Affordable Alternatives to Overpriced Pet Products

woman DIY cleaning her pet boston terrier dog
Wojciech Kozielczyk / Getty Images/iStockphoto

It’s so easy to walk into the pet-supply store for one small, inexpensive item and walk out having put $100 on your credit card. All pet parents probably have done that — more than once. You likely spent more than you needed to on some of those purchases, too, either because they make your life more convenient as a pet owner or maybe because you just wanted to give your pet a treat.

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Tips: How To Puppy-Proof Your Home on a Budget

Whether you have a dog or a cat, a rabbit or a bird, you can find — or make — substitute products that will help to care for your pet or entertain them.

Toys and Such

Our dogs and cats certainly enjoy their entertainment, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

Cat scratching posts, for example, start as low as $15 for a simple model, or you could spend $400 or more for a designer cat tree. The truth is, your cat probably isn’t that particular.

“Some cats are just as happy with cardboard boxes and paper bags to investigate and play in. There are many terrific websites with instructions for making your own cat furniture; simply do a search for ‘how to make cat furniture’,” said Hannah Stember, the public relations director of the Best Friends Animal Society.

See: How Pet Parents Can Financially Prepare For a Return to Office

Make Your Money Work for You

Dr. Sarah Wooten, the staff veterinarian for Pumpkin Pet Insurance, agreed.

“Cats love the texture of cardboard and sissel rope,” she said. “Your used Amazon boxes can make great scratching and hiding spots for your cat, or you can make your own scratching post/art with a glue gun and some sissel rope from the hardware store.”

Cats also take great enjoyment looking out the window. The Best Friends Society recommends installing a bird feeder outside a window where your cat can watch the birds. For best viewing, build a feline window perch.

Read More: Most Americans Spend More on Their Pets Than Themselves Each Year

Cat Litter Alternatives

A 36-pound container of cat litter costs about $40 at the pet-supply store, but Wooten said you don’t need the expensive stuff.

“If you have an indoor cat, litter is essential,” she said. “You don’t have to spend a bunch of money on fancy, scented litter, however, and in fact, cats don’t like it. Instead, get fine, sandy, unscented clumping litter, and only pour in enough to have 2-3 inches of litter so that the cat can cover their eliminations.”

The alternative costs about $13 for 29 pounds.

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Sarah-Jane White, an animal behavior and enrichment expert, said there’s no need to buy any, suggesting you make your own instead.

“Cat litter has to be one of the biggest expenses of cat ownership yet if you are prepared to put in a bit of time and effort to make your own, you can save hundreds of dollars on this essential item,” she said.

Make Your Money Work for You

One recommendation she has involves newspaper that you’d throw in the recycling bin anyway. Her recipe? Shred the newspaper, soak it in soapy water to remove the ink, knead it into pulp and then spread it out to dry.

“This then crumbles into chunks, and if you add in a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda, that will help absorb odors,” she said. “The newspaper will then look and work like commercial kitty litter at a fraction of the price.”

See: How Much Does It Cost To Adopt a Shelter Pet?

Pet Grooming and Care

While pet grooming is more of a service than a product, you can find ways to save money. Start with bathing your dog. A bath starts at about $20 for an extra-small pooch — double that for an extra-large dog. Add roughly $15 to $25 for full grooming, depending on your dog’s size.

“Pet grooming products/services are notoriously overpriced and expensive, and a lot of pet owners would be happy to find a suitable alternative,” said Becky Brown, the CEO and co-founder of “I always advise people to groom their pets at home, and all they need for quality grooming is a pair of scissors, a quality inexpensive shampoo and a decent comb.”

She said that combo of a comb and shampoo can be found for less than $20.

Even if you’re not comfortable performing the whole grooming process yourself, Wooten said there are things you can do at home. You can trim the nails of a small dog or cat with the same kind of fingernail clippers you’d use. If the nail bleeds, dip it in cornstarch. Treat chin acne or chronic issues with skin-fold bacterial infections, with over-the-counter human acne pads from the drugstore. And finally, for ear cleaning, make your own solution of ear cleaner, using equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol and putting a few drops in your pet’s ears every couple of days. If there are any signs of an ear infection, such as odor, discharge, redness or excessive scratching, do not use this.

Make Your Money Work for You

Find: Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Other Ideas

The alternatives to pet items you can purchase are limited only by your creativity. Caughill shared his thoughts in other categories.

If you’re surprised by the price of pet GPS collars, you can save by using an Apple AirTag,” he said. “Just make sure you check the tag periodically to make sure it’s still functioning — especially if your dog decides to go for a romp in the mud.”

And if Fido does just that, Caughill had a solution for that, too.

“Pets get messy, then bring that mess into your home,” he said. “That’s why a huge range of pet wipe products exist, from eye wipes to paw wipes to ear wipes and beyond. If you like to DIY, you can cheaply make these wipes yourself with a roll of paper towels, your pet’s shampoo, and an airtight container.”

Finally, he said, there’s an alternative to the Shake & Break Training Tool popularized by dog trainer Brandon McMillan. You shake the gadget when you want your pet to stop a behavior you want to break, such as jumping on the couch. The noise redirects the dog’s attention to you and away from what he’s doing. It costs about $16 but you can make your own.

All you have to do, Caughill said, is put change into an empty bottle or coffee can and rattle it when warranted.

Problem solved. Money saved.

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