Q: It’s been a bad year for me and money is tight. I have two rescued dogs and two rescued cats, all of whom aren’t getting any younger, though they’re healthy at the moment. Do you have any advice for saving money on medical care, food, grooming, toys and other pet expenses? – V.J., Orlando, Fla.

A: I agree that times are tough. Here are some cost-saving ideas:

1. Pet insurance: As for all forms of insurance, this requires an investment (which not everyone can shoulder), but should something catastrophic occur, you’d be covered. Some companies pay up to 80 percent or more of the cost of care.

2. Create your own toys. For example, if you took your dog for a walk in the park near a tennis court just after dark, I’ll bet you’d find several gently used tennis balls. A plastic milk carton with a wine cork inside (or something else that makes a noise) appeals to many dogs.

3. Most pet food and cat litter companies offer coupons online.

4. Low-cost veterinary clinics do exist, most often associated with animal shelters.

5. Consider learning to groom your own animals; they won’t care if the results are less than show quality.

6. Buy the largest bags of pet food possible.

For more ideas, check out “Barkonomics: Tips for Frugal Fidos,” by Paris Permenter and John Bigley (Riviera Books, 2010, $13.95). Note: At the time this column was published, used copies of “Barkonomics” were available through for a mere $7.


Q: We recently adopted a 9-year-old cat. When we’re not home, our old lady loves to sleep. Butterball (who lives up to her name) seems so appreciative, like she knows we’ve given her this one last chance at love. We do have her on a diet, and it’s working. Her only bad habit is nibbling on plants. Should we be concerned? – H.H., St. Paul, Minn.

A: Many common houseplants are, in fact, dangerous for cats to ingest. For a complete list, go to, then click on the tab for the Animal Poison Control Center under Pet Care, toward the bottom of the page.

There’s also a video on YouTube presented by the director of the Poison Control Center on the topic; search on the words Poisonous Plants.

Consider a manufactured deterrent you can apply to houseplants, such as Bitter Apple or Keep Away (available online and at pet stores).

However, it would be far better, at least until you know Butterball has broken the habit, to simply remove the plants.

Meanwhile, redirect Butterball’s chewing habit to safe roughage. You can buy cat grass at most pet stores and supermarkets, or online, and it’s actually healthy for cats. Also, periodically offer catnip, which you can also grow yourself. If Butterball is busy grazing on these acceptable alternatives, it’s less likely she’ll sample anything harmful.


Q: I don’t want to declaw my 6-year-old cat. I’ve purchased all sorts of scratching posts but he won’t use them. What can I do? – D.P., Cyberspace

A: I’m glad you don’t want to amputate your kitty’s toes, which is what a declaw really is.

Position those scratching posts adjacent to where the cat is currently scratching (presumably your furniture). Entice him using an interactive toy with feathers. When the cat bats at this, he’ll deposit his scent on the post, further enticing him to return there. Timing is important. Try this technique when your cat is excited. Another good time is when you’ve just arrived home from work after a long day. When the cat does scratch the post, offer treats and praise.

Simultaneously, make the things your cat is currently scratching less attractive by placing plastic chair runners or cat mats (both nubby side up) over them.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to Include your name, city and state.