It's pretty clear by now that cats are taking over the world. From global Instagram cat celebrities, to cat cafes, to enough cat-themed accessories to clothe an army, our feline friends have us wrapped around their paws. My own cat, Jax, is no exception --- he is definitely the boss in our household. Now he's even got me making DIY cat toys!
It's THE LOOK. You cat people know what I mean. How can I refuse?
If your cat has been giving you THE LOOK a lot too, it probably means that he wants you to learn how to make homemade cat toys. In which case you're in luck, because I've got three modern, stylish, and easy DIY cat toys for you: a puzzle box, a catnip sock, and a wand toy.
Your cat will love these toys because, well, they mean playtime. And you'll love them because they are cheap to make and are pretty enough to show off to all your crazy cat friends.
Keep reading to learn how to make these inexpensive DIY cat toys!
How to Make a Stylish Cat Food Puzzle
Make your kitty work a little harder for his treats with this DIY cat food puzzle that's pretty enough to leave out. It comes together fast with only a box, a basic plumbing supply from the hardware store, and glue. Place treats and toys in the compartments, and hide some of them behind crumpled pieces of paper. Your cat will love "hunting" for his food as he tries to figure out how to get at the goodies!
- Plain wood box (a sturdy cardboard photo storage box would also work well. Decorate the box however you like!)
- PVC pressure couplings in various sizes (pictured here are 1/2", 1", and 1 1/2" couplings)
- E6000 or other strong clear glue
Remove the box hardware if it has any, and decorate the box (here I kept things simple by painting half of the box white).
Then, arrange all of the PVC couplings in the box. If couplings have text printed on them, you can hide it by turning the text so it's facing another coupling.
Add glue to the bottom of each coupling...
...and glue into place. That's it!
Once the box has dried, your cat will have a new puzzle feeder to challenge her hunting instincts. This would be a great cat toy to make with your kids!
How to Make a Catnip Sock for Cats
Have you ever noticed how cats love to kick their "prey" with their hind legs as they are playing? This toy is extra long so your cat can kick away! The catnip filling makes it a guaranteed hit with your fur babies. All you need to make this easy homemade cat toy is a knee-length sock, dried catnip, and fiber fill, so it's an inexpensive cat toy, too.
- Knee-length socks
- Fiber fill
- Faux leather lace or other cord
- E6000 or other clear strong glue
Cut the foot off of a knee-length sock, and part of the cuff if necessary (you want the final toy to be slightly shorter than the length of your cat's body).
Tightly tie off one end of the sock with a double knot. For extra security, you can add a small dab of E6000 to the underside of the knot.
Stuff the sock with fiber fill and catnip. I found the easiest way to distribute the catnip evenly throughout the sock was to spread out a bunch of fiber fill and sprinkle catnip on top of it. Then, push the fiber fill bunch into the sock. Continue until the sock is completely stuffed.
Be generous with the catnip -- you want kitty to smell it through all the fabric, and dried catnip will lose some potency out of its sealed container.
To finish the homemade catnip sock, tie off the end as before, and add a dab of glue under the knot.
This is a great way to use old socks that are too worn for your feet. Your cat will love pouncing on and kicking her cuddly new loot!
How to Make a Modern Cat Wand Toy with Wood and Leather
The classic wand toy gets a modern upgrade with the help of faux leather fabric in this simple DIY. Just grab a dowel, string, and glue, and you're on your way to making another fun homemade cat toy for your cat to bat around!
- Wooden dowel
- Leather lace
- Faux or real leather fabric
- Cotton twine
- E6000 or other clear strong glue
Cut a piece of faux leather fabric about the width of your hand. This will make the "grip." Wrap the fabric around one end of the dowel and secure with glue.
You will need to wrap the fabric tightly around the dowel, and apply a line of glue every few turns.
Clothespins or binder clips can help hold the fabric in place while you allow the glue to dry for a few minutes before continuing.
When the faux leather grip has dried, flip the dowel over so you are working with the other end.
Cut off a piece of cotton string a little longer than two feet, and glue one end of the string to the dowel.
Now cut an 8" length of faux leather lace to wrap this end of the dowel.
Glue the end of the lace to the dowel, then wrap the cord tightly and evenly around the dowel, applying more glue every few turns. Trim the end of the lace and hold in place with another dab of glue.
Next, make the tassel toy. Find an object that is approximately the length of the final tassels. The object can be anything; pictured here is the case for my external hard drive, which is a little larger than my hand.
Place the end of the cotton string on the object, with a tail of about 4". This will be used to attach the tassel to the wand.
Wrap the leather lace around the object roughly 20 times. More will make a fluffier tassel, less will make a thinner tassel.
Tightly tie the end of the cotton string around the lace threads with a double knot.
Turn over the object, and cut through the lace threads right in the middle.
Gather all the tassel pieces so they are hanging down in the same direction. Then tie tightly with another piece of cotton string.
Finish the toy by wrapping the string around the "head" of the tassel several times. Tuck the end under the loops, and secure with a dot of glue.
Finished! You just made another easy DIY cat toy for your cat.
Now that you know how to make homemade cat toys, let's talk more about how to actually PLAY with your cat!
What do cats like to play with?
Maybe you've just come home with a new feline addition to your family, or you'd like to help your current kitty companion shed that extra pound by playing with her more. Learning a little about how cats like to play will get you two having fun play sessions in no time!
What types of toys do cats like?
In the animal kingdom, play is all about practice. For predatory animals like cats, this means practicing the hunt. Kittens learn how to hunt by observing their parents and play stalking and attacking each other.
Our house cats don't need to hunt since their food comes from a can. But, they don't know that! Cats still have strong hunting instincts, and they love to play to hone their skills.
This means, cats like toys that resemble "prey." Depending on your cat's personal preference, she may like chasing birds, mice, insects, or all three.
To find out which type of prey your cat prefers to chase, try playing with her using a toy that moves or sounds like a bird. The wand toy above is great to use here. See how she reacts when you move the toy like a bird. Then, try a toy that moves like a mouse, and one that moves like an insect. Does she react more strongly to one or the other?
If you've never done this before and aren't sure what to do, watch some nature shows of big cats hunting and notice how the prey moves, and how the cats respond! Try to make your cat's toys come to life as different prey. Your kitty will love "hunting" the toys.
Puzzle toys are also wonderful to get your cat interested in playing. While this type of toy doesn't move, your cat has to use his senses to work out how to access the treats. This is just like trying to hunt for a small animal that has hidden itself.
What toys do cats hate?
There are many household objects that make fun, free cat toys, like crumpled pieces of paper, boxes, and toilet paper tubes.
But, did you know that cats hate tin foil? They despise the sound it makes and the texture under their paws.
The same goes for sticky surfaces, like double-sided sticky tape. (Incidentally, this means that both of these items can make great training tools!)
You'll also want to avoid trying to play with your cat with toys that make loud sounds. And some cats have more individual preferences. My senior cat, Champ, loved crumpled paper, but was afraid of pretty much everything else!
Why do cats like boxes?
Every cat owner knows there are times when the packaging is better than the gift, at least according to the cat! As far as animal behaviorists have been able to work out, cats like boxes for a few reasons:
- A cardboard box makes a great hideout. Cats feel safe in small spaces that are hidden, yet provide an exit for escape.
- Cats like to avoid conflict, and for multi-cat households, boxes can be a "do not disturb" signal to the others.
- Boxes made of cardboard are insulating, and cats prefer a warmer average temperature than we do. (Also why kitty loves to sleep on your laptop!)
Do indoor cats need special toys?
Cats that go outdoors tend to have shorter lifespans on average than cats that live indoors: 2-5 years compared to 13-17! But, outdoor cats get a LOT more exercise and mental stimulation than indoor cats.
To make up for this, indoor cats should have a rich home environment, including toys that satisfy their need to hunt. Check out the bottom of this post for some great examples.
What kinds of toys are safe for cats?
Keeping cats out of trouble can be a little like...well, herding cats. Those notoriously curious felines are prone to get into anything and everything. Let's talk about how to keep your kitties safe during playtime.
Toys that are not safe for your cat:
- Pieces of string, balls of yarn, ribbon, and rubber bands: Even though cats LOVE the simple pleasure of swatting and chasing strings, it is not safe to allow cats to play with any loose strings or similar objects. And they should never play with string (including wand toys) unattended. Cats will frequently swallow strings, which can become entangled in their intestines and lead to complicated (and expensive) surgery. Always store any cat toys that have strings on them away when playtime is over.
- Plastic bags, packing peanuts, and bubble wrap: These items can be very appealing to cats because of the crinkly sound and texture, but as with young children, there is a danger of suffocation and swallowing.
- Toys containing small loose filling, like plastic beads: That rattling sound is so enticing to your cat, but of course, his desire to capture and rip apart his "prey" makes this an unsafe choice. Swallowing lots of tiny beads? That's a vet visit you want to avoid!
In general, avoid leaving your cat alone with anything that is small enough to be swallowed, has parts that can easily be torn off, or can get her tangled up.
- Your hand is not a toy: This one is to keep you safe! It can be fun to wave your fingers in your cat's face, especially when she is a kitten, but this will only teach her to pounce on and bite you. And because cats lick their own bums, their mouths are an actual cesspool of germs. Cat bites are no joke, avoid them!
These toys ARE safe for your cat:
- Plush toys: As long as they are sturdy enough to withstand being chewed on without being ripped open, small and large plushies are great kitten toys. Adult cats enjoy plush toys too--some cats even like to cuddle and sleep with them!
- Catnip: Catnip affects all cats differently. Some are crazy about it, others ignore it completely. Some cats like to eat the fresh or dried catnip leaves, some prefer to sniff it and roll around in it. Catnip can cause your cat to be drowsy, OR to turn into an off-the-wall cat maniac! Regardless, both fresh and dried catnip are safe for your kitties. Don't give them more than a tablespoon or two though, as too much of a good thing can cause vomiting.
- Catnip-filled toys: Since catnip is safe for kitties to eat, it is perfectly fine to give cats catnip toys, even if they end up torn apart.
- Balls: Make sure they are large enough that your curious cat can't swallow them. Try tossing a few ping pong balls into a bathtub for a cheap and easy way to entertain your cat! Sturdy plastic shower curtain rings are also fun to bat around.
- Mouse toys, crinkle toys, and other pet store toys: Yes! Just watch out for the "no-nos" above.
- Paper, paper bags, and boxes: Crumpled up pieces of paper can be a great source of entertainment. And we all know how much cats enjoy stalking paper bags! Be sure to remove the handles on the bag first, so your cat doesn't get stuck in them. And cardboard boxes are a given -- even if it doesn't fits, it sits.
A note on licking and chewing paper and plastic: It's normal for cats to do this when they are playing, but if your cat is excessively seeking out every single thing made of paper or plastic just so she can lick and suck the item, it could be a sign of a nutritional deficiency or other medical condition. Get a checkup with her veterinarian to be safe!
- Laser toys: Looking directly into a laser beam for a long time can be dangerous to the retina, for both humans and cats. But, most cheap laser pointers that you buy at pet stores or office supply stores don't have a strong enough laser to cause damage if the cat accidentally looks at the beam for a moment. When playing with a laser toy, be careful that you are not shining it at kitty's face, and stay away from automatic laser-shooting toys, since you can't control where the beam is directed.
- Feathers: Chewing on feathers satisfies a cat's natural craving to HUNT, but swallowing them can lead to an intestinal blockage. As with other toys that might accidentally be swallowed, feathers are ok --under supervision!
How often should I play with my cat?
In my day job at a cat-only veterinary clinic, I've found that people often choose cats as pets because they believe cats are so independent that they don't need much attention. And it's true, cats ARE very independent. They are solitary hunters who can be very territorial, and famously have minds of their own.
But, cats are still social mammals that crave affection and bonding just like we do. And, just like us, they need exercise, variety, and mental stimulation! So how often should you play with your cat?
The feline experts at Cat Behavior Associates recommend one to two 15-minute interactive play sessions with you a day. Each play session should end with allowing your cat to "catch" the toy, and getting a treat reward, so she can feel like a successful hunter!
I know, we are all busy, and that sounds like a lot. If you're not there yet, try working in a few minutes of playtime with your cat every night before you go to bed. It will be fun for both of you, and will help her get rid of excess energy so she doesn't wake you up mewling at 4am.
While not a replacement for "live" playtime with you, automatic toys can help supplement these play sessions for the extra lively cat. Give these toys a try:
Electronic Cat Toys
SmartyKat Hot Pursuit: My personal favorite! Know a cat that loves to attack your feet under the covers? Who doesn't! This toy mimics that movement perfectly. It even got my timid senior kitty to overcome his fear of toys!
If you are providing your kitty with regular interactive play, window perches, and other stimulation, but still find that he is keeping you up at all hours tearing through the house, consider leash-training him for outdoor play sessions!
Do cat toys need to be cleaned?
I'm not a germophobe, but every now and then I notice my cat Jax use the litter box, and then immediately start swatting his favorite catnip mouse around. EW.
Cats really care about having a clean environment, but they do clean themselves with their tongues, and then carry their toys in their mouths. Let's give their toys a quick clean once in a while for everyone's sake.
How to clean cat toys:
- Plush toys: Toss them in the washing machine with a scent-free detergent (cats have a strong sense of smell!). It's best to place the toys in a delicates bag so they don't get too roughed up. Air dry or tumble dry low.
- Rubber or plastic toys: Soak in hot soapy water for 20 minutes, then rinse and air dry.
- Catnip-filled toys: Catnip will not survive a soaking, so it's best to spot-clean with a lightly damp cloth. If the toy is refillable, you can empty out the catnip, wash the toy as above, and then fill with new catnip.
- Toys with feathers: Feather toys also won't make it through the wash, so you'll have to spot-clean these as well.
- Cat trees: Use a vacuum hose or lint roller to clean off cat hair, then use a damp soapy rag to spot-clean any soiled areas.
Speaking of soiled, the best cleaning product to clean up cat pee, vomit, or poop, is Nature's Miracle! It is formulated with enzymes that break down the waste. It REALLY saved the day when my feral cat started a literal pissing contest in my home!
- Cat beds: Vacuum or lint-roll periodically, and every now and then run them through a laundry cycle.
How to Make Even More DIY Cat Toys
Did making the three modern DIY cat toys above get you hooked? Check out these ideas too!
1. DIY Macaron Cat Toys: This is quite possibly the cutest homemade cat toy tutorial I've seen! And also, puts me in the mood for macarons...
2. Easy Felted Fish Catnip Toy: I love this DIY catnip toy because felt holds up well to claws.
3. DIY Cat Wand Toy With Felt: This wand toy has multiple strands for kitty to chase!
4. DIY Toilet Paper Roll Treat Ball: Who knew you could use empty toilet paper rolls to make free DIY cat toys?!
5. Five DIY Cat Toys you can make with Toilet Paper Rolls: This blogger shares five more ways to make a cat toy out of empty toilet paper rolls. So smart!
6. DIY Cat Wand with Pom Poms: For the modern cat, try this minimal DIY cat wand toy.
7. DIY Cat Food Puzzle: If you'd rather skip the plumbing aisle in my tutorial above, you can use a cardboard box to make a DIY puzzle feeder for your cat.
8. DIY Egg Puzzle Feeder: A water bottle also makes a great cat food puzzle. In both cases, be careful not to leave sharp edges that can cut your cat's paws.
9. Rainbow Flyer Kitty Toy: This is a DIY wand toy your cats and your kids are sure to love.
10. DIY T-shirt Cat Toy: Whip up a bunch of these free homemade cat toys using old t-shirts -- so you can spend more money on your cat, as she demands.
DIY Cat Condos
Climbers, trees, teepees, and beds -- these are the best of the best!
1. DIY Wood Cat Tent: This sweet homemade cat tent allows your cat to hide, rest, scratch, and look so hip all at once!
2. Wall-mounted Cat Hammock: This simple yet stylish DIY cat hammock stays tucked out of the way by being mounted on the wall.
3. DIY Cat Shelves: Nearly invisible thanks to paint that matches the wall color, this wall-mounted option looks sleek and functions as perfect vertical space for your cat to survey his kingdom.
4. Faux Cactus Cat House: There's no tutorial posted for this cute faux cactus cat condo, but the picture is pretty clear! Just make sure to sand the cut edges of the pot so kitty doesn't cut herself.
5. DIY Mid Century Pet Bed: You can adapt the plans for this dog bed to fit your cat...or give your cat a dog-sized bed, I'm sure she'll love the extra space to sprawl.
6. DIY Cat Tree with Real Branches: Real branches bring the outdoors in for your cat, and for you.
7. IKEA Hack Cat Hammock and IKEA Hack Cat Shelf: Talk about cheap and easy; see how this blogger hacked two IKEA products to make a cat hammock and a cat perch!
8. DIY Pallet Cat Condo: You can turn old pallets into a DIY cat condo with this clever tutorial.
9. IKEA Hack Cat Condo: Another IKEA hack! This blogger turned two LACK tables into a multi-level cat chill zone.
10. DIY Ladder Cat Tree: This is my favorite DIY ladder cat tree -- don't you love the eclectic colors?
11. Free DIY Cat Tent: You'll love the cost of this DIY cat tent: absolutely free. See how to turn scarves and branches into an elegant, boho cat hideout.
DIY Cat Scratching Posts
1. DIY Cat Scratching Post in Colorblock: Beautiful AND functional, this scratching post is the perfect place for cats to reach up and scraaaaatch. Scratching is an important part of play, too, to allow cats to establish their territories.
2. DIY Cactus Cat Scratcher: What's better than cats? Cats and cacti, of course.
3. Minimal DIY Cat Scratcher: Not all cats like vertical scratchers; it's good to have a horizontal option too! This DIY scratcher fits the bill and looks chic doing it.
4. DIY Doormat Cat Scratcher: This idea couldn't be easier: a cat scratcher made from a coir doormat!
The Best Cat Toys to Buy
To buy, or DIY? That's always the question for us makers. If you're looking fore more time to play with your feline family members, consider going with store-bought toys.
I showed you my favorite electronic cat toys above. Now, give these other options a try.
Interactive Cat Toys
Interactive cat toys allow you and your cat to play together. These are toys that you bring to life for your cat during your play sessions. From my experience with my own cats, and what I've learned working in a cat hospital, these are my favorites:
This wand toy is an absolute MUST for cat households. Even if you think your cat doesn't like chasing birds after testing his prey preference, it's worth giving Da Bird a go. It truly is the best cat wand toy on the market.
When you twirl the wand in the air, the feathers make a "whoosh," just like bird wings in flight. Every cat I've used this toy with has leaped and even somersaulted to try to catch it!
This toy is great for cats who prefer a prey that "skitters." Twitch it along the floor and watch them pounce!
Another skittering toy, this one from Jackson Galaxy, is perfect to tantalize cats who respond to insect hunting.
4. Cat Dancer
Another personal favorite. I mean of course, personal favorite of Jax. The Cat Dancer is a cheap but amazing cat toy that bounces around at the slightest hand motion, fluttering erratically like a moth. You'll be amazed at how little effort it takes to get the laziest cat on her feet with this toy.
Chewy Cat Toys
Cats love to rip and gnaw and BITE their prey. These toys encourage cats that like to chew to direct that energy to the right place, rather than your shoes.
Ideal for younger cats, but still good for adults---this toy satisfies that urge some cats have to chew on everything.
Another Petstages winner! This toy gets my vote for best chewy cat toy because...it has catnip in it. So of course it will attract that pesky chewy cat!
While not a toy exactly, this feeder treats a chewing-related issue: eating too fast. To get her dry food dinner, your cat will have to grab the kibble with her paws, forcing her to eat more slowly. No more post-meal vomiting!
Cat Trees and Cat Condos
How beautiful is this sleek and modern cat tree? I like that it doesn't have any carpet fibers for my cat to shred and scatter, and cats generally prefer sisal for scratching. The tree is small and space-saving, provides a perch with a rim the cat can snuggle against, multiple levels, and a little hiding hole. This one is on my shopping list for Jax!
Cat shelves are a great choice for agile apartment cats and their space-lacking humans.
For those who have more floor space, this cat condo has it all: plenty of scratching posts, perches on multiple levels, and even an integrated puzzle toy!
I've seen this lounger in action, and the glowing reviews are fully justified. Cats love it!
If you're looking for a mid century style cat tree, this is the highest-rated choice. The best part is the huge sisal poles for scratching.
Cats are excellent time-sharers, but when you have a large fur family, it's best to provide everyone with a perch. That's why this cat tree is a great option for multi-cat households.
Cat Videos for Cats
We've all seen cats gazing out the window, watching for birds, squirrels, and rival cats. But some cats also enjoy watching these things on TV! For these kitties, you might want to consider playing some cat videos just for cats when you're away.
Is it ok for cats to watch TV?
It is perfectly fine for your cat to watch TV. It won't damage his eyes or rot his brain.
There are two caveats though:
- Cat TV is NOT a replacement for playing with your cat. He still needs mental stimulation, exercise, and socialization, just like you do.
- Your cat may try to pounce at or swipe the TV. Make sure it is properly secured, because kitty can't tell the difference between the bird outside the window and the one on the screen!
Ok now that we've covered that, let's look at some fun videos to entertain your cat!
3. Night Birds
5. BONUS: Music for cats
The cat hospital where I work sometimes plays this CD to help mellow out stressed cats. It's been scientifically proven to be calming to cats!
Ok cat-crazy people. You're armed with a whole host of ideas on how to keep your cat entertained. Now we want to hear your tips! What DIY cat toys have you made before? How does your cat like to play? And what's the funniest thing your cat has ever done? Tell us your stories below!