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Pet hacks: Cheap ways to make living with your pets even easier

All Animals magazine, March/April 2017

by M. Carrie Allan

Not sure what to do with those paper bags from the grocery store? Turn them into a tunnel for your cats. Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS. 

A few years ago, guilt-ridden over our long work hours, my husband and I got our beagle, Lucinda, an expensive puzzle toy from the chichi pet boutique in our neighborhood. It allowed the user to hide treats under sliding slats that, the packaging assured us, our dog would spend hours figuring out, getting plenty of physical and mental stimulation.

Next morning, just before I left for work, I filled it with treats. Our beagle watched eagerly, having recognized the telltale sound of crinkling plastic. I set the toy down in front of her and headed for the front door.

From behind me, there was a terrible sound of clattering slats and crunching. I turned to look back, and Lucinda stared up at me expectantly—done with the toy, done with the treats, eager to find out what was next.

It was a valuable reminder that “expensive” doesn’t mean “effective,” and sometimes the best solutions are cheap and homemade. Since then, I usually spend a few minutes in the morning hiding treats around our house, knowing that Lucinda will search for them while I’m gone.

At All Animals, we occasionally get notes from helpful readers suggesting DIY “hacks” that entertain pets or solve common pet problems better than many store-bought options. We asked some experts for ideas, too. Here are some of the best!

Are they not entertained?

 Those empty toilet paper rolls you’ve been throwing out can make good toys for your pets. Former staff writer Ruthanne Johnson makes “busy boxes” for her pooches almost every day: She folds down one end of a toilet paper roll and places treats inside before folding down the other end.

At St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in New Jersey, Heather Cammisa says her staff makes fun cat tunnels out of discarded brown paper bags. Gather a number of bags, remove any handles and cut out the bottoms. Then slide the end of one bag into the end of another to create a tunnel. You can slide empty boxes into the tunnels to hold up the structure, and place a few toys or treats in the tunnel to get your kitty interested.

Susi Holmes, who blogs at The Glam Cat (theglamcat.blogspot.com), cuts holes in the lids of lightweight disposable food containers and then puts toys and treats inside them. The holes are just big enough for cats to insert a paw and fish out the goodies, and cats can bat around the containers until they can get at their quarry.

Let it snow—and let ’em pee

While spring will soon be in the air, many places are still in winter’s cold grip. And there are picky pets out there who do not like doing their business in the snow. Andrea Blair of the Kentucky Humane Society shared one of their most popular hacks: Before the snow falls, put a tarp over the spot in your yard where your dog likes to go. Once the snow stops, pull the tarp and snow aside—you’ll have a snow-free pee zone and a less freaked-out pooch.

Wrap sisal rope around the leg of a chair or table to create a safe scratcher. Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS. 

The scratcher solution

Lucio Castro didn’t have space in his Brooklyn apartment for a fancy scratching post. Here’s a simple solution he devised that was featured in Catification, a home décor book for cat lovers: Wrap sisal rope around the leg of a sturdy table and add a few nails on the back to keep it in place. Your existing furniture is now performing double duty!

Hot pockets

Most pets aren’t really into taking medications. You can buy commercial pill pockets at the pet store, but Sherri Murray, a volunteer at the Second Chance Animal Shelter in Massachusetts, saves money by making her own.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon soy milk

1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter 

2 tablespoons flour

Mix the ingredients together and form into a long, thin roll about ½ inch in diameter. Cut into ½- to 1-inch pieces, then take a clean, pointed pen cap and push it into the center of each dough piece to form the pocket. Form the dough around the cap and slide the pocket off the cap. Place the pockets carefully into a Ziploc bag and seal. (Makes approximately 12 pockets; will last two weeks in the fridge and several months in the freezer.)

Avoiding the stinky, hairy side

Since our pets’ stuffed toys can get a little foul after months of intensive slobberification, Jane Rubin has a great trick to de-stinkify them: Put toys in a lingerie bag and wash and dry them with your regular load of laundry—they’ll have that new toy smell.

Company dropping by? For an easy substitute for those sticky tape rollers, Rita Reese says she wraps masking tape around her hand (sticky side facing out) and runs her hand over fabric-covered furniture. It makes for a great, quick fur-remover.

Deb Wireman offers a hilarious tip for those of us who don’t want to arrive at work looking like a human hairball: “Hang black pants inside out to keep the hair off of them. Put them on last and run out the door.” We’d just add: Don’t forget that second step.


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