5 Things I Do When Money Is Tight But a Cat Needs Help


I will never have enough money to do all that I would like to do to help cats. But who does? Rather than indulging this frustrating mindset, I think a better approach is to think about what I can do for cats.

I’ve written at Catster about Zorro, a beautiful stray who showed up at our house last fall. He made it through a tough, cold winter (temps colder than minus-40 at night) by being very smart and staying in our garage. We did all that we could to help him survive, and recently, we captured him. Up until I took him to the vet to have him neutered, we spent very little money on Zorro. I had five indoor cats to care for already.

When I have to get economical, however, here are some of the things I do:

1. Build cheap shelters

Thanks to Catster articles like this one and this one, I learned to build a really cheap feral cat shelter for Zorro. In December, the temperature really started getting very cold here (it’s been the second harshest winter over the last 100 years, as it turns out). I was quite worried about Zorro’s ability to stay warm, and I built a shelter. I already had the outer plastic bin, and the insulation. As it turns out, he never used the shelter. He did use the other bed we’d made him — straw stuffed in a big rubber circular container that we already had. As he got more comfortable with us, and more comfortable with coming out to the front of the garage, we put some straw on an old plastic sled we use for hauling wood. Zorro loved this new perch. Eventually I splurged and bought him a small heating pad (which he loved), but he could have gotten by without it. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend a little money to spoil a cat!

2. Do lots of research

The Internet is my friend. If not for the Internet, I would not have learned about how to build a cheap shelter, for example. I also would not have gotten some great advice from many of the expert commenters at Catster. One person recommended something I’ve never forgotten — they had discovered that a certain brand of high-quality dog food (with the required taurine that cats need) was fine to feed for cats, and more economical than some of the high-quality cat food brands. I also learned, through trial and error and through cat lovers who do rescue, that my feral cat would survive our horrid winter just fine, as long as he had the shelter of the garage and a place where he could burrow in and get warm.

3. Feed cheap food, or prioritize and compromise

This is a tough one, because if I had my way, I would feed the most expensive, best food possible. But sometimes, this isn’t always possible. So I try to compromise. I do some research. Is there some food I can feed that isn’t the junkiest food on the market but is less expensive than the quality food I dream of? Does Keiran really need a huge serving of canned food? I try to monitor amounts given and keep the cats at a healthy weight — not too thin and not fat.

4. Cut back on something less important than my cats

People might call me crazy, but this is a cat site, and I expect that a lot of you understand how we feel about our cats. If I have to give something up so that I can afford something for my cat, I will. I spend more on veterinary care than I probably do on my own health care. I’m not sure this is a good thing, but it seems to be a pattern. But other things make more sense to give up when a cat needs help. I’ll gladly give up spending money on stuff that seems like less of a priority (eating out? The latest electronic device?) so that I can help a cat in my world who needs some love or intervention.

5. Maintain annual wellness checks and preventative care

I don’t skimp on preventative vet care, because I assume that taking care of this stuff may nip more expensive problems in the bud further down the road. Although it may take courage, I’d rather find out that my cat has early onset kidney disease and manage it for years rather than being surprised with a horrible illness right at its end. I try to keep up on things that I can do myself — clipping claws, cleaning teeth, brushing fur, and feeling the cat’s body for any lumps or bumps that don’t feel right.

I wouldn’t mind hearing your suggestions on this topic. I know a lot of us care for cats that are our own or that may be free-roaming or feral. So, how do you afford this and make it work in your budget? Share your insights, please!

More by Catherine Holm:

Read stories of rescue on Catster:

About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.

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