Without shredding your bank account

Love Your Cat

by Cheri Baker

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For those of us who love them, owning a cat can be one of life's most rewarding experiences. Owning a cat can also be expensive, particularly if she requires veterinary care. However, with good preventative care and planning, it is easy to keep your cat healthy and happy while keeping those claws off your pocketbook. To keep your cat care expenses low, consider some of the following strategies.

Provide an indoor-only home. The risk of injury to outdoor cats, even if they only go out on occasion, is significant. If you allow your cat to roam, you'll not only endanger him, you'll also be at high risk for paying your vet for antibiotics, abscesses, broken legs, diseases, flea and worm removal, and bite wounds. In addition, the average life span of an outdoor cat is only four years, in comparison to fifteen or more years for an indoor-only feline.

Feed a premium cat food. This seems contrary, certainly a pet-store food seems more expensive than a low quality grocery store brand, but the price alone is deceptive. Cats that are fed a high quality diet have fewer medical problems, including chronic diseases, and actually produce smaller and less smelly stools. Many grocery store brands contain high levels of ash and artificial preservatives. Ash content should be no higher than six percent. Avoid overfeeding, which can result in obesity and related diseases in addition to wasting food. Keep in mind that cats do not need variety in the diet, and sticking to one brand of food will minimize digestive problems.

Spay/neuter your cat, preferably at 12 weeks of age. This one may seem obvious, but in addition to preventing unwanted litters, this procedure may also reduce certain types of cancers when done before maturity. Call around for reasonable rates; many animal rescue organizations offer low cost spay/neuter services certain times of each month.

Provide a scratching post (or two). Two ten dollar scratching posts will save your five hundred dollar couch, as will regular nail clipping. Move your cat gently to the post as a reminder if they scratch inappropriately. Cats do not understand scolding and will react with fear. Never declaw. It's an expensive and disfiguring procedure, which can lead to arthritis and inappropriate elimination habits. Many cats associate the pain of declawing with the litter box, and won't use one afterwards.

Skip the fancy accessories. Very few cats show interest in a store bought cat bed, preferring instead to find their own special place. Avoid the temptation. Most cats adore homemade toys and variety is more important than style. Plastic rings off milk jugs and crumpled foil are favorites. Take some dried catnip and tie it into the toe of an old sock for hours of fun. Any toys that can be swallowed or have pieces that can break off, including strings and yarn, should only be used under supervision. Rotate toys week to week to avoid boredom, and your cat will adore you. Basic supplies are easily substituted; any wide flat bowl can serve as a food dish, and a disposable aluminum turkey pan with handles can be an excellent litter box. As cute as the fish painted on that water dish may be, trust me, your cat won't even notice.

Provide basic medical care. Keeping your cats up to date on basic shots is good preventative medicine, and will help prevent costly illnesses down the road. If your local vet is expensive, try driving to a less expensive rural veterinarian if your cats will tolerate the car long enough. Recent veterinary research indicates most vaccines can be given once every three years, instead of annually. Ask your vet which vaccines are necessary, and don't skimp on those that are necessary. Also, keeping your cat's teeth clean is a basic requirement of good health. Cats with poor teeth and gums often develop systemic diseases, which require expensive medical care. If you don't want to spend the money on professional teeth cleaning, consider brushing your cat's teeth daily. If started early, most cats tolerate this. Inexpensive fingertip toothbrushes and fish flavored toothpaste are available at most pet stores.

Save on your pet's medications at 1-800-PetMeds.

Plan for emergencies. Pet insurance is a relatively inexpensive way to plan for unexpected medical problems. You can purchase this insurance from one of several providers for as little as ten dollars per month. Expenses ranging from tooth extraction to cancer are typically covered. For a relatively small amount of money, you'll know your cat will be cared for regardless of the expense involved. Many companies offer discounts for employees on pet insurance as a benefit.

Adopt a shelter cat. There are several advantages to adopting a shelter cat. Most shelters will vaccinate, spay or neuter, de-flea, and test each cat for contagious diseases. For a relatively low adoption fee that helps defray expenses, you will receive the equivalent of many hundreds of dollars in medical care. Most shelters also offer free education on cat behavior, feeding, and care. And they will match the right cat to your particular situation. Shelter volunteers are available to answer your questions even after you take your new cat home.

Consider fostering. Many animal rescue organizations offer a fostering program in which cats are placed into homes on a temporary basis, ranging from days to months, while a permanent home is found for them. The rescue organization covers all medical expenses during this time and can also provide food and litter if it is a hardship to the foster home. This program benefits the many animals it saves from death each year, and also provides many families with the experience of sharing their homes with a wonderful animal for little to no cost. Foster families often house a number of cats before finding one they decide to adopt for themselves.

Cat ownership doesn't need to consume a lot of time or money. A combination of quality food, basic medical care, and a few daily head rubs will keep you and your cat happy for the many years you will share together.

Cheri Baker is a writer from Woodinville, WA. She is owned by two tabby cats and her husband, and is a volunteer at MEOW Cat Rescue in Kirkland, WA.

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