ingredients in bowl. Make small balls, place on
    microwaveable plate, flatten balls. Bake at high for 6 minutes per batch.

    Easy no cook snaps
    * 4 Cups of bran
    * 4 Cups of applesauce
    Mix ingredients together. Batter should be doughy. Roll out
    with rolling pin, cut shapes with cookie cutter. Let dough dry and serve.

    I got these from and there are many more listed on there but these are the ones I have tried.

  2. I’m frugal when it comes to my cats, except on one thing; food. I’ve learned from experience with my last cat that going cheap is not always the best, and can lead to a lot of expensive vet bills (and a lot of heart-ache). That doesn’t mean that the most costly is the best. Research goes a long way, and if I have to spend a bit more on food to save in the long run on vet trips, then I’ll do that.
    My 2 boys eat Blue Buffalo. While it can be a bit more expensive, broken down it comes to about $15/month to feed them both with one bag. It’s filling for them and full of wonderful ingredients (and no corn! ). This may not work for everyone, and different cats like different things, but I’ve worked this into my budget every month and it’s been more then worth it 🙂

    1. I completely agree with you, Jill. My sister-in-law buys Blue Buffalo for her massive Great Pyrennees dog. They need less of the good stuff because the required nutrients are available and absorbed better than the cheaper food with all those nasty fillers and feedlot castoffs. Dogs can eat the dry “kibble” because they drink so much water. Cats are a whole different story. They were originally desert animals and do not drink water frequently–not exactly water hoarders like camels–but the dry food dehydrates their organs over time as is denatured and lacking moisture. This is a major reason why cats have kidney, bladder, thyroid, and urinary issues—Hydration is life. I recommend that cat owners, especially, add moisture to their pet’s food or stick to canned or raw food. If only the vets out there would tell pet owners these type of tips–I’ve had to find out the hard way with some health scares with my male cat in particular and thyroid issues with two of my female cats who lived to around 18 each who maybe could have lived longer without thyroid issues stemming from years of dry food eating.

      1. Dear Natalie,
        Thanks for your tip. I live in Canada and buy my dry cat food from the local Co-op – I wonder do you think I could add a can of moist food once a week – would that be sufficient to avoid the illnesses you were mentioning?

    2. I love all of the great tips on this site! I, too, only feed my 3 kitties and dog Blue Buffalo. I tried to go cheaper and my dog was constipated, even though I weaned him slowly from one food to the other, and the cats urine was so strong, I found I was having to empty the ENTIRE litter box every couple days…which did not save me money in the long run. As soon as I switched back to Blue Buffalo, everyone was happy, so I just budget it in. Add to the fact that there is so many recalls on pet food, I can sleep better knowing that my pets are eating just about the same food as me, sometimes better! Thanks for all the wonderful ideas! I’m trying to absorb everything!

  3. Thank you for the post and recipes. A few years back I found 3 abandoned kittens by the side of the busy highway who had just opened their eyes–I had to rush to PetSmart to get formula. They were starving and covered with fleas. I actually had to cut the tip off the bottle to get the milk in them faster. Being an animal lover, I could only bring myself to give them away to family members (I had 4 cats at the time so I couldn’t keep them). I do agree with Jill that we should feed animals the very best quality food you can afford–if you research pet food/feed it’s really shocking to read the list of ingredients– chemicals, cheap fillers, dyes, and diseased animal by-products in commercial food. I truly believe these ingredients can shorten the lifespan of our pets and can led to tumors, cancers, and arthritic conditions you don’t see in animals in the wild. I have been known to make my own raw pet food–it’s actually cheaper than dry or canned per serving.

  4. I am sorry to read about your parents dog – I’m sure she will be missed,
    I was very interested to read your tips and recipes ..
    I understand about being a soft touch. I am too which is why we currently have 15 cats, 1 dog, a rabbit and fish.
    I was wondering if it would be possible to post a pic of the cat house your hubby built as I am in the market for a cheap and easy room for my cats to live in winter as well as summer. We have a few cats that are indoor cats but the majority are outdoor. All our females are spayed and some of the males are neutered.
    I very much enjoy your tips and emails.
    Thanks so much,
    Sincerely Dianne

  5. One of the biggest things we’ve done to save money with our pets is to buy discounted gift cards online. We buy them to Petco. About every 6 weeks they run a sale on all the “all natural” foods, plus we earn 10% back in “rewards dollars”. Once we stack the discounts from the gift card to the sale to the rewards dollars the food we buy is as cheap (or sometimes cheaper!) than the big box brands.

    You can also make your own litter with newspaper. It’s not clumping, but if you buy a thrift-shop bbq tongs it helps clean the litter box much easier than a scoop would. I gather free newspapers down the street (I wait until the night before the new issue comes out so I’m not taking away from readers) and sometimes from the newspaper recycling bins at the library. This saves us a bundle as we have three indoor cats!

  6. I am happy to see that more and more people are finally understanding that premium pet foods are definitely worth the money. So many brands (even one famous brand sold at all vet’s offices) contain corn and other fillers/grains. Corn is one of the main causes of allergies. For dogs, the first ingredient listed should be meat, never, never, ever meat byproducts (these are the left over bits and pieces that would usually be in the trash). My dogs do not sleep outside, I understand some people do not want them in the house, but keeping them outside all of the time is not only cruel and dangerous, but a lonely place for any dog. If one does not want their dog close to them, only to stay outside, there is no reason to have one. Remember, you get what you pay for. If I would not eat it, my dogs don’t eat it.

  7. I know this may be way overboard for this type of blog but pet insurance has been a lifesaver for me. I pay $24/month and get coverage that includes congenital defects. My dog has been very healthy but he is my child and I would do everything in my power to save him if something happened. I also happen to work in veterinary medicine. We live in the pacific northwest where salmon poisoning is prevalent. He was finally exposed unknowingly to the parasite (and subsequent bacteria) and was extremely ill for a few days. I insisted on hospitalizing him on IV fluids and my total bill including the emergency clinic was ~$1200. With my pet insurance, I got a check back from them a month later for almost $900. TOTALLY worth it. The piece of mind it gives me is worth it in my book. Also, preventative care is the number one thing that will save you money in the long run for your pet. Veterinarians are trained to find signs and symptoms of illness and disease when your pet isn’t actually acting different. The problem can then be remedied for much cheaper (in most cases) than costly bills down the road. Also, spay and neuter your pets. A lot of people think they can impregnate their “purebred” dog and then sell the puppies for a bundle. But, what happens when a fetus gets stuck or an infection sets in and you have to decide on a life-saving c-section and hospitalization for thousands more than you would have made? Finding a trusted veterinarian is necessity if you have pets that you love in your life.