Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Frugal Pet Care

****For those of you who are new here, I write a regular column on frugality for my local newspaper. This was my article for the week. It stemmed from the many reader questions I get on the topic of maintaining the health of a pet when on a strict budget. I hope it's helpful to you as well.

Nobody ever told me that being a mother meant I would also end up being a pet owner. But it wasn’t too far into my parenting career before one of my kids looked up at me with their big blue eyes brimming with hope and asked, “Mommy, can I have a pet?” And from that day on I was not only the mother and primary caregiver of four children but a succession of pets that included half a dozen fish, 4 lizards, 4 hamsters, one dog, 2 snakes a frog, and numerous insects in mason jars.

And if you think caring for kids can cut into your budget, wait until you see the vet bill when your dog or cat needs some TLC. But as with every other area of our spending, even pet ownership has some areas where we can creatively cut costs and still keep our furry friends in good health.

I set about doing some research and found out that many dog and cat owners save money on shots by administering them at home. So I called Dells Feed and Farm Supply in Longview and sure enough, you can purchase the syringe, the whole set of shots for your pet, and get a mini lesson on how to administer it, all for $10. That will not only save you the cost of an office visit but in many cases it’s a huge decrease in what you’ll be charged for the vaccine directly from the vet.

If you’re a cat owner then you probably make a regular purchase of litter for your cat’s box. Did you know that there are some no-cost alternatives that are thought to be even healthier for your cat than the chemicals you’ll find in packaged litter? HERE I found a recipe that uses a combination of old shredded newspapers or junk mail and baking soda. The baking soda absorbs moisture and odors and is also harmless to your cat. Others have used sawdust or dried sand from a beach and just scooped out the clumps as needed.

Did you know that baking soda can be used to shampoo your dog? Just sprinkle some on your dogs coat, rub it in with your hands and then give them a good brushing. It’s leaves their coat shiny, clean and odor free. The baking soda acts to neutralize any odors while the gritty texture grabs and removes any stuck on dirt and oils. Not only is it perfume free and extremely inexpensive but there are no harsh chemicals to irritate the skin and it naturally kills fleas.

Which brings us to those pesky blood suckers that can plague our pets and our homes. To keep fleas away from your dog you can slip a clove of garlic into their diet every other day. The garlic odor is excreted through their skin and repels fleas. A brewers yeast tablet can be used in the same way.

I spoke with Lisa Durling, a local herbalist, owner of Gypsy Trader Imports, and my sister, and she said that she has used herbal remedies to keep fleas away from her cats and dogs for years. She recommends a recipe for an herbal flea dip made from rosemary which can also keep ticks away. She also suggests a spray made from a mixture of water and steeped lavender leaves or another spray that includes a small amount of tea tree oil and water.

There are many ways to cut costs when it comes to keeping our pets healthy. A good diet and plenty of exercise can go a long way in avoiding many health issues. And of course when a problem does arise that is beyond your comfort level to deal with, a good vet is worth every penny. But if you choose to use a few of these tips you’ll see a nice decrease in your yearly pet budget.

Herbal Flea Dip from

Steep two cups of fresh rosemary in two pints of boiling water for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid, discard the leaves and make it up to one gallon ( 8 pints) with warm water. Pour this mixture over the dog until it's saturated. Do not rinse off and allow the dog to dry naturally. Perfect for a warm sunny day.

Herbal Flea Spray #1 from Lisa at

Fill a spray bottle with water and add 3-5 drops of tea treat oil. Spray on your dog or cat coat and allow to dry. Tea tree oil is an antiseptic and not only repels fleas but also has the added benefit of helping in the treatment of insect bites.

Herbal Flea Spray #2 from Lisa at

Boil a handful of lavender leaves in water. Cool, strain and pour into a spray bottle. Spray on your dog or cat coat and allow to dry. Lavender is an antiseptic as well as an anti-inflammatory and can help heal any wounds left from flea bites.


EEEEMommy said...

Another great article.
One question: is the baking soda bath a dry bath, or do you wet and then lather?

Gayle said...

It's a dry bath.

Suzie said...

I also use a product called Flea Relief from Dr. Goodpet ( It is a homeopathic product that I just put a few drop in the food each morning. She is 4 y.o. and never had a flea or tick on her, that I have seen. The bottle lasts me 3 months (for a small dog). Great stuff! Suzie E

Gloria said...

Excellent information. I will be sure to pass it on to family and friends with pets.

Shelly said...

Thank you for your post! I have a Chow mix with thick fur. Everytime I give her a bath, she gets a hot spot. The baking soda "bath" will be perfect for her!

Kelli said...

great timing, We have been fighting the flea problem as our dogs have become immune (or is it the fleas that are immune...??) anyway, to advantage and frontline. I can't wait to try these out!!

Treasia said...

Thank you so much for this post. My little Shi Tzu is allergic to fleas. The vet and I have tried everything we could think of to keep the fleas away and nothing is working. She has scratched herself bald in the back and hind end. I have got to try these things out and for sure hope they work. Thanks again.

Miss(es) Canadian Pie said...

I love the idea of the baking soda dry bath!! My dogs are hunting dogs and tend to get rather..well..dirty daily. Bathing them even once a week isn't an option. I'm definatly going to try this. Thank you!

Jennifer C. said...

One thing I've done is spray my yard with beneficial nematodes. They eat fleas! You have to wait until after the last frost and reapply every year, but it works wonders. I found them at Home Depot.

Rebecca said...

Can you use the baking soda bath on cats too?

Gayle said...

I'm sure it wouldn't harm them but it might be hard to brush out if your cat doesn't care to be brushed. Plus I would think it would be easier on a long haired cat rather than a short hair.

Sarah said...

We do a lot of training with our dogs, and that requires a lot of high quality treats for rewards. We save TONS of money by making homemade treats instead of buying them. has a good selection of recipes to start with.

Maxine said...

Over 39 years of owning dogs, about half of the trips to the vet have been because the dog either needed to vomit or had diarrhea. Thanks to my current vet, I have learned to treat both of these conditions at home. Obviously, if your dog were very sick, you'd still take it to the vet.

To cure diarrhea, feed a mixture of cooked rice and ground beef. You may need to do this for several days to get the dog's system back to normal.

To make a dog huck it up (which most seem to do fine on their own...except our Westie ate chocolate for Christmas), give the dog 3 teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide (yes, hydrogen peroxide). I use one of those liquid medicine spoons and fill the hollow handle. (I keep one just for dogs, LOL). You are going to see results in about 5 minutes. If you can get the dog in the bathtub, this is a good place to administer the peroxide. If the dog won't cooperate (my 75 lb. Lab/golden retriever wouldn't), at least get it off the carpet. I was told to use 3 teaspoons for the 15 lb. Westie. She told me to start with 3 teaspoons for a bigger dog and repeat in 10 minutes if nothing has come up.

pet care tv said...

This is a great post on fleas. I thought you might be interested in a video on the topic at MyPetCareTv.

Frugal in Florida said...

Do you think you could have found a CUTER picture??

We are petless for now but in the past, have had flea problems with long haired cat. Finally, tried the 20 mule team Borax stuff. Just sprinkle on to the carpet, bedding & anyplace the pet hangs out. Vacuum up 24 hours later & repeat.

Honestly, this got rid of a very bad flea problem we were having within days.