Author Topic: The Gold Standard of Frugal Pet Water Fountains  (Read 339 times)


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The Gold Standard of Frugal Pet Water Fountains
« on: August 06, 2018, 07:53:38 PM »
The following was an article I had been working on before finally letting go of the website, only roughly edited. Thought it might be useful to someone, and I don't feel like putting together an instructable or anything as I've got enough online accounts as is. Forgive me for not cleaning up and formatting for the forums. Product links have been excised. On with the long-form, edjumacashunal original content!

The definitive guide to to the most frugal pet fountain, or how to hack the Pet Mate filters to provide the most frugal and cost effective pet fountain available for under 15/filter refill after initial purchase.

First, let's talk fountains. We've done water fountains for our cats in the past to help them drink more water. We'd foolishly purchased the cheapest we could find at the time (a Cat-It model), and found it ate us alive in filter costs, was an absolute nightmare to clean, and the worst part? From an engineering standpoint, the fountain did not fail safe. What do I mean by "fail safe", exactly? It's a question of power supply. What happens when the power goes out for an extended period of time? Can the animal still get a drink of water? In the case of the Cat-It and Dog-It fountains? No, they can't. If nobody's home and the power goes out for any length of time at all, little Fluffy or Scamp is going thirsty.

We took these lessons to heart from our first fountain, even though we didn't bother replacing it after the pump died as the cat learned an appreciation for water and simply drank more after that. Now that we needed a fountain again, we shopped with these lessons in mind. What we found was the perfect fountain. Cost effective, easy to clean, well designed, and most importantly failed safe.

The fountains? The Cat Mate and Dog Mate water fountains made by Pet Mate over in the UK. Even better, the cartridges were plastic, easily disassembled, used regular carbon pellets and standard polyester filtration media. From a let's keep our waste down, hippy tree-hugger sort of perspective, especially from a cash strapped hippy tree-hugger sort of perspective, they were perfect! May not be a stainless steel fountain to make for a permanent device outside of pump replacement, but plastics can be recycled at least. Just use gentle brushes and cleaning supplies to keep from scratching up the surface and providing hidey holes for stuff to grow in as much as possible. Fortunately, the design of these fountains makes for much easier cleaning than the old one as there are fewer sharp corners and tiny areas. Also, the only fountains in a stainless steel fail safe design don't have easily user hackable cartridges.

The following will work for either Pet Mate (Cat Mate #335 or Dog Mate #385) pet fountain that takes the blue plastic replacement filter cartridges. For optimal cost savings, purchase equipment through if you've never opened an account there before, as their discounts stack. When buying the fountain, no matter how many discounts you may be able to get, consider its full price before discounts plus the discounted cost of the plastic cartridges your sunk cost. The only savings you'll ever see are on the consumables, which is where our focus will be placed. All prices are through for the initial fountain equipment.

Cat Mate Pet Fountain #335, 2L capacity ($23.49)

Dog Mate Pet Fountain #385, 6L capacity ($29.99)

Pet Mate Replacement Filter Cartridges #339, 2 Pack ($3.98 each)

First, we'll be taking advantage of one of Chewy's frequent $15 off $49 or more for new customers promotions (look around online for a coupon code) along with getting free shipping with the order. Then, we'll be utilizing their further one-time 20% discount by setting our first Autoship & Save with them by buying multiples of the Pet Mate #339 two-count replacement filter cartridges, plus gaining the additional 5% discount for all Autoship items. The goal is to add as many two-count replacement cartridges to the order as possible by setting it up as an Autoship item after the initial cost of the fountain to get the order above $49 to trigger the free shipping, plus $15 off the entire order, plus 20% off the entire order, plus 5% off of the cartridges. The key is to set the maximum replacement date for the Autoship on the cartridges, and then cancel the Autoship after the order is complete.

By buying the fountain equipment this way and after all the discounts are applied, you should only have to spend around $30+tax for everything. If you buy the cat fountain, that means the fountain plus seven refill packs yielding a total of 15 plastic cartridges (14 +1 from the fountain). If you buy the dog fountain, that means the fountain plus five refill packs yielding a total of 11 plastic cartridges (10 +1 from the fountain). You can always buy fewer and pad out the order with other stuff, especially with the cat fountain, but I wouldn't recommend ordering any less than four to five two-packs. You'll want plenty of spare parts as the cartridges are plastic, and they will eventually wear and/or break with enough time, no matter how gingerly you treat them. Plus, it's easier to assembly-line multiple refills instead of doing them one at a time. Also, if you live in an area where they use chloramine to treat your water supply, the cartridges really won't last more than a couple weeks anyway (more on this point later), so keeping more filters on hand is useful.

As for cleaning supplies, if you've never owned a pet fountain before, you'll need to clean it often to keep it from getting gross, especially in the smaller bits near the pump. This means getting a baby bottle brush to help with all the smaller bits. Dollar Tree has 'em for, you guessed it, a buck.

Angel of Mine Baby Bottle Brushes, 10.75" ($1.00)

Out of the gate, we're already not doing too shabby. For under $35, we now have a pet fountain, somewhere between four to fifteen months worth of filters depending on the animal and the water treatment, and a tool to clean the thing. Unfortunately, replacement cartridges for this thing, even the dodgy off-brand stuff from China that gets frequent complaints on Amazon, are going to run you close to $2 a replacement. Now, for the magic of keeping costs low by refilling the plastic cartridges yourself instead of tossing them out. It's not hard to look at the cartridge and see how to gently pry the thing open.

The cartridges have two major components that need replacement: the particulate filter media, and the chemical filter media. We'll address both. Do note that doing this technically voids your warranty with Pet Mate, by the way... not that it matters, much. The three year warranty is on the plastic bowls, the pump is only covered for one year.

First is the white polyester filter in the cartridge. You can actually hand wash these things with dish soap a couple times, but eventually they'll deform and soften and fall apart. Of all the parts to replace, this proved to be the most difficult. However, thanks to a clever guy at our local Ace Hardware who did something that no other big box hardware store employee could do, the perfect replacement was found. And I do mean, PERFECT replacement. Although this item can be found a buck cheaper at other big box home improvement stores, consider spending the extra for these things from your local Ace. What they lack in good prices, I've found that sometimes they make up for it in the sort of customer service you don't see much of anymore in retail. We need to support more of that.

Now, I'm not saying this to keep you from doing due diligence yourself, because any time you purchase something to use off-purpose - especially in situations where it is used for food and water, animal or human - RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH, AND PROVE IT FOR YOURSELF! Doing this sort of thing can be dangerous if you're not careful, especially in the case of using air filtration media for water filtration. There can be flame retardants added, there could be fiberglass, plastics that leach hormone and endocrine disruptors... there's a million ways this could end badly. So even if there is a "safe" product found, there's nothing keeping the manufacturer from changing how they make it to either comply with new safety standards or to cut manufacturing costs, SO ALWAYS CONFIRM FOR YOURSELF. Go so far as to put yourself in the mix. Don't do for your animals to save money what you wouldn't expose yourself to. Don't take my word for it, I won't be responsible for your choices and actions if they're harmed.

To give you an idea of how serious I take this, I "dog fooded" the replacement filtration media myself before I even gave it to my cat. Once I determined everything was safe to use, I still rinsed, washed, and soaked both the replacement particle filtration media and the chemical filtration media in some water, mixing it regularly for a couple days and then proceeded to drink it. It tasted like filtered water, and I was satisfied. Before I even considered typing this up, after this human test, I still tested it for a few weeks on our cat, watching for any changes in health or decrease in drinking. The cat likes it fine and is doing well. Don't just stop there and take my word for it. If you follow these instructions, be willing to do the research and test yourself as well before even exposing it to your animal. If you screw up, again, don't blame me. YOU ARE USING PRODUCTS NOT DESIGNED FOR THESE THINGS, THIS IS AT YOUR OWN RISK!

This said, let's talk replacement particle filter! The Web Vent Filters are literally perfect, from the size to the composition. I called and spoke with a representative on the phone and got the composite of the materials. I was told the composition is as follows: 100% polyester, resin bonded fiber blend, 6 denier fiber 60%, 15 denier fiber 40%, fiber blend 70% by weight, 30% PVAc resin binder. This composition should be safe in water. All the same, I wash the new filters with soap and water anyway before placing them into the cartridge. Just to be 100% certain it was safe and there were no flame retardants present, I still took some and burned it, and it sustained its own flame and burned (this is a little trick I learned from the fish keeping community by folks who buy cheap polyester batting for filtration media - speaking of, these air filters are even used for filtration media by some aquarium owners).

What is Polyester:

What is PVAc:

As for the size, seriously, almost beyond perfect. The four inch width is the exact same width as the 4" x 2" polyester filter from the cartridge, and the twelve inch height cuts perfectly into six exact fitting replacement filters. There's literally zero scrap waste, and this $4-5 pack of air filters will yield 72 perfect little replacement water cartridge filters, minus whatever you used to test with.

The only difference between the original filter media and these is the fineness of the fibers, as these fibers are a bit coarser. It doesn't seem to matter much in real world use, however. It still catches hair and all but the finest dirt particles just as well as the other does. I highly recommend you cut these with a straight edge and either a razor blade or a rolling cutting blade. Measure twice, cut once, keep it straight and at right angles. Compare the sizes you get to the originals.

Web 12" x 4" Polyester Vent Filter WVENT ($4.99)

Next is the chemical filtration media, which we'll be using aquarium filtration supplies for. If the filtration media is good enough to keep a critter alive removing the things that'll kill it in the very fluid it depends on to survive? I don't care that the warnings say it's not meant for any use beyond aquariums. Fish are like aquatic canaries in a coal mine. If the activated carbon and zeolite (specifically clinoptilolite) won't kill them, your fuzzy pet in theory should be fine as well. Heck, most cat litter technically has at least some zeolite in it! (Not that you should ever use cat litter for water filtration, just don't.)

What is Activated Carbon:

What is Zeolite:

What is Clinoptilolite:

Now, you'll notice that the filters from Pet Mate only have activated carbon in them. This is fine for most folks, but it's worth noting that straight carbon won't last as long or take out the ammoniates present in chloramine water treatment. It used to be that most municipal water supplies were just treated with chlorine to kill off pathogens, but chlorine doesn't stick around long in the water supply, so most places shifted to chloramine. What's chloramine? You know how you're told never to mix chlorine bleach with ammonia because it's dangerous? Yeah, that's what they did anyway, and then they placed it in our water supply as an antimicrobial.

What is Chlorine:

What is Ammonia:

What is Chloramine:

This stuff doesn't break down naturally very well even in sunlight, and it breaks down activated charcoal a lot quicker than just chlorine, which is why your water filter pitchers probably go funky a lot quicker than the rated number of gallons that filter's supposed to get to begin with. It's great for keeping us from getting dysentery by drinking from the tap, but still can prove problematic if you're doing any end-point water filtration. Fortunately, the aquarium world knows how to handle this. While the carbon gets the other chemicals, they use zeolite to get the ammoniates to keep from killing the fish with tap water.

Whether you keep using activated carbon only, or use a mix of carbon and zeolite is up to you. Both approaches are fine and should be safe. Just be aware that the zeolite is usually smaller than the carbon pellets and can sometimes slip through the cracks on the filter cartridge. Personally, I added the zeolite anyway. The cost difference was negligible, and it was technically an upgrade over the filtration media from Pet Mate. You don't have to pack the cartridge full to where water barely can flow through, just get some in every chamber like the originals. A 30oz. package should be enough to refill over 50 cartridges.

I bought some through the local Petco using their in-store price match for their online pricing. Their Imagitarium Activated Carbon Pellets & Zeolite Crystal Mix looked promising, even though it was "Made in China". Fortunately, we've had a good track record in the past with the quality control Petco has pushed with their in-house branded pet food stuffs, so I wasn't overly concerned, but not enough at ease to forgo testing it on myself first. Of course, your mileage may vary.

I went with this mix over the more popular and available Marineland Ammonia Neutralizing blend, because although I did want some zeolite in the mix, I still felt carbon was the more important filter media to have present, especially with near daily water replacements in the fountain. The Marineland blend is a lot heavier on the zeolite than the carbon, and their carbon pellets are also small enough to potentially slip through cracks as well. It's up to you, though, go with what makes you most comfortable. The carbon's the key for keeping it fresh tasting, though. Nothing says you have to have any zeolite. Whatever you purchase, just be sure you purchase FRESH WATER aquarium carbon and/or zeolite filtration media.

Imagitarium Activated Carbon Pellets & Zeolite Crystal Mix, 30 oz. ($4.19)

Once you wash and dry the polyester filter and wash, scrub and dry the cartridge plastic to get rid of the old carbon residue, you can reload them with the carbon (and zeolite). My only advice to you is thus: Don't rinse the carbon and zeolite until you're ready to use the filter. Leave it dry. Reassemble the filter cartridges wholly dry, make sure there's no water present, and pop them into some cheap fold-over sandwich baggies to keep 'em clean in storage until you use the things. As always, rinse these new refilled cartridges the same way you would the new ones to get rid of the carbon dust and whatnot before using them in the fountain.

And there we go, the prices speak for themselves. For another $10, we now have enough supplies to refill cartridges for at least another two years after you finish using up the initial cartridges, even replacing the filters every two weeks. This can take an otherwise trashed plastic Pet Mate filter cartridges and revitalize it for under 15 a filter! Sure beats spending $2-4 a month. Extra bonus, you can then take the spent carbon and zeolite, and compost it and add it to your garden! Eco-friendly and easy on the pocketbook. Win-win.

May these instructions guide you well, and may your pet enjoy their now cheaper water fountain.

If anyone has any questions, fire away.

To answer a few questions in advance, the instructions above are Buddy Cat approved (see below), and have been used for the past five months.

He's an indoor/outdoor cat, and the filters only last about two weeks. I mentioned washing the old filters, but from a practicality standpoint given how stiff and gross they get by the end of the two week run, I just replace it.

As for the carbon/zeolite mix, I find myself using a bit more than I would straight carbon (about 20g of the mix versus 10g of the carbon only). The biggest pain with the zeolite mix is the zeolite flakes themselves, as about a third to half of it wants to escape through the back mesh. Despite the minor benefits of ammoniate filtration, the mess isn't worth it, and I haven't seen an appreciable life difference between the two filter types. As such, I'd probably put the current costs around 20 a filter.

Lastly, it's easiest to refill them all at once at the end. Another cheap plastic Dollar Tree scrub brush with bristles stiff enough to scrub out the carbon residue, but gentle enough to not break or scratch anything. Then, just soak them in bleach for a while to kill off any biofilm and send them through the top rack of the dishwasher without the heat dry, or hand wash. Once dry and put back together, I'll stick them in the oven on warm (around 125F) for a half hour (usually just time the bake to use the residual heat from the oven) to really dry everything out and stick the filters in a plastic bag to keep clean.
« Last Edit: August 06, 2018, 08:33:20 PM by Daley »


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Re: The Gold Standard of Frugal Pet Water Fountains
« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2018, 11:40:30 AM » is this frugal?  It needs replacement filters and power.  A bowl of water is a lot cheaper.  My dog likes to drink out of the elevated clay pot that I have on it's side and fill with water.  It stays shaded all day and evaporatively cools.  It's part of a landscape feature that wasn't built for the dog, but she loves it!


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Re: The Gold Standard of Frugal Pet Water Fountains
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2018, 12:46:50 PM » is this frugal?

With a response like this, I'm pretty sure you've never owned a cat or known the pain and cost of dehydration or kidney problems in a pet... especially with toms. Frankly, I hope you never do. If running water entices the animal to drink more water and stay properly hydrated when they wouldn't otherwise? A fountain operated frugally is peanuts in comparison to the surgeries (and especially the pain and suffering of the animal) incurred through issues from dehydration or kidney disease. This guide has laid out a path to do so with a very cost effective fountain that is easy to clean, with DIY filter replacements that are pennies.

I'm sorry to point this gap in knowledge out to you in such public conditions, though. Perhaps there's a lesson to be found in that. Perhaps not.

There is a difference between frugality and stinginess. We would all do well to learn the difference and understand the motivation for certain choices... and if you don't see the value in a specific topic? Perhaps consider the fact that you might not be the intended audience.

Edited for politeness, and apologies to HappyInAZ for being more blunt than necessary in the original reply. Sadly, it's a reminder that a lack of manners can frequently beget a cycle of ugliness if we're not careful.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2018, 06:24:12 PM by Daley »