Homemade Cat Toys

Top to bottom: Trout, palm frond, twine, acorn, plastic strip

This is advice for new cat owners coming from relatively new cat owners: don’t waste your money on cat toys. Cats are fickle, ungrateful little creatures. Novelty is more important to them than just about anything else. And I don’t mean genuine novelty–they don’t need newer and stranger toys all the time. Rather, individual toys seem to get stale for them. A fresh paper bag is thrilling, but by the end of the day it’s old news. However, if you put another paper bag down, even the exact same kind of bag, the thrills will start all over again. If you try to fulfill their whims by buying them new toys all the time, soon your pockets will be empty and you’ll be up to your neck in ignored cat toys.

The only exception to the above is a laser pointer. If you’re going to buy one toy, let it be that, though be warned that the laser is addictive for cats. Small cloth mice, especially those stuffed with catnip, have some staying power as well. Or at least they are occassionally resurrected, as nothing else is. In our experience, everything else gets totally and utterly abandoned after about 15 minutes.

These are our cats’ favorite toys. Several of which are in the photo above.

  • Cardboard boxes and paper bags. This seems hardly worth mentioning because it is universal.
  • Ditto goes for unfortunate insects.
  • Sticks or branches of (nonpoisonous) foliage I bring in from outside, e.g. palm fronds. This is very exciting for indoor cats.
  • Trout’s favorite playthings, by far, are the plastic strips that you tear off when you open zip-lock packaging. He demands they be replaced regularly, and will greet a new one with an hour or two of ecstatic solo play. When he gets tired of that, he insists that we play fetch with him by tossing these strips around. Most mornings we wake up with strips dropped upon us.
  • Meanwhile, Phoebe is quite fond of bottle caps. But one cap is good for about a half hour, then it is ignored. However, a new cap is always a thrill.
  • Acorns on hardwood floors also make for enthusiastic but loud play. But of course “fresh” acorns must be substituted for “stale” acorns on a regular basis.
  • Unauthorized objects are always their favorites. One favorite unauthorized toy for our cats is our big ball of gardening twine. Yes, yes, string is bad, they’ll choke & etc. We don’t let them play with it unsupervised, but if they get a chance, they love to tackle this ball. My yoga mat, unfortunately, is another big favorite in the unauthorized category. It looks like it’s gone through a cheese grater. Trout will also gleefully shred anything wrapped in plastic. He’s destroyed packs of toilet paper, opened bags of people food and most recently shredded a mailer holding a book.
  • Sweaty bacbpacks and messenger bags, especially those of visitors, provide hours of fascination and somewhat creepy sensual rubbing. Encourage your friends to wear their bags over in the summer. Consider opening a hostel for through-hikers.

What do your cats play with?

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57 Comments

  1. I never buy cat toys. She’ll play with any plastic bag is fair game, bottle caps, those ziplock strips… Change left on the table is a big draw, as are any earrings that don’t get put away immediately. We have some balls that she plays with and a battery operated cockroach my bf’s mom sent us. I’ve also knitted her a couple mice out of scrap yarn. Those get played with a lot.

    We currently have a wine cork that’s attached to the ceiling with using a broken darning needle and some scrap yarn. That’s also been a big hit.

  2. Scruffy’s favorite new toy is a pipe cleaner. Bent into a few odd angles, it jumps unpredictably when it’s batted by a paw. I never know where I’ll find it next, after he’s chased it all over the house.

  3. wrong season but one of the things that really amuses my cats is a dish of snow. When it snows, I bring in a dish of snow and set it on the tiles by the door. They have a wonderful time sniffing and tasting it. When it melts, Rita our stealth cat loves to drink it. They were feral cats so maybe it’s “a taste of the old life.”

  4. Love these!! Our cats also love the following:

    – Long Grass fronds with seed heads attached (rattling seeds are especially nice)
    – Milk bottle rings
    – Other people’s shoes (she likes to put her whole head inside my dad’s leather boots, which is pretty comical)
    – the cat carrier (if we keep it hidden, it holds a similar allure to paper bags… they somehow always forget that we take them to the vet in it. Makes it easier :)

    In the unauthorized category:
    – any open drawer
    – styrofoam
    – closed cabinets (sigh)

  5. We’ve had a never-ending parade of cats for decades and you are absolutely right when you stress the importance of the (relative) freshness and staleness of cat toys. I hasten to add that the same thing works with small children: take a few of their toys out of circulation for a couple of days and voila! it’s brand new again! And, as with children, forbidden objects are always the most desirable.

    About five years ago, Middle Son went with friends to some little local summer fair and won a pair of golf-ball-sized stuffed hedgehogs that had little wrist bands sewn in, no doubt so small children could wear them. In his early 20′s and childless, he had no need of them so they just sat around the house. They were saved from a series of decluttering sweeps by their impossible cuteness. (Those little eyes!) Anyway, when Charlotte came to live with us last September at 4 weeks old, she saw one of the hedgehogs and it was love at first sight. She will bring the hedgehog to me so that I can throw it some distance (too close is no fun) and she will run after it and tussle with it briefly before bringing it back to me so that I can throw it again. When she’s had enough, she just won’t bring it back. We play for 5 or 10 minutes every day – she’s never lost interest in the hedgehog. If, by the way, she brings it to me to play and I don’t notice right away, perhaps I’m washing dishes or something, she will meow until I turn around and see hedgehog on the floor by my feet. Perhaps she will get tired of the game when she gets older and lazier, as have all of our other older, lazier cats, but we really enjoy what we call her “hedgehog hustle.”

  6. The one cat toy that I do recommend actually buying (don’t worry, it’s like $3) is called a Cat Dancer. It’s basically a curved piece of springy wire with some little cardboard tubes at the end. I don’t know why, but cats think it is MAGIC. I think it’s something to do with how the wire makes the cardboard pieces move- bouncy and unpredictable. I keep mine on top of the fridge so my cat doesn’t have time to get tired of it. When I take it down, my cat starts mewing and rubbing at my legs frantically. He knows what’s coming!

  7. Instead of buying a mouse I will usually just grab whatever small stuffed animal I see at a thrift store. If you want to add catnip it takes like 20 min to tear out a little bit of the stitching, stuff the catnip in, and sew it back up again. Also hanging any of the things you mentioned increases the fun and self-play aspect.

  8. When I was a child and had a cat, it loved rubber bands, but, he ate them eventually. My daughter recently had a kitten adopt her family. The cat was into everything, and she was bemoaning the fact she did not have cat toys. I suggest tying a knot that could be undome in a sock. They did that while I was on the phone and the cat went wild for the sock.

    Mu friend has a dog that likes toys. She buys little child toys for a quarter at yard sales or thrift stores and doles them out as the dog loses complete interest or tears them up. She recently bought several dozen that were $2 for the whole box. She also recycles toys she does not touch. After a few months, it is a whole new toy to the dog. same thing will work for cats.

    Jingle bells from Christmas work, especially the larger ones. I would tie the smaller ones to something else.

  9. This is the best for lazy humans, bamboo stick like fishing pole, tie on the end say 3 feet of string and a butterfly shaped scrap of paper or plastic or a little toy, sit back and swing the stick around.

  10. Regarding thrift store stuffed toys– I used to buy these for our late dog, because he loved stuffed toys, but any stuffed toy we gave him quickly ended up a debris field of foam and plush. They had to be cheap! And he’d always start the slaughter by plucking at a weak point in the structure, like an ear or an eye (yeah, kinda creepy when you think about it. I gave him a stuffed human dolly once and had to take it away because it was too scary to watch him gnaw on an infant!).

    ANYWAY point is I’d always cut the eyes and any other hard plastic parts, like noses, off the toys before handing them over to him, otherwise they’d surely be swallowed in the frenzy. Not all dogs are so violent with their play, and I don’t know if cats are dumb enough to eat toy parts, but it’s just something I wanted to put out there.

  11. $.99 cent flip flops from the dollar store or Old Navy. The ones I wear around the house and, like the aforementioned yoga mat, look as though they’re gone through a cheese grater.

  12. Wine corks are the big one in our house. The forbidden one that they love is…hair ties. Can’t leave one on the table or nightstand or you’ll find it in a pile of cat puke a few days later.

    • See, I try corks–they seem a natural– but they’ll have nothing to do with them. Not milk rings either. And rubber bands are sorta meh. Fussy creatures.

  13. Office supplies…small binder clips, large paper clips, pen caps. I agree about the Cat Dancer. A freshly-picked green bean. Also any dead insect or a dead mouse (until I take it away).

  14. Our cats go out (I’d love to keep them in but we live in 2 tiny rooms and imprisoning them in here would for sure warrant a call to the ASPCA if we were in the US) so their favorite toys are the creatures they hunt – mice, snakes, geckos, and big cockroaches and grasshoppers. Even as jaded as they are though, when it’s raining too much to go out all of them will go nuts for the laser. And yes, any new cardboard box is game on.

    The other day one of the best hunters of the group, who you’d think would be above such a thing, went nuts for an eraser that had fallen on the floor, so go figure.

  15. Milk bottle rings and twist ties (especially the big black ones that come with electronics) are big favorites here. I bought a couple of fabric tubes filled with catnip at the Portland Saturday market and our one cat just loves grabbing them, kicking one end with his back feet and chewing on the other end.

    I solved the boredom problem accidentally. When I moved into my last apartment, I put all the cat toys in a basket on the floor of my living room, figuring I’d pull a few out at a time for the cats to play with. Instead, the one cat that actually plays gets in there and digs around until he finds a toy that looks good, then pulls it out and plays with it. By the time I get around to vacuuming, there are usually several around that he’s been playing with.

  16. My young cat loves rubber bands – I feel rather frustrated at the moment because instead of trying to catch the mouse that has been living in our kitchen somewhere, he expends his energy attacking the rubber band.

  17. My cat likes rubber bands and pony tail holders, and will go to great lengths to procure them, not caring that this proclivity causes me to search about the house for these items on a regular basis. He also carries socks and stuffed toys around the house at night when everyone is asleep, often taking them under the bed with him. In his kitty imagination, he is rounding up his “sock babies” and stuffed animals and storing them under the bed so they will be safe and hidden from view.

    • I love finding the morning redistribution of toys. Our bed tends to be littered with plastic strips and tiny mice. I’m not sure if they’re expecting us to wake up and play with them or what. One morning I found many toys lined up in a row. What goes on at night???

    • Yes, indeed. Max usually takes the pair of socks I leave by my gardening shoes into the bedroom and is careful that they stay together when they are moved. He has favorite toys that he chooses. Now that we have a new kitten, the night activities are even wilder! That is funny about the toys being lined up.

  18. My mums cat love to play with my marble collection…displayed in a large low bowl. The sound of the marble on the wood floors is intoxicating to him…though the kids report he plays with them in the middle of the night, under their beds!

  19. Hair ties are the favorite around here, along with pens or pencils. All of Gus’s treasures end up stuck under the chest near my front door, which is handy to know when specific items (like the stopper for the bathtub drain) go missing….. although I’m getting better and better about hiding anything that he might try to steal!

  20. One of my cats used to like chasing a superball (the gumball-sized super bouncy balls) when I’d bounce it against a wall or throw it down the hallway. She wouldn’t fetch it, but she’d race after it and stand over it a minute. Occasionally she’d time the bounce right, jump up after it, and bring the ball down with both paws. We could play like that for 5-10 minutes at a time.

    We also have an over-the-door hanger that sticks out a ways, with an elastic string hanging off and a small cat toy at the end. One of the cats likes batting at it briefly, and loves when I start swinging it in a wide arc or snapping it wide – she’ll try to bring it down. Sometimes she’ll even hide around the corner to sneak up on it while I fiddle with it.

  21. My kitty has been playing with the same toys for the last six months. Well, those she hasn’t lost or destroyed. I bought an on sale Christmas stocking full of toys and I still have half in the closet. She suplements these toys with anything that will slide across the floor, insects, and the collar she is constantly taking off. Oh, and the dog. As for sweaty things? She’s using my tennis shoes for a pillow at the moment.

    I had a cat that would not leave the toliet paper alone. Anytime I left it out I would come home to a shredded, compressed mess. I quickly learned to leave it in a drawer next to the toilet. Confused the heck out of guests though. That cat also solved my roach problem. Before the cat I had roaches after I got the cat I was the only apartment without roaches.

  22. Pine cones. Anything from outside. Sweaty shoes. The Wand of Power (aka stick with string & toy attached). Milk rings. Their own tails. Marbles.

    Did I mention marbles?

    The only thing that never gets old are actually purchased cat toys: for one, soft sponge rubber balls, for the other, pompous with crinkly foil in them. One plays fetch, the other plays soccer. Hilarious.

  23. It’s so easy to make a wand toy with a stick, some string, and some feathers; no need to buy a fancy one. They also love twist-ties from loaves of bread, old makeup brushes, old socks filled with dried catnip, q-tips, receipts, old newspapers, and my jewelry.

    My cats do love a store-bought ball and track I got for them, and they play with it for hours. They tire of it after a few days, so I put it in the closet. Then I bring it back out and the thrills start over.

  24. Tofu has learned to use my printer. She sits on top of it and moves about until one of her paws hits a button which starts the paper feed. I have come home to a floor littered with torn paper and a bleeping machine. I tried to video her in the act once. She had gotten the machine going but then she saw me and sauntered away all innocent-like.
    My cats have some outdoor access so I never let them play with feathered toys. In fact, I wish those toys came with a warning “for indoor cats only.”

  25. oh, and of course APPLE HEADPHONES!!!! ergh!!! What do they put in that plastic that makes them so delectable for cats? I posit here and now I suspect nefarious dealings at the plastics factory- the secreting of high grade catnip into the mix perhaps? That would really redefine the term “built-in obsolescence.” Luckily, I started returning all my chewed through earphones when I realized they were actually under warranty.

  26. My cats did really like some purchased toys…the little mice made of rabbit fur and some crinkly mylar pompoms. The mice got played with until they completely disintegrated (it took a few years) and one of my cats still occasionally shows up with a scrap of one of them. I’m not sure where she hides it between playtimes. The mylar poms are still good after 8 years.

    The latest thing is the Hexbug. I think it’s as much fun for the humans as the cats.

  27. I forgot to say in the post that another favorite game in our house is what our friend Walton calls “The Gravity Test.” This is when a random object is deliberately batted to the edge of the table and pushed off. Then they hang over the edge and watch it fall, all serious-like, making sure gravity still works. You know, just in case.

  28. A local shelter sells little fleece pillows with catnip inside. We recently purchased some plus some dog treats they sell. The bag with them in it got left out. When we got back later two of the cats had shredded the bag to get both the toys and the dog treats and had eaten quite a bit of the treats. I guess all that was hard work and they were hungry enough to eat dog food, tho both are so finicky normally its a bit hard to believe. But the dogs were with us on a walk so it had to be the cats.

  29. Parrot feathers! the fun never ends. The local pet shop or I’m sure a friend of a friend has a big bird.Secure to bamboo stick. Its a little tricky but can be done safely. When I don’t want to play I hang it from ceiling and LOL. the natural smell must be like catnip but better.

  30. I have 2 little kittys, Charlie and Mable. Both girls. We recently rescued Mable and she loves to get into everything! we will come home and she had compleatly destroyed an hole role of paper towels. She had also gone in the bathroom closet and got a roll of t.p. and we call it Mable paper =p. But they both love stick toys and laser toys. And a cheap toy to make for your kitty is i call it a sock-ball. you take a pair of socks that are smooth on the inside and outside,turn them inside out,roll both inside one of the one of the socks and open the hole and and trun it inside its self and make it as tight as you can and ta-da!!! a sock-ball!!! Mable loves them because i have the smooth socks in neon colors and i really thinks she loves the wild colors. she has neon pink, blue, yellow, orange and green! good luck w/ ur sock-balls

  31. My cat loves playing with a crumpled up piece of paper. A4 or a bit smaller usually does the trick. Of course, like any other play thingy, it has to be changed once in a while.

  32. My kitten LOVES cardboard egg cartons! I cut out the individual bottom-of-the-carton spot for the egg, season it in a ziplock bag with catnip just long enough to get a little smell on it and toss it in the floor. She’s entertained for 30+ minutes or until the thing is lost! But who cares if it’s lost? I have 11 more for her to play with! I wouldn’t use the styrofoam cartons… not sure how safe that would be if chewed.

  33. “Glitter balls” go for about a dollar each at the store. Hobby Lobby has them in large packs of different sizes and colors for about five dollars. We call them “Sparkle balls” and they’re indispensible! and dispensible! Every cat loves them! I also grab handfuls of paper covered straws from Starbucks and wedge those into the shelter cats cages or the cats on display at the petco and petsmarts so they have something with some resistance to chew on. For my own cats making a impromptu tent is always a blast whether of a blanket, paper or tissue paper.

  34. My indoor cat loves playing fetch with a tin foil ball! She goes crazy for it and its the only toy she never tires of!

  35. Twist ties. My at, Furball knows – I swear, she smells them – when there’s one on something, and will play with it for DAYS, including many games of fetch. Same goes for balls of foil. And a laser pointer, she will (literally) climb the walls chasing it.

    In the forbidden category, my glasses. I’ve taken to hiding them in a drawer at night, just so I’ll know where they are in the morning. Also, any pieces of fruit that are round. Grapes, apricots, clementines. Also, the little bugger will travel all flat surfaces early in the morning and try to knock off anything that isn’t nailed down.

  36. You know those little novelty items you can get out of vending machines, that come in what looks like a plastic egg? We have a couple of them with little toy NFL helmets inside…hours of fun! The rattle is endlessly fascinating, and the roundish shape lets them travel pretty well.

  37. my cat loves to play with a toilet roll with the end’s cut up and pushed up so it rolls. it just goes crazy and all so the cardboard thing out of paper towle with string ang fethers stuck on it. and if you dont have time to play with your cat just tie a bit of string on to your cats fav toy and then tie it up on to something that is high but not to high make it so the cat can still be able to play with it.

  38. Little golf pencils that I’ve cut the erasers off of are a big favorite. Also my elastic hair ties and those plastic “cause” bracelets. These things can keep her busy for ages. And I had her playing fetch with the golf pencils for a while, although she seems to have tired of that game now.

  39. I seems that novelty is really the key so I too rotate most of my cat’s toys. I gave up spending money on almost all cat toys, home made all the way!
    My cats’ favourites are:
    -crumpled receipts
    -Cat Dancer
    -stick with a sting attached to it
    -hair ties
    -thumbtacks
    -bubbles
    (I get the last 3 from Dollar Store.)
    I also love putting treats into an empty used tissue box, it keeps them occupied for a while fishing out treats from the box with their paws.

    However, the biggest hit are always crickets, I buy the smallest ones, usually half a dozen, at the pet shop (they sell them as food for reptiles) and they just get mesmerized by the bugs, eventually eating them.

    • thumbtacks. are you insane!!!!!! don’t let it play with those it can get hurt

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      - 1 -frony face

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