I Switched to Cheaper Cat Food, and I Feel Like a Horrible Person


When I adopted my cat Agnes, I was 22 years old and I had never been fully responsible for another life before, with the exception of a few plants I had obtained over the years and then forgotten to water until they wilted and died. But when I brought home my tiny kitten I was determined to take the best possible care of her. This three-pound ball of fluff was totally dependent on me and I had to make all sorts of hard decisions about her care.

One of the first things I had to figure out was what to feed her. At the time I lived off student loans and two part-time jobs, so I certainly wasn’t wealthy, but I wanted to feed Agnes the best possible food I could. I picked a super premium grain-free dry food with ingredients like free-range chicken and turnip greens and marigold flowers. I’m not sure what the marigold flowers were for, but they sure sounded fancy. Later, after doing more research, I added a grain-free wet food because I read that wet food was important to keep cats properly hydrated.

Of course, when I adopted another cat, the money I spent on cat food more than doubled because my cat Olive has a bottomless pit where her stomach should be. Sometimes I joked that my cats ate better than I did, and honestly it might have been true. I probably spent more money on their food than mine some months, which probably says more about how much of my diet is comprised of lentils and rice than anything.

In the years following college I continued to be pretty broke, but I was surviving, and I prioritized my cats’ well-being above most things. I continued to feed them super premium food, spoil them with treats and toys, and even bought a huge cat tree when it went on sale. I also managed to max out three credit cards when my late kitten Effie got sick. But recently I unexpectedly lost my job, and decisions about what I can feed my cats (and myself) have gotten much more complicated.

I did find a part-time job, but instead of having a merely below-average income like I used to, I am now grazing the poverty line, which means I am cutting back on everything possible. I haven’t eaten a full serving of vegetables in a week, and I certainly haven’t been eating out for meals like I used to. No more lattes, no more cocktails, no more video rentals, no more organic produce. It is starting to get chilly here in Portland and I don’t own a warm coat but buying one is just not an option right now. And I am buying cheaper cat food. That’s honestly the one I feel the worst about.

It’s not like I’m buying them the cheapest cat food. Their dry food is still grain-free. Their wet food still has meat as the first ingredient and contains no by-products. They certainly don’t seem to mind — they actually like the new wet food better, and the initial suspicion they had over the dry food has worn off. I know I’m doing the best I can for them, and it’s not like they would benefit if I couldn’t pay my rent. They need a place to live, too. I doubt they would enjoy being street cats. But I was so determined to take the best possible care of them, and I feel like I’m failing. It’s not that I think the food I’m feeding them is horrible for them, or that I would judge anyone else for selecting it for their cats. It’s really that I made the decision based on price and not what I thought was best for them.

I’m also putting off their annual vet appointments because I can’t afford them. Have I mentioned that Agnes has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and needs another ultrasound of her heart in a few months? I can’t even think about that right now.

I am probably a neurotic cat parent. OK, I know I’m a neurotic cat parent. I am actually just a neurotic person in general. But it can be so anxiety-inducing to have an animal depend on you when you can barely take care of yourself sometimes. (Can you even imagine what I’ll be like if I have children someday?)

All I can do is take deep breaths, tell myself I’m doing the best I can and keep on applying for jobs. I have enough money to pay rent this month, even if I won’t have much left afterward. I have a bunch of rice and lentils in my kitchen cupboard. I have 30 pounds of dry cat food and a bunch of cans in the closet. At this moment, anyway, the three of us are OK.

How do you decide what you can and can’t afford for your cats? Have you ever had to cut your cat expenses, and how did you do it? Are you as neurotic as I am? Do you have a job for me? Let me know in the comments!

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