When to Splurge and When to Save on Cat Food, Litter, Toys and More

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Despite the fact that I no longer practice veterinary medicine full time, I regularly see patients at two hospitals near my home in north Idaho. I love being a veterinarian and think it's important to "keep it real," particularly since I spend most of my time talking to the media about quality veterinary care. Whenever I do practice, I see people and their beloved cats, and I see the worry on their faces. They’re worried about their pets, of course, but they’re also concerned about their pocketbooks. I know that even those pet owners who don’t ask it directly are wondering the same thing about any recommendation I or any veterinarian makes for improving the health of their cat, especially during the recession we’ve all been struggling through.

They want to know: Is this really worth the money?

When it comes to your cat, how do you know when to splurge and when to save? Are there alternatives to high-end options that are at least as good at a fraction of the cost? My answer: Sometimes yes, sometimes no; it depends on what we're talking about. Here's a quick rundown of basics for your cat and when you can — and cannot — cut corners.

Food

Many pet owners wonder if their cat needs “organic,” “natural” or even “kosher” food. The answer: probably not. At least to me. But if those attributes are important to you, those options are out there. As a veterinarian, the words I look for are ”complete and balanced.” And then I look for high-quality ingredients, primarily meat with a name, such as “turkey.”

When I’m dealing with a pet owner, I talk about what’s going on inside a cat, not just appearances on the outside (although they count, too). Think about your car: The clear coat may be shiny, with no rust to be seen, but you have to hook up the engine to a computer and run a diagnostic check to know if the car is truly in good condition. The same is true with your cat: Regular wellness checks, with routine diagnostics, are essential to knowing what your cat’s true health status is and what food is best for him. Whether you shop at a pet-supply store or a grocery store, your veterinarian can recommend a product in your price range with high-quality ingredients.

Verdict: Worth spending more for better-quality ingredients. Discuss with your veterinarian!

Litter

Feline behaviorists have studied this thoroughly, and the cats themselves have spoken: Unscented clumping litter is what cats tend to prefer, and when you fill boxes with it (and keep those litterboxes clean!), you’re less likely to spend money cleaning cat mess off your carpets — or replacing ruined floor coverings. (Now that’s expensive!) If you want some odor control, choose a clumping litter with a touch of charcoal. Scents you may like — lavender, citrus, etc. — may send your cat to potty elsewhere, and those “amenities” often add to the price. Save money by buying in bulk and stocking up during sales. Purchasing store-branded clumping litter is an option, but beware: Some cats are very picky indeed and will abandon the box if you don’t fill it with a preferred brand. As for expensive litters made from exotic ingredients? Not worth it in my book.

Verdict: Worth spending more for plain clumping litter, but you don't have to splurge on scented products and alternative ingredients.

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