Rabbit Litter: The Scam!

First off, I want to mention that I’m part of the enormous discussion about early retirement tips and inspirations over at Jeff’s Sustainable Life Blog. I’m somewhere in the middle of that there.

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If you own a so-called “exotic” animal, this is a special report you must read!

Rabbits must be one of the easiest animals to take care of. They need a little space to hop around, food and water, paper to destroy, and they are happy. Of course, it’s easy to go overboard…

Bunny condo fit for a king bunny

DIY bunny condo fit for a bunny king

For the curious, I built this excellent rabbit condo based on plans from the guy at RabbitCondo.com.

What we discovered early on with our first rabbit, Otis, is that since rabbits aren’t as common as dogs and cats, they get categorized as “small mammals” at best, or “exotic” animals at worst. There isn’t much exotic about rabbit. You might have some living in your backyard! But it’s this specialty label that gets applied to them that lets pet products companies charge you more. “Your pet is out of the ordinary, therefore you need special products for them,” the thinking must go.

otisslamp01

We adopted Otis in 2005, and we made sure to get all the fixins for his house. First, a big cage to run around in, bedding for the cage, food, toys, a water bottle, and litter.

First off, the bedding was unnecessary. Otis would just push it all out of the way so he could lie on the plastic bottom of the cage. And what we’ve found is that rabbits are super destructive. If your rabbit really wants bedding, they’ll make it! There’s no need to buy it. Hand them a stack of newspaper or a phone book and they will shred it up until their whole house is full of shreddings.

Phoebe and the worm

Otis and his friend Phoebe

For food pellets, we’ve switched from buying the food at Petsmart to ordering it from Sweet Meadow Farm. I order a 50 lb bag of it, and yes, I feel bad for the delivery man. But even with the shipping, it is a good deal cheaper than buying from the store, and it’s higher quality. Same goes for the hay. I order a gigantic box of hay from Sweet Meadow. It’s fresher, much cheaper than the store-bought kind, and one huge box lasts a year or two.

What I really wanted to tackle today, though, is the litter. Litter is the main thing, along with food, that you’ll need to buy for your pet rabbit again and again. There’s a few options for litter, and in the beginning I tried to go the environmental route and buy Yesterday’s News, which is recycled newspaper, shredded and compressed into pellets. So I bought a few bags in the rabbit aisle and used it up. It worked pretty well.

Klaus and Cornelius (3)

Cornelius and Klaus, the new rabbits in town

Then I realized that, in addition to Yesterday’s News rabbit litter, there was Yesterday’s News ferret litter and Yesterday’s News cat litter.  The ferret litter and the rabbit litter were similarly priced, and both were more expensive than the cat litter.  Some of the markings on the bag were different, like one said it was 2.5x more absorbent and the other was 3x more absorbent. But why?  I couldn’t imagine they were that different. So I took the leap and bought cat litter for my rabbit because it was cheaper.

Well, it was exactly the same.

Litter

Yesterday’s News, cat version

The rabbit litter cost more because it had a picture of a rabbit on it. As far as I could tell, they were exactly the same pellets, only marketed differently. So basically I thought I had just hacked litter. I got one over on the Yesterday’s News recycled newspaper pellet megaconglomerate by buying the cheaper package.

But friends, that was just beginning.

Eventually I figured out that there was a cat corollary to another type of rabbit litter, compressed sawdust pellets. Pine pellets are generally cheaper than the recycled newspaper. You can buy pine pellets for rabbits and cats, and again, the kitty litter was cheaper.

IMG_2781

So I started buying the cat pine pellets, happy that I had yet again triumphed over the litter Illuminati (or is it Litterati?) and reduced our costs again. But wait, there’s more!

I can’t remember what led me to start Googling around for cheaper rabbit litter, but eventually I found a forum of rabbit owners who had truly figured it out.

Wood stove pellets are the same thing as pine litter!

Fuel Pellets

Yes, the same cheap fuel that people use to heat their homes is also marked-up and sold as pet litter. Except it comes in bags that are twice as big and sold at home improvement stores instead of pet stores.

The one problem is that wood stove pellets are really only available in the colder months here. But from April to September, there is an alternative! Horse bedding is also the same thing! I don’t really know what horse bedding is, but Tractor Supply Company sells it, and it’s only slightly more expensive than the wood stove pellets.

LitterComparison

Yesterday’s News, Exquisicat, wood stove pellets

Litter Type Cost Per Bag Weight Cost Per Pound
Yesterday’s News – Rabbit $7.99 10 lb 79 cents
Yesterday’s News – Cat $7.49 13.2 lb 57 cents
Exquisicat  Pine Pellets $9.99 25 lb 40 cents
Wood Stove Pellets $5.99 40 lb 15 cents

I suppose if you want to really reduce the cost of the pellets, you could buy a whole pallet of them since that’s how people buy them to heat their home. But since we go through one 40 lb bag of pellets a month, we’d have to dedicate a huge portion of our home to storing those pellets for a long time. So I think this is the end of my litter hacking.

If I estimate that we go through one 40 lb bag of fuel pellets a month. That means 480 pounds annually, which is a huge cost variation: $273.60 for the Yesterday’s News cat version vs. $72 for wood stove pellets! That’s a savings of $200 a year!

Klaus and Cornelius Christmas (8)

$200 a year is serious Christmas money

I lament the years I spent buying Yesterday’s News. I’m sure we bought Yesterday’s News for our first eight years of rabbit ownership, which is an extra $1,600 needlessly out of pocket. (Actually it’s probably less since we only had one rabbit, Otis, for the first five years, but you get the point.)

That just goes to show you. Even something as seemingly insignificant as rabbit litter might be something you’re flushing money down the toilet over.

Anyone else being overcharged for having an “exotic” pet?

7 Comments

  1. Wait wait wait, Norm… am I about to blow your mind?

    “If your rabbit really wants bedding… Hand them a stack of newspaper or a phone book and they will shred it up…”

    …and then:

    “Yesterday’s News, which is recycled newspaper, shredded and compressed into pellets.”

    Are Cornelius and Klaus already doing half of the work required to produce Yesterday’s News for you? Can you get that shredded newspaper compressed into pellets for less than $72 a year?

    (Hmm. Perhaps not.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pellet_fuel#Production

    • Norm

      November 23, 2015 at 9:26 am

      Ah, I wish I could put them to work like that! But first I’d have to resubscribe to the newspaper, which costs money, and then I’d have to get some kind of pelletizing machine. I imagine that kind of machine makes a terrifying noise, and the payback period would be centuries. In short, the numbers don’t work, Ryan!

  2. Please post more pictures of your bunnies! They’re adorable! My family had pet rabbits growing up and they are great pets!

  3. Well, I have a similar story with both dehydrated chicken treats and omega 3 fish oil supplements for my cats. The cat versions of both items (we use Nordic Naturals fish oil, and PureBites dehydrated chicken treats) come in tiny little amounts and cost a fortune. But both products are also available for dogs at a fraction of the price per ounce. I did some checking and discovered that the stuff for cats and dogs is exactly the same… it’s just packaged differently and a helluva lot cheaper! I suppose if you only had one cat or something, you might not be able to use such big amounts of the stuff, but we go through a LOT of both things, so it just makes sense to buy the bigger bottle/bag and save money. Personally, I think it’s just a marketing trick to get cat owners to fork over more money!

    • Norm

      November 27, 2015 at 5:32 pm

      Why do the pet companies want to divide us so? Isn’t there enough strife in the world already? They should be as inclusive as possible so that we, the dog owners, cat owners, and rabbit owners of the world, can all get along!

  4. Great article exposing the nonsense surrounding the over-pricing of rabbit litter! But please do allow me to blow your mind even more. You may want to sit down for this one…

    Take some woodstove pellets and dump a bunch in a Rubbermaid tub, then add water. Add just enough water so that you see the water coming up between the pellets. Then let it sit for 24 hours. The water will break down the pellets and expand them to 3X the amount. That’s right, you can TRIPLE the amount of litter if you soak them in water first! Once it’s dried, it becomes sawdust and voila, you’ll have three times as much stuff! It’s also much softer on the bunny’s feet than leaving it in pellet form. This should bring your cost per pound down to about 5 cents 😉

    • Norm

      June 22, 2016 at 7:22 pm

      That’s crazy! I like it! I’m glad to see someone else has really gotten down to business frugalizing rabbit litter. Our bunnies have a tendency to throw and kick stuff around, so we’ll see if this works.

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