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How to Feed Feral Cats Cheap!

Got Cats? How to Feed Feral Cats Cheap!Feeding a colony of feral cats is not easy when money is limited. I gathered a few ideas on how to feed feral cats cheap for you all, as it is definitely one of the most asked questions that I get.

None of us are made of money. Most of us who feed feral cats or barn cats or friendly neighborhood cats are paying quite the cat food bill every week.

I have found a few tricks, though! Some of these I personally use or I have heard others use. But remember folks, if you feed them, it is your responsibility to get them spayed and neutered!

*Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. This simply means I make a small commission on qualifying purchases. See Affiliate Disclosure for details. Thanks for supporting the kitties!*

#1: Stop Being Food Snobs

If you feed only one or two feral cats, definitely grab the best food you possibly can! But if you’re feeding twenty or more cats, you need to stop being so picky and lower your standards to what you can actually afford. NO cat food on the market today is actually all that great anyway, expensive OR cheap. Raw diets, properly prepared by experts, not at home, are probably the best cat food for your cats.

I highly recommend feeding both wet and dry, even if it is more expensive. Yes, without wet food you could probably afford better dry food, but trust me, wet food is necessary for moisture intake and it tends to be more nutritious anyway.

That said, buy the best cat food you can consistently afford. If you feed a small colony and can afford high end-food, that is amazing, and you should definitely buy that. If you are feeding over a hundred cats, Purina Pro Plan or Freeze-Dried Raw is probably not an option unless you are independently wealthy.

I personally feed Friskies. I have 16 cats I regularly feed, morning and night. Both wet and dry food. I spend about $60 a week on cat food alone. The reason I buy Friskies is that it’s well-tolerated, cats love the taste, and it is inexpensive. I buy both the dry and wet of this brand.

The ONLY thing I caution you about is to pay attention to your cats. Feral and semi-feral cats living outside are hard to observe carefully for health issues. They will hide any vomiting or diarrhea, especially if they are skittish or feral. I have YET to see the feral cat in my colony poop. I have no clue if he tolerates the food. He is very wild and inconsistent. So pay as close attention as you can.

If they end up not agreeing with your cheap cat food choice you should most definitely switch brands. There are many to choose from: 9 Lives, Meow Mix, Friskies, and Purina.

If none of them work for your cats, trade up to something else.

Crap food is better than starvation, hands down. Just saying. But get the best you can afford, definitely.

Related: What is the Best Food for Outdoor Cats in 2019?

#2: Coupons!

They DO come in handy to save a few bucks (or more!).

The first place I suggest you start is cat food websites. Friskies, Purina, etc. have their own mailing list that sends out promotions. You can also email these companies and explain that you care for however many feral cats or feral colonies and they will often send you coupons for free bags of cat food in the mail too. I do know that Purina does.

Another interesting way to use coupons is digitally or those connected to your loyalty cards! There are some you can print out or some that are used sort of like rebates. Coupons.com

My favorite coupon site is Coupons.com. It has an app too, which is what I use exclusively. I don’t print out coupons. No time or inclination, but if they are running a coupon on a certain brand of cat food, you can receive cash back from Walmart receipts or taken off with your loyalty cards at other places. Plus, it will have coupons for cat litter and other grocery items of course.

Just link a PayPal account and you receive it back within a couple of days. You can even sometimes combine offers with my next suggestion!

Recommended: Check out Coupons.com!

#3: Ibotta!Ibotta App Earn Cash Back on Everyday Purchases

The Ibotta app is my favorite way to save a few bucks on cat food! From a TON of stores as well, including Walmart.

How it works is you pick the items you wish to buy from the retailer of your choice in the app. There’s a lot, by the way!

Then you go shopping!

Once you are finished, just scan your receipt.

Once your cash back amount reaches $20 you can then cash out with PayPal or Venmo or whatever gift card you’re looking for.

There is often a lot of coupons on 9 Lives, Purina, Rachel Rays, Meow Mix, and more. Plus cat litter and other grocery items. You can use in-app purchasing at places like Walmart, or scanning receipts at over 275 retailers! (They’ve also started adding a lot of non-grocery stuff.)

Just be sure to only buy something you’d be purchasing anyway and don’t get TOO carried away buying things you wouldn’t use.

You ALSO get a sign-up bonus with Ibotta once you reach cash out for the first time or a bonus if you refer friends!

My referral code is TTXBQTP.

Recommended: Ibotta App

#4: Food Banks

If times are really hard and you can’t afford it, you can always try your local food bank. I personally don’t use this option, but only for one reason: I have an income. But if you’re elderly, disabled or just lost your job and need to feed the kitties, many food banks across the United States are starting to take pet food donations!

This is useful for those on Social Security or disability or unemployed to get some help. Or even if you’ve fallen on tough times!

#5: Buy in Bulk and Online!

If you buy large amounts of cat food every single month or whatever, I HIGHLY suggest you use Chewy or Amazon and buy in bulk and enroll in their auto-ship options. You get a discount for Autoship at Chewy AND the Amazon equivalent Subscribe and Save.

Plus if you have Amazon Prime, you can get free 2-day shipping! Try Amazon Prime Free for 30-days HERE.

In fact, you can get 30% off your order for enrolling in your first Autoship at Chewy! Chewy has free shipping for all orders over $49 as well.


I personally love Chewy for most everything cat medication-related, as their selection of non-prescription stuff is better than Amazon. That said, both Chewy and Amazon have about the same types of cat food available, so pick your retailer.

#6: Scheduled Feeding and Portion Control

This is for all of us free-feeders. Cats don’t need to eat all day and night. Twice a day feeding is plenty and helps you keep an eye on your cats as they will know to come to you at feed times.

If you don’t leave food unattended, you aren’t wasting so much feeding wildlife (which is BAD, folks) or letting ants contaminate it or other issues.

I’m not talking about putting the cats on a diet here by talking about portion control. You want to give the cat(s) enough to eat, but take away anything they don’t finish after about 30 minutes. If there is a lot left, feed less next time. If they all finish before 15 minutes is up, feed more.

By controlling the feeding and limiting the amount to what they actually eat, you won’t be wasting as much.

I have a confession to make. I free-feed during the day inside the barn. Never at night, though. Just during the day. I remove all uneaten food at dusk.  This is simply because of wildlife at night and during the day, I have it protected from other pests.

#7: Ask for Donations!

Another option is to ask for donations, create a wishlist on Amazon, share it with your family and friends. Tell people you want cat food instead of gifts. Create an Instagram account for your colony, link to your Amazon wishlist in your bio. Have fun taking some awesome pictures of your cats. Your followers might appreciate your generosity in caring for feral felines and toss a bag or two at you occasionally. Just don’t be greedy.

If you feed neighborhood cats, maybe ask some neighbors or businesses near there. Hold a fundraiser or a bake sale, or a number of other options to earn you some cat food!

Feed Them? Fix Them!

Remember, cat colony caretakers, if you feed those cats, it is ABSOLUTELY your responsibility to fix those cats. Once you start feeding them, you are enabling more of them to survive and reproduce.

Do NOT be that person who makes feral cat feeding illegal in your area! FIX THEM! It’s called Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and it will help improve their lives and reduce their population!

Do you have any tips or tricks on how to affordably feed your community cats? Share them with me below!


26 thoughts on “How to Feed Feral Cats Cheap!”

  1. Hi! Thank you for mentioning all these 7 points. I found a lot of sense in each one of them. But the one that has really left me thinking is Ibotta. I shop at Walmart so much and now I wonder why I haven’t downloaded this app and started using it. But, well… I’ll start using it today! Thanks!

  2. This is definitely helpful to feed feral cats cheap. Yes I have heard before now that wet feed is very healthy for cats. Combining both wet and dry would be great in spending less. The idea of using coupons and getting Cashbacks on each purchase is something I consider cool. Buying in bulk is one of the best option here because it actually cut down on costs and of course, asking for donations is not a bad idea although I don’t like it.

    1. Thanks!  When people feed feral cats, these are not owned cats they are actually responsible for.  They are feeding community cats as a kindness to the cats.  Since an entire community created feral cats, it takes a community to help them, which is why donations are considered.  These aren’t pets.  They’re animals with no home, no owner, and no one to help them.  Some people feed over 100 cats.  They do take donations to help keep them healthy and that’s totally okay!

  3. Thank you for providing these tips. They were very helpful. Your first point was funny to me because I have a few friends that are snobby cat owners that will only give their pets wet food. Buying in bulk definitely helps with the maintenance of multiple animals and has been helpful in saving money down the line. Good read!

    1. Thanks so much!

      Being a ‘food snob’ is okay if you’re only feeding one cat inside.  I definitely agree, by the best food you can afford then!  But if you’re feeding a colony of feral cats outside that has 50 individual cats in it, being a food snob (unless you’re rich!) can be too expensive.  I do feed a mixture of wet and dry food for my cat colony, but when I started, I could afford that and they deserved it.  

      Thanks again!

      1. My mother fed her farm cats Friskies dry and Friskies canned thinking that was a good food. One died from a burst bladder due to bladder stones/crystals and one almost died but she died first and when I got him I changed his food and he got okay. The vet expressed his bladder and there were crystals that looked like shattered glass an blood came out on the table. The vet said it is agonizing pain. My mother was elderly and didn’t take the poor 2 year old to the vet. I was visiting and offered but she said no and I believed she was right that it was constipation. Both of us ignorant. By the time I got him he had died 2 days earlier. I lived in another state. He was the sweetest loving boy.
        Poor babies. So sad. So even with the canned food daily the dry food did a number on them. So be careful with those cheap dry foods. I found something called Diamond Naturals online and another called SportMix and Purina One and I ‘hope’ they are good enough so they don’t get stones. They are not as cheap as some others but not much more and worth it. The ingredients seem a lot better on all of them. Also, Kirkland brand from Costco ingredients look better too and that is 25 lbs. 18.00.

        1. Actually, it’s not the food that causes it. What causes it is some cats are prone to urinary problems simply because cats have more concentrated urine than most other pets, their pee tube (urethra) is pretty tiny, like ITTY BITTY, especially in male cats. So cats that don’t get enough moisture sometimes have issues because they don’t drink enough, which makes their urine even MORE concentrated. Crystals are also formed from calcium or because of urinary infections or an increase in the urine PH levels, as well as magnesium and phosphorus levels. Then cats that are prone to urinary problems even if they drink an entire bucket have to have special foods that remove any problematic minerals in it. In a healthy, normal cat, Friskies dry food won’t cause crystals. In a cat that is prone to develop crystals, ANY regular food – dry or wet – can cause crystals. Prescription diets can help some cats, but sometimes nothing less than surgery will save a cat from this horrible issue.

          My friend learned this the hard way when she had to pay over $2000 to save a stray’s life, trying prescription food after prescription food, and multiple surgeries later, they basically had to remove the cat’s penis so that the tube is wide enough that the crystals won’t block him. He’s on prescription urinary cat food the rest of his life AND is almost a girl now. He’s also still prone to urinary tract infections, has a diet high in prescription wet food, and a drinking water fountain to encourage him to drink enough. They think he’s just one of those cats who are prone to crystals.

          Regular foods, dry or wet, aren’t the cause. Genetics and their species’ anatomy are the cause of it, and chronic dehydration or infection can cause it too.

          My recommendation if you have a male cat who is prone to urinary issues is to speak to the vet about a prescription urinary diet or use Purina Pro Plan Urinary wet food. And the dry food.

          Hope that helps explain urinary crystals/infection issues.

          1. It is! But I think it’s just the dog food, last I checked, until they just recalled everything with corn in it, including some cat foods, despite the fact no cats have been reported sick yet. But recalls are usually temporary until they fix the manufacturing problem. Hopefully, they fixed the toxin issue.

  4. I love and fully support what you are doing! Too many cat lovers think all cats need “rescued”. Not all cats want to be brought indoors. People who trap cats just to keep them in little cages have no respect from me at all, and I could never support their cruel habit. TNR is an amazing and wonderful way to safely reduce feral populations and keep cats safe from any damages that come from the extreme attitudes of tomcats brought on when a female is in heat.

    I also fully agree with your food choices. Your description of Friskies reminds me of something my dad once said, and he was correct! “All cats love Friskies!” While it isn’t the most ideal choice, I have yet to encounter a cat that won’t eat or can’t tolerate Friskies.

    Thank you for your sound encouragement and advice to cat lovers!

    1. Thank you so much!!

      Feral cats and lifelong community cats don’t usually WANT to be indoors.  I do agree all friendly cats should be saved and adopted into homes, but to do that to feral cats is inhumane!  They’re forced to tolerate a human they believe might eat them!  They’re terrified.  It’s so cruel!

      And while better food would be great, if you’re feeding 15 cats, you might not be able to afford anything better than Friskies!  Which is okay.  The cats tolerate it well, all of them love it, and no one throws it up all the time like with Meow Mix.  Glad you approve of that!  Or rather, your dad does!

      Thanks again!

  5. Juanita E. Allen

    I have one cat hanging around. I think she finally ate the food I put out. Also caught her sleeping on a chair on my lanai. I have one of those Hav-a-Heart traps for trapping mongoose – if I do the TNR on her, and I release her back to the field a block away (I think she lives there), will she hate me? Will she come back to my lanai for food?
    Thanks – aloha – Juanita Allen

    1. Hi, Juanita!

      Oddly enough, the cats don’t avoid their trappers at all. They almost always return as long as they are returned to their correct neighborhood. Sometimes it takes a couple of days, but I have no doubt she’ll return to your lanai for food. I once had a tomcat who took 2 years to trap and he was completely feral. I trapped him, kept him overnight, took him to the TNR clinic, neutered him, and kept him in a cage for a week to give him meds in his food, before I released him. He didn’t return until his hormones started decreasing, but he likes me so much now that he’s scared off my friendly cats.

      Cats who are TNR’d almost always return to their feeders, even if the feeder is the one who trapped them.

  6. Cassandra G Hamilton

    I have about 15 outside cats I feed now. I’ve lived in this rural neighborhood for 33 years and have always fed the strays and dumpers, etc. It is always a challenge trying to get a new batch spayed/neutered. There’s not always help available in my area. And the cats tend to show up in groups of 4 or 5! Speaking about TNR- last year we sent 5 to a program to be neutered-1 older male that’s very feral I was worried about. He made it through the surgery though and turned him loose late that night (I didn’t have anywhere to safely keep him contained any longer)- but it was a full week before that old guy came back again. I was afraid he went and died somewhere. Also on the topic of food banks- they can be a helpful source of food for both human and animal in these tough times some of us are experiencing now. Sometimes they give out these quart cartons of liquid egg product- I have mixed a can or 2 of cheap tuna with it and cooked it up like scrambled eggs- the cats loved it. But with the restaurant business being so damaged by the pandemic and hours being cut I have to stretch every dollar more than ever right now. Feeding a cat colony is definitely the easy part though. I get somewhat attached to every one of them and it’s tough losing them, sometimes never knowing what happened to them. Thank you for the tips on feeding them cheaper.

    1. Hi, Cassandra!

      Thank you for caring for the cats AND working to get them fixed. That is truly the most important part. Feeding them is easy, being responsible about it takes true courage and heart. So thank you! TNR programs can be difficult in some areas to find, unfortunately, including mine (I have to travel a half-hour each direction to take any ferals in to be fixed and still pay for them myself, there isn’t a local program for me either). As long as we make inroads towards getting them fixed, within each individual means, there is no judgment from me!

      I hate losing any of mine, as well, and wish I could take them all inside or get them all adopted. Unfortunately, that’s not possible, but at lease those people like us do what we can with what resources and income we have.

      Cats LOVE scrambled eggs I’ve found, so that is a very nifty idea! I’m always on the lookout for ways to feed them cheaper, when possible, because not everyone can afford to feed them top-shelf cat food and wet cat food. And as I always say, crap food is still better than NO food. My favorite way of saving money has been with the Ibotta app and buying in bulk. I’ve been truly blessed to not have my hours cut though, so I don’t use the food bank, but there has been a rescue that opened up a pet food bank that isn’t affiliated with the regular food bank they have locally. I’ll have to update my post, I think a lot of areas have started doing this as well.

      I hope that things get back to normal for those of you in the foodservice industries and other businesses affected by this pandemic. It can be really tough to still feed and TNR right now for some of us. Thanks for continuing to help them, even now. I hope my post was able to offer some helpful suggestions!

  7. Harriet Janice Ottenstein

    So glad I thought to ask the question of how to feed my feral cats on a budget! I found your fantastic and informative website! I have 6 feral cats outside at present who are fed twice daily with both wet and dry food. I have rescued 6 who now live indoors, as they were slowly, and I mean slowly tamed and fixed 4 of them with the two babies this week, actually. (Makes 6). They were delivered during the horrible snowstorm of Texas which knocked out our power for four days. Dark and freezing temperatures and burst pipes. Miraculously, Mama delivered as the lights came on and the heater I had for her in the garage. Within minutes she delivered! I have kept Mama, (a beautiful tuxedo) named Abigail (tamed and sleeps on my bed) and her two babies (one passed for unknown reasons) after one week. They are getting neutered this week, as my pets, bringing the number to 6 indoors and 6 outdoors. Now I will attempt little by little to trap humanely the other 6 outdoors. I had pleaded my story to a local low-spay clinic which is excellent. I now have 3 vouchers to have them neutered and spayed for free and will keep on getting my feral cats spayed and neutered. One is a gorgeous long hair, who I am sad to see get the clipped ear, but that is the way it is with the voucher. I paid for the others and so they did not have to get the clipped ear and they are indoor with me, forever pets. He is magazine-worthy and is now tame from seeing me every day and eating me out of house and home! I named him Tail for short because of his big plume tail but really his name is Tailor. Thank you so much for your wonderful website. I sent your information to two cousins of mine. I was so impressed.

    1. Hi, Harriet,

      Thanks so much for the compliment. I’m even more thankful you took care of the outdoor cats and started getting them fixed. I know it can get pricy, so it can take a little time to work your way through all of them!

      As for the ear tip, it’s important in outdoor cats. I’m not a huge fan myself, but understand why it’s SO very important. That little ear tip can help protect the cat from being picked up from animal control in some cases and lets everyone who sets eyes on them for TNR (or anyone familiar with TNR) that they are fixed! It also lets people know that they have someone who cared enough to get them fixed and that they may be missed if they goes missing. It’s not guaranteed, but there are very valid reasons why it’s necessary. Sucks, but all cats fixed who live outside should have an ear tip. If for no other reason than so other trappers know they’re already fixed.

      And thanks for adopting so many indoors, as well! You’re truly their hero!

      I hope my information was helpful to you and the cats!

      Thanks again,

  8. HI, I am new to this. I will be feeding one day a week. Colony is between 10 – 20. Broad range. They eat once a day.

    I am trying to get a sense of the amount of food I need to provide. If I overfed and food is left over, could have purchased a better product and fed appropriately.

    Is a mixture of wet and dry best?
    Can they be fed canned Mackerel? If so, how much?
    Thank you for all your assistance.

    1. Hi, Darlene,

      Honestly, the food will take some trial and error. There are likely some of those cats who supplement their dinner with other feeders or other types of food, like trash and prey. So those cats might not eat as much as the others. Start with about half a can of wet per cat and mix in about a quarter of a cup of dry, per cat. Spread it out as much as possible so all cats can eat without arguing over the food. You will want them to finish within 30 minutes with little to no food left over. If there IS food left over, you will have to decrease the amount next time. If they finish it all in 10 minutes, you didn’t feed enough.

      Adding wet food is better than dry alone. Honestly, wet food alone is probably the best, but dry food is convenient and cost-efficient for feeding unowned cats. So yes, I would feed both! Wet food is helpful to ensure the cats have better moisture intake. They get a lot of their moisture from food. Cats have notoriously low thrist drives, so many cats don’t drink enough. This leads to low-level dehydration on a dry-only diet. This dehydration can cause their urine to be even MORE concentrated (and cat urine is concentrated as it is!). Concentrated urine tends to cause crystals to form in their bladder and urinary tract, leading to infection and blockages. This is especially dangerous for male cats.

      Cats CAN be fed canned mackerel! I wouldn’t do it too often as these types of fish can contain a lot of mercury, which is fine occasionally, but will build up in a cat’s body with daily feeding. So if you’re just once a week feeder, then you can give them some mackerel with their food whenever you feed. If you were feeding daily, I’d say just do it once a week. Also, not all cats like fish, so don’t be offended if not all of them will eat it. Those cats would love some fried chicken meat, though. ^_^;

      Hope that helps!

  9. Hi.I am from Iran I am sorry for my language is not good,translated with google
    Because I was worried I had to do something about my problem, even if it was not successful

    I about three and a half months ago, I saw a kitten on the wall of our house and it was very weak and thin. I think it was a few days ago that his mother left him to live independently. I got a cat, and despite all the problems and misfortunes I had to feed the cat, I fed the cat for about three and a half months,
    And unfortunately, for financial reasons, I can not feed the cat. Since yesterday afternoon, he came to eat several times. He is hungry, and I really do not know what I can do anymore, I asked God to really help him, may God have mercy on the street animals with this situation.
    Coincidentally, the cat had come again half an hour ago, and it made me realize that it was hungry …..
    thank you

    1. Hi, Hosein,

      I’m sorry, I’m not knowledgeable about rescues or cats in Iran. My best suggestion would be to just feed what you can. I know the cat situation in that area is not ideal and I don’t know of a single rescue you could contact for help directing you to one close to you. I do know the feral cat (and likely dogs too!) problem in that area is crazy bad, though.

      I really wish I could be of more help.

  10. I have started feeding and fixing ferals in my apartment complex. I have one kitty left to TNR and he is so frustrating! I have 2 ferals that eat 20oz of wet food between just them, and I only feed them once a day, at night. They just don’t come around in the mornings, sadly. I have found I can only put out wet food because the dry attracts the raccoons and they are HUGE!
    I had a question of what do I do about the moochers — the friendly cats who clearly belong to someone(s) but come around for some food. Do I just account for their mooching so I can ensure that my ferals get the food they need? Is there a way to keep the freeloaders away from my feeding station?
    I’m moving later this month but plan on driving back here to feed the ferals each night — I couldn’t find anyone willing to take over. While my apartment management has given me the OK, she couldn’t give me a list of other cat-lovers in the complex that I could ask for help — I’ll give her some grace and say the pandemic has meant she has not been able to be social with the residents. Not sure why she couldn’t just look up who has cats in their lease…
    Anyway, any help with these freeloaders would be appreciated. The ferals need about 25oz of wet food per night, and I feed them a mix of FancyFeast and Friskies.

    1. Hi, Kathy,

      Unfortunately, we pretty much need to account for the free-loaders. It’s REALLY hard to get owners of indoor-outdoor cats to see the problem they cause others sometimes and without knowing who to contact, you’d get stuck going door to door to find them and have half of them get mad at you and swearing up and down their cat is NOT eating your food, it has to be some OTHER cat that is doing it, or just feed enough for everyone.

      I find it less frustrating to just make sure everyone is fed. Hopefully, you’re able to find a fellow cat-lover to take over for the ferals!

  11. Very good website. Thank you Rochelle for putting the effort into this. Some very good information.
    Does anyone have a good method for continuous trapping. I got frustrated after trapping about a dozen ferals to be neutered. The unfixed ones were too skittish and I kept ending up with the neutered ones in the traps with the food. I have come to a standstill at the moment until I figure out a better way.
    Also, one or twice a week if I can find chicken thighs on sale I put them (deskinned)in an instant pot before I go to bed timed for about 45 minutes. In the morning the thighs are the consistency of shredded pork, the bones come out and I have enough for about 20 cats. They go nuts.

    1. Hi, Trinner,

      It can definitely be frustrated to keep getting the already neutered ones! What I do in this case is try to get all the fixed ones fed (especially if they’re braver than the unfixed cats) and THEN trap. You have less of a chance a fixed cat is still hungry enough to go in the trap.

      Another option is to get a drop trap! Then feed underneath the set drop trap and only spring the trap when one of the unfixed ones goes under to eat! You may be able to borrow one from your local animal shelter or rescues near you, but I’d try a local TNR group first, if you aren’t looking to own one.

      Hope that helps!

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