Research tells us that play is a stress-buster in cats, because it enables them to express their natural hunting behaviors. More playtime has been found to correlate with fewer behavior problems, too.
We also know that cats are more likely to play with novel toys. That’s because play is pretend hunting, and once you’ve killed the same “prey” item every day for a month, it’s truly dead. That doesn’t mean you need to buy your cat a new toy every week. It does mean you should rotate the toys—every week or two, put away the ones she’s been playing with and take out a few that have been in a drawer for the past month. They’ll seem like they’re brand new.
You can quickly make toys that are exciting for your cat with just a few supplies, many of which you probably have around the house. You don’t need to be artistic, and you don’t need to know how to sew. These toys look basic, but your cat doesn’t care if her toys have cute mousey faces. She cares only that you’re making them move for her the way prey might move.
Sock Kick Toy
Take a small sock and pour in about a tablespoon of catnip. (Catnip, driedor fresh, should smell minty. If it doesn’t have any scent, it’s past its prime.) Then stuff in paper towels until the sock is filled out. Tie off the top with a knot. How easy was that?
Take an old sock and cut off a strip about three inches wide. Cut it open so you have a flat strip rather than a circle of fabric. Tie a knot in the middle, then tie another knot over that, so there’s a nice big knot in the center for your cat to bite. Now it’s a cat toy!
Make the sock knot even more interesting by putting a little catnip in the center and folding it over before you tie the knots. You can make different toys with different herbs to stimulate your cat’s super sense of smell. Rosemary, valerian, honeysuckle, lavender, and thyme all tend to be popular—experiment to find out what your cat likes.
Pipe Cleaner Spiral
Start with the fat, fuzzy pipe cleaners (sometimes called chenille stems or craft pipe cleaners), because some cats can chew down the thin ones into easy-to-swallow balls. Make the toy even fatter and safer by taking three fuzzy pipe cleaners and twisting them into a braid. Now coil the braid around your finger. You have a twisty toy, great for batting under the sofa.
Shoelaces make great cat toys because they’re thick and sturdy. The rule in my house is that when we throw out an old pair of shoes, we always save the laces. Take a piece of stiff fabric (denim or corduroy work well) and cut a strip about five inches long and three inches wide. Securely tie one end of the shoelace around the middle of the strip, and fan out the two sides so you have a butterfly. If you want a wand toy, tie the shoelace to a wooden spoon with a long handle. The flared part of the spoon will keep the lace from slipping off the end. (Remember to put away shoelace toys when you’re not playing with your cat, because some cats swallow string.)
Toilet Paper Teaser
A very long piece of unscented, undyed toilet paper makes a great cat toy. It crinkles like a mouse in the grass, flutters through the air, and dances along the floor. In the course of the game your cat will rip it to shreds, but so what? Tear off a new piece the next time you want to play.
Caution should be used with unsupervised toy use as some cats might chew or ingest parts of a toy, resulting in severe medical issues
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.