Kitten in a cardboard box
I have four dogs, care for several cats and keep a small barnyard full of chickens and goats. And when you consider my chronic kitten habit, it only makes sense that finding creative ways to save money on pet supplies would become something of a necessity.

Here’s how I do it, in five common areas where we’re extra-likely to over-spend:

1. Toys and other playthings. Most pet toys are eminently easy to make at home. For kittens, I especially like taking cardboard boxes, cutting holes in them and jumbling them together in a cage for the kittens to frolic among. Peacock feathers are always fun for cats, too (we have lots of free-roaming peacocks here in Miami, where I live).

2. Doggie diapers for urinary accidents. I confess: I go through a lot of doggie diapers. That’s because my Pug mix, Slumdog, is hydrocephalic and, as such, he’s impossible to house train (poor boy). Then there’s my French Bulldog, Vincent, whose spinal issues render him somewhat incontinent (at the most inopportune times).

If I did my diaper shopping at the pet store, these canine elimination issues would cost me a bundle. Instead, I do my shopping the way I used to when I had a human baby to swaddle — I buy diapers in the baby section of the supermarket. There’s no cheaper way! At less than half the price, it makes complete sense.

I buy a size 3 baby diaper for my boys (the kind with self-adhesive tabs, not the “pull-on” style). The trick is to wrap the diaper around the lower belly like a belt, leaving the tail and back end exposed. For girls it’s trickier, seeing as you have to enclose the whole pelvis, which requires that you cut a hole for the tail. As I said, it’s trickier!

Just remember, if you find yourself wanting to use diapers on a regular basis, be sure to let your veterinarian know. Plenty of causes of urinary “accidents” have to do with healthcare issues that can and should be managed medically.

3. Pet treats. Unless they’re given to me as samples, I never feed commercial treats. Why would I? It’s the easiest thing in the world to make them at home — for a fraction of the cost. Add the fact that it’s so much more satisfying to feed your pets something from your own kitchen and it’s a wonder anyone buys store-bought treats at all.

Here are some recipes for Doggie Nut Butter Bites, Paw Print Pumpkin Biscuits and Bow-Wow Brownies. All of these recipes have been approved by veterinary nutritionists and are easy to whip up at home.

4. Shop around. When you have a lot of pets, it makes sense to look around for the best deal. I consistently find pet-related items online for 20 to 30 percent less than I would in a brick-and-mortar retail setting (shipping included). This is how I buy most of my pet food; collars and leashes; feeding bowls; dog beds and dog-friendly car covers, seat belts and water safety devices! Why would I spend more for the same exact items if I don’t have to?

5. Buy in bulk or sign up for auto-ship. Some pet items have gotten so expensive that it now makes sense to buy them in bulk. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to perishables like pet food and nutritional supplements. Buying in bulk is an excellent solution. You’ll almost always get the best deals this way.

But here’s the thing: Making sure these items don’t go bad before you need them can be hard for some of us to do (I have no room for an extra freezer, for example).

If you buy pet food through your veterinarian, many offices can arrange to have it delivered to your home as you need it. You can also ask if your veterinarian offers a discount if you buy larger quantities of flea and tick medications, heartworm preventives, shampoos and other items your pet may need on a regular basis.

This is also where my online shopping habit serves me well. I can get all the stuff I need as I need it if I elect the auto-shipping option many online outlets offer. This doesn’t won’t save me in terms of bulk, but it will often earn me credits with the merchant and typically helps me save big on any shipping expenses.

Those are my favorites. Now it’s your turn: How do you save on your pets’ product needs?

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