Happens to everyone with felines, right? You go spend a fortune on kitty toys that look amazingly cool and you think they’ll love it, and you bring it home… and they’d rather climb in the box, or play with the wrapper, or whatever. Frustrating beyond words, when you’re trying to keep the little monsters happy! After all, they’re intelligent and curious, and they evolved to cope with a changing environment of predator and prey, and given their size, they could be either. They need stimulation, especially the ones kept indoors — which is a fancy way of saying that they get bored if they have nothing to do and nowhere to go, just like humans would if they were in an enclosed environment and had no access to things to entertain them. Think about the best zoos: they provide enrichment for their animals, to mimic the environment they would have in the wild as much as possible. How much more fascinating is a tiger who has water to swim in, trees to sharpen her claws on, greenery to hide in, than one who’s in a concrete and iron cage? And how much healthier and rewarding will her life be? House cats are small tigers, or tigers are big housecats, and the same principles apply.
In my never-ending search for ways to keep my cats amused, here are a few things I’ve come up with. I’m always happy to hear of anything anyone else has come up with! Not every toy will work for every cat, of course, but maybe we can get brainstorming!
- Paper leaf bags, y’know, those huge ones for the yard? They make wonderful tunnels. I cut a flap in the bottom to make a kind of hidden escape hatch — my cats love it for ambushes. It rattles, of course, being paper. If it gets ripped up, which it will… well, so what? I buy 5 for about $3. In comparison, I spent $50 on a furry, crinkly cat tunnel of similar length, smaller diameter, and two “windows”, and they were amused for one evening and then got bored.
- Not exactly a toy: got a cat who likes to sleep in the sun? Put a kitty bed under an ordinary reading lamp and adjust the lamp so the cat can sleep with the lamp about a foot to two feet above. 60 to 100 watt bulbs work best for this, 40 doesn’t get warm enough, and compact fluorescents don’t work. Awesome in the winter, or for an older cat. (Psst, if you have seasonal affective disorder, use something like Sylvania’s Daylight bulbs, which actually do mimic daylight a bit closer than regular incandescents — not a cure, but it can help a bit.)
- Aluminum foil balls. (How can they stand to carry these around in their mouths? Ouch!) Best on linoleum, tile, or hardwood floors. Better still, toss one in the bathtub for a game of tub hockey — I can’t stop laughing when one of mine gets going, they can do the most amazing things with that ball on curved enamel! Or if you have a kitty who likes to get up high, toss these to him for a game of baseball — just watch out, ’cause they seem to be able to aim them sometimes when they deflect them back! Man, those paws can move fast!
- Real-wood scratching posts. Carpeted ones are, I think, mostly designed to look nice for humans. Cats may enjoy them, but the best thing I’ve found for claw-sharpening yet (and this works wonders if you have a kitty who’s clawing your furniture!) is a length of solid wood with the bark still on — see if anyone you know is cutting down a tree, maybe. Make sure it’s long enough that your cat can stretch upwards and really get her claws into the bark for a satisfying scratch. You don’t have to get fancy, mine are just leaning in corners (2) and one lying flat on the balcony. One very long one, basically a 6-foot cedar tree trunk that was debarked before I got it, is braced between a wardrobe just a bit shorter than it, and a dresser that’s about 4 feet high in front of a window the same height. Okay, so, you get to sweep or vacuum up sawdust and splinters, but these last an amazingly long time (the cedar trunk one is about six years old, well-grooved and much used, but still very much in use). And they can get so creative with them! Anecdote time: kitties use scratching to mark territory as much as to shed their claw sheaths, since they have scent glands there. The higher the scratch marks, the more impressed an intruder should be by the size of the resident. One of mine sits on top of the low bookcase one scratching post is leaning against, and scratches DOWNWARDS, upside down. This lets him leave marks much higher than the other two.
- Rotini, believe it or not. Y’know those little plastic spirals you can get in some stores as cat toys? They make me nervous. Too easy for a cat to chew off a piece and swallow it, for one thing. Rotini, however, is just spirally pasta. Use it uncooked, of course! They skitter across hard floors wonderfully, and if they chew on them, so what?
- Cardboard boxes. Lots of shapes and sizes. Keep changing them. Every one creates a new game, a new lurking spot. Need I say more? So you get to keep stepping around them. Small price to pay for happy kitties, isn’t it? Crumple, then flatten, a few large sheets of tissue paper, newspaper, wrapping paper, and toss that in for them to burrow in. (Why do such stealthy creatures enjoy crinkly noisy stuff so darned much???)
- String. You need to be careful with this one. Ingested string, ribbon, stuff like that, can get impacted in the digestive tract, which is very painful for your cat, expensive for you when you pay a vet for surgery, and potentially fatal. That said, this is one of the best toys there is, especially with a human on one end of it. First, choose a string or two or ten. Try fabric and craft stores, they sometimes have tag ends of cord that can work. Or use thin cotton rope. Or use cheap dollar-store yarn and braid nine or twelve strands together. Try for thick enough that they can get a claw or two into it and hang on, but not so thick that it won’t squiggle nicely. (This also usually means it’s thick enough that they can’t swallow it easily — but you know your cat best!) I find 6 to 8 feet long works best. Twitch it along the floor like a snake. Flick it in little irregular motions like prey would make. Pull a corner of a blanket or pillow over it and then pull it in small jerks from the far side, so the cat can watch it slowly disappearing under cover… this drives mine absolutely insane! Lay it on the floor, put a sheet or two of newspaper or tissue paper over it, then twitch it… it amazes me that my cats can track where it is so precisely that they can spear it with a claw right through the paper. Get creative! And don’t think you need to put a mouse or other toy on the end… in my experience, it’s the string itself that intrigues them.
- Cheap dollar store laser pointers.
So, anyone reading this, feel free to leave a comment with what you’ve come up with to keep your cat happy and entertained?