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If You Make These DIY Cat Toys, You’ll Make Yours the Happiest Kitty on the Planet

by on Nov 15, 2023

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!          

Homemade 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.

How to make a DIY cat wand toy

Keep reading to learn how to make these inexpensive DIY cat toys! 

Simple & Easy DIY Cat Toys From Curbly

Simple & Easy DIY Cat Toys From Around The Web

DIY Cat Condos

DIY Cat Scratching Posts

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.

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.

kitten playing with feather


Image via The Spruce Pets

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?

Cat sitting in box


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?

cat playing with feather


Image via Pet MD

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:

Cat playing with ball


Image via Flickr
  • 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?

Cat hunting feather toy


Image via Jessica L. Fisher

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 4 am. 

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

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! 

Purrfect Feline Cat Toy

Purrfect Feline Premium Interactive Cat Toy

Adrance cat toy

Adrance Electronic Interactive Cat Toy 

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!

Leash Training Tips via Adventure Cats
Photo via Adventure Cats

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.

cat toys


Image via Amazon

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.
  • Cat beds: Vacuum or lint-roll periodically, and every now and then run them through a laundry cycle.

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! 

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  1. Good article with lots of great ideas.

    Instead of gluing the sections of PVC pipe to the bottom of the food hunt box, I’d glue them to each other only. Then the inside can be removed for cleaning.

    Latest favorite cat toy at my house is the 24″ long flexible gear ties that Home Depot sells in pairs. Twist them into shapes; or attach a small toy to one end and the other end to something fixed; or use them as the wand for a wand toy. Many possibilities.