Have you been to a pet store recently? So many cat toys! Does your cat need all those toys? Or any of them?
You might have heard the phrase “environmental enrichment” connected with pets, including cats. It’s a fancy term for keeping their minds stimulated while they are physically interacting with others (people or other animals).Cats and kittens do need to play to stay healthy, but you don’t have to go broke buying cat toys.
Good news: there are lots of ways to enrich and entertain your cat using simple household objects.
The Importance of Exercise
Cats sleep a lot, and that’s normal. Their wild relatives expend a lot of energy hunting, and then after they catch their dinner, they lie around and digest, play, and hang out.
But domesticated cats living inside don’t usually get to burn calories hunting small animals, and some estimates show that 25-40% of them are obese. Overweight cats (like other creatures) are more likely to have health problems like arthritis, diabetes, and urinary or liver problems. Also, they can’t always reach the places they need to groom in order to stay clean.
Veterinarians will tell you that keeping cats indoors is the best way to keep them safe from fleas, ticks, predators, traffic, and other outdoor hazards. In some cases, pet parents can give cats access to safe outdoor spaces, like a well-fenced yard specifically for cats or a “catio” where they are fully enclosed. But most of us are going to be in charge of entertaining and exercising our indoor cats.
Some people have success walking cats with a leash and harness. Most kittens (and some cats) can be taught to walk, if you use treats as a lure. It takes patience, though. And some cats will just refuse. Never drag a cat if they lie down — it could hurt them. They’re telling you that they don’t want to take a walk. A cat will do what it wants and when it wants.
Cats enjoy hiding, swatting, and pouncing at toys that remind them of critters in the wild. Some cats will fetch objects, just like dogs.
There are high-quality cat toys on the market, and not all of them are super expensive. These scratchers, puzzles, and moving toys help our cats channel their hunting instincts.
And, of course, the situation is different if you are living with more than one cat. Sometimes rescues or humane organizations adopt out “bonded pairs.” And siblings can spur each other on to play wrestling and chasing games. Dogs and cats can be friends, too.
If you are looking for inspiration, the site PetHelpful has fun ideas for cheap homemade pet toys.
Toilet paper rolls — Some cats will have fun rolling them around, and you can hide treats inside them for extra fun.
Catnip — Not every cat is into catnip, but the ones who are will have fun munching on it or batting around a cloth catnip toy.
String toys — All you need is some yard or string and a stick from the yard to create a “fishing pole” for your cat. Stick a feather or fluff something on the end for more stimulation.
Scratching posts — Cats need to scratch to keep their claws healthy. You can make a DIY scratching post with cardboard or carpet and a box or post.
Boxes and paper bags — Cats love exploring new places, so you can create a maze in a box, or just leave a paper bag around and watch them pounce.
A Healthy Cat Is a Happy Cat
Playing with your cat is great for them, and for you! Don’t worry if you’re busy; some vets recommend several short bursts of playing throughout the day. Cats will usually tell you with their body language when they’re tired of it.
You can always ask your vet for advice. Many of us have cats, too, and we’ve got ideas for you.