Pet Ownership in a Down Economy: Making Toys at Home

With the current financial crisis, if you’re not cutting back on expenses already, it’s likely that you will be soon. Pet parents are feeling the crunch even more than those without pets. It can be hard to justify spending extra money for fancy pet toys, especially when some families and pets are still coping with the aftermath of Ike and Gustav. Of course, to make matters worse, prices are going up on just about everything, and show no signs of coming down any time soon.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to save money on pet care without compromising your pets’ health or happiness. Making pet toys at home is one way to cut costs while keeping pets happy and stimulated.

Homemade Fleece Toys

Pets don’t need cutesy toys with googly eyes and little doll clothes. They need toys that are fun, safe, and durable. Skip the loofah dogs and the squeaky hedgehogs and swing by the craft store to pick up a couple of yards of alpine fleece. On sale approximately every other week, fleece can be had for as little a $2.99 per yard, and a yard or two of the fabric can provide hours of fun for cats, dogs, ferrets, parrots, or rats.

For dogs, cut the fleece into strips and braid it tightly, making a rope. You can experiment with macrame techniques to add a handle or shape the toy differently. Tie a thick knot at one end, and you’ve got a perfect tugging toy. A shorter braid with a knot at each end can be a toy for fetching, and if you’re really creative, you can even cut many small pieces and knot them together at their centers to make a fleece ball. Fleece toys are interactive and, like all fabric toys, should not be left with an unattended dog.

For cats, pick up some dried catnip at the pet store and sew it between two mouse-shaped pieces of fleece. Add a piece of yarn for a tail, and you’ve got a great homemade mouse toy. If you really want to be creative, sew a little velcro on the tummy so you can refill the mouse when the catnip gets stale. Or, just sew some catnip inside a fleece pillow, and let the cats go to town shredding it. You can also tie a few narrow strips of fleece together, then tie the ball to a piece of string for an interactive toy to drag across the ground while your cat pounces.

For ferrets, sew a dingly bell from an older toy or the craft store inside a fleece pocket. You can stuff it with a little cotton stuffing or raffia, if you like. Most ferrets enjoy toys that jingle. You can also use the fleece to sew hammocks, tubes, and cubes for your ferrets to snooze in!

For rats, make treat pillows. Get a favorite ratty snack like a few dry noodles or some Gerber puffs and sew the treats between two layers of fleece. You can even make a large playmat with pockets of treats sewn between the layers. Your rats will have hours of fun shredding the fabric to get to the goodies! You can also sew hammocks, cubes, tubes, and anything similar for your rats; just make sure you use fleece and flannel, not fabric that could snag a toenail.

Cheap Chews

If you live in a state where deer and elk can be found, take a hike (it’s good exercise for you and your dog anyway!) and look for shed antlers. Antlers make great chew toys for all but the very smallest dogs. They’re made of what’s essentially compressed hair, like your fingernails or an animal’s hooves. Most dogs won’t be in danger of chipping teeth on antlers, but will enjoy chewing them nonetheless.

Speaking of chewing, the staple of a budget-savvy pet owner’s toy cabinet is the Kong. Fill it with frozen chicken broth, canned food, peanut butter, or cream cheese, and let dogs enjoy chewing until they’ve licked away every trace. Be sure to clean Kongs between uses.

Free Balls

Got a dog who loves to fetch? Hit up your nearest tennis club. Professional or dedicated amateur tennis players know that a used ball is really no good for game play, and most will discard tennis balls after only a handful of games. If you ask nicely, many clubs are glad to recycle by allowing you to pick up some free balls for your dog.

Remember, never leave dogs unattended with tennis balls, and don’t let dogs “de-fuzz” them by chewing away the green exterior. This can cause extreme tooth wear, requiring dental intervention.

Swap Meet

Advertise on Craigslist or local pet owner forums, or hang signs at the nearest pet store in order to organize a toy swap. Only trade toys in good condition that have been washed with soap and disinfected if possible. Everyone makes the mistake of buying at least a few toys the pets just don’t like; share your “oops” purchases with other owners, and take home some of theirs. You can hold regular swap meets if you like, or use Yahoo! Groups to start an email list where owners in your area can trade pet supplies.

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