Homemade cat toys that don’t look like trash

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GIVE ME BACK MY TWISTIE TIES! Photo by aiwells, used under Creative Commons license.

Melinda needs help with her cat:

Like many cat parents, I have brought home a number of toys for my little guys…only to see them left untouched.

I abandoned purchased toys and now look for items around the house. The cats love twist-ties, the hair elastics, glasses of water, etc., but this usually translates into a display of trash all over the floor.

Any ideas for homemade toys — beyond tying stuff to string — that don't look like trash?

Oh, I hear you. My cat loves to rip cardboard boxes into little tiny bits and put said bits all over the house. She also LOVES this pom pom I cut off a weird sweater and drags it from room to room. Most other toys can suck it, as far as she's concerned.

Now. Have you tried the laser toy? Some cats don't care about them, but some go crazy — and when you're done you can put it in a drawer. Unfortunately, it doesn't do much for kitty when you're not home.

You could also spend some time making a cardboard cat house or a cardboard toy mouse. Both free, and look more intentional than dropping bottle caps on the floor.

Any other ideas, guys?

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  1. We have an old shopping basket with cat "toys" in it, they can choose what they want and play until they tire of that particular one. We do have to pick up the toys and put them away afterwards though.(Like kids) I have found my cats like balled up old socks, toilet roll inners, bottle tops, what we call tinkle balls and anything catnip!

    1 agrees
    • I second the idea of getting a basket to corral the cat toys. That way you can toss the bits of junk into a basket with a few more obvious cat toys and it looks neater. You could also look for brightly coloured or slightly less junky looking junk. Pipe cleaners instead of twisty ties, those Pom pom things they sell at craft stores, etc. I think the trick is to get the cat to think it is junk, if they think you want them to play with it then it is a boring toy.

      6 agree
      • I have a cat tower that has a little "condo" in it, and that's where I stuff the toys. Occasionally, my cat will stick her head in there and pull one out, or all of them, especially when we're out of town. Then it's like cleaning up after toddlers…

        2 agree
  2. Whatever you let your cats play with, make sure it's not something that will make them sick. I let one of our cats play with a LiveStrong style bracelet that I didn't care about, and she managed to chew some of it off, swallow it, and it made her sick in several areas of the house.
    If you're a knitter or you crochet, you may be able to find patterns for mice you can make and fill with catnip yourself. And beyond mice, I'm sure that any little ball type thing you crafted that way would hold attention for a while. I personally don't buy cat toys because I feel like if the cats are fine with flicking water out of our glasses, playing with packaging and balled up foil or paper, they're fine. If anything, finding their self-claimed toys in weird places makes me smile.

    4 agree
    • We take pipe cleaners and bend them into loops and circles. The cats go shit house for them. About the same size and shape as the live strong bracelets but nontoxic. Also it keeps them from hunting down my hair ties. Supper cheep and less trash like than tin foil balls.

      1 agrees
  3. This! I just find it funny watching the youtube clip but I'm sure if you wanted to there must be a number of similar things on screens to amuse a cat or two 🙂

    3 agree
  4. We once had a cat toy that was shaped like a piece of sushi – it had a little fish-shaped pillow on top and fleecy "rice" ball on the bottom. Our cat Seamus quickly tore off the fish and discarded it, but the rice ball became an intense favorite. He would carry it around and play fetch with it. It would be really easy to make one with a bit of fleece and some stuffing or cotton balls. You could also try simply sprinkling dried catnip on the floor (in a nice patch of sun maybe) – most cats adore catnip, and will roll in it and eat it so you don't have to clean it up. Then you can watch them sit around being high – it's pretty amusing for everyone nivolved. (However, not all cats are affected by 'nip that way)

    3 agree
  5. you could easily make pom poms or other toys with yarn. My cat, Seamus, loves yarn. She also likes little stuffed toys (like the ones you get in Happy Meals). I'm kind of lucky because she loves her toys, but unlucky because she loves ANYTHING small and immediatley claims ownership.

    1 agrees
  6. As a veterinary, I beg you to not let your cats play with string, hair binders, twist ties, or any other tiny potentially ingestible toys unattended. I just surgically removed 14 hair binders from the stomach of a cat who had been eating them one by one for months until they caused a complete obstruction. A cheap toy, if ingested, can turn into an $800 surgery or euthanasia for owners who can't afford surgery 🙁

    29 agree
    • My in-laws are pretty sure that their kitty died from choking on a hair tie. Not something to mess with!

      1 agrees
    • Thank you! I nearly screamed a little with the hair ties, bread ties, string comments and finally I saw your comment! (Vet tech 10 yrs)–so many cats we see with string foreign bodies and sometimes with sewing needles still attached. Yes…they can swallow the needles too!

      2 agree
    • one of my cats had to go to the er & get ivs b/c she began swallowing a ribbon i had left out w/ crafting. not only did it cause a blockage, but the dye was toxic.

    • I have to be really careful with hair ties as well. Occasionally I have found a mound of vomit with a hair tie buried in it. I don't let her play with them on purpose, but I swear that cat can get into anything. I think she has opposable thumbs I don't know about.

      Our cats also love big poofy makeup brushes. Sucks for me, but anything that is furry they love. Also those skinny feather boas used for crafts are a house favorite. Basically anything I need to use for something else becomes their favorite toy.

      3 agree
  7. Instead of string, I've had really good luck with shoelaces. I have some wide black ones with rainbow stars on them and they're ribbon-y yet sturdy enough for a cat to chew on without coming apart.
    I've found that dried catnip from the farmer's market gets a much stronger reaction than stuff from a store.

    2 agree
    • My mom made a cat scratching post by wrapping a fat board with sisal rope and securing it to a sturdy base. She drilled a screw out of the top that she tied a few shoe strings and a homemade pom-pom of polar fleece off of. My cats freakin' love it.

      2 agree
  8. My cat loves nerf darts. We wake up in the morning and it looks as if someone had a big neft war during the night.

    2 agree
      • I've never known her to actually eat them. I would make sure my son hides them better if she did! She just gets them if he leaves them out. Teeth marks in his "bullets" are a good deterrent for him to clean up after himself.

        She also has a large rabbit fur I got forever ago that she carries around like a blanket. Ping pong balls are endlessly fascinating for her as well. Those have very little chance of getting eaten.

        2 agree
  9. ** Please read Megans comment above… this is very true information. Although cats love string, it is a huge no-no since it can very easily be fatal.

    I would suggest trying out different cat-specific toys until you find one that they like, or stick to things like water and ice cubes, food or treat toys (these are mini tubs or containers that you put dry food or treats into and they have to play with to get it out), or cardboard boxes like mentioned above. You may also want to try catnip bubbles for interactive play.

    3 agree
    • much to my dismay, Stella is TERRIFIED of bubbles. she stares at them nervously as they float through the air, and FREAKS when they pop. and she is usually not a skittish cat.

      and megan's comments are right on, i noticed stella stealing my hair bands, and now keep them out of reach. also, yarn is her FAVORITE thing in the world to play with, but i caught her chewing/attempting to swallow it, so only supervised yarn play is allowed now, and it goes in a drawer when we're not playing with it.

      1 agrees
    • Oh my god bubbles. Viking randomly bought a bubble machine and the cat was FASCINATED. He developed a routine to investigate the bubbles. He would pick one, paw at it, it would pop and he would look surprised. Then he would pick another one, nose it, it would pop and he would look surprised. He would pick a third, bite it, it would pop and he would look surprised.

      He did this, in that order, unceasingly, for a half hour straight until we turned it off.

      3 agree
  10. My step mother loved to make cat toys and give them to us as gifts. The ones around here that have outlasted the store bought ones are fabric tubes stuffed with batting and then cat nip in one end. They hug and scratch and chew on that thing for hours. The cat nip end is velcro so I can replace the nip.

    Also, I have one cat that likes small stuffed animals. He'll drag them out and toss them around and then sleep with them. It's precious. He also loves shiny things like nail polish bottles and jewelry but I found those Mylar scrunchy balls they make serve their purpose and I don't loose my favorite nail colors anymore.

    I don't give them trash items to play with no matter how much the love them. Ever step on a bottle cap in the middle of the night? Not fun.

    2 agree
  11. I have a bunch of old teenie beanie babies that had never been played with. Took a cute lil rhino dude and sewed some catnip inside him. Turns out our kitty isn't affected by it, but still carries her rhino pal around with her all day, and even into bed with us at night! :3
    I'm going to make a bunch more of these guys for our local shelter. (Only with the teenies though, as they have stuffing not the squishy beads like regular beanie babies, which could be bad if played rough with and eaten.)

    3 agree
  12. Careful with the hair elastics. One of my kitties ate a few of them and ended up at the vet with an impacted bowel. No fun.

    4 agree
  13. My cats' favorite toy is a wine cork sheathed in a little knitted cover (I saw them online for sale for like $5 but made my own with a few yards of scrap yarn). It's kind of bouncy, rolls around easily, and can be carried around by the knit cover. If you knit, it literally takes 10 minutes to knit a little cover around a wine cork. If you don't knit, you could learn or find a knitting friend who might be willing to trade their services for dinner or baked goods. 🙂

    2 agree
  14. I did something like this, but left it on the floor rather than tying it to furniture. That way the treat fell into a new hole each time she grabbed it, and it took her a few minutes to get the treats out.

    http://www.fourwhitepaws.net/2011/06/new-toy.html

    My cat loved it, and you can make it easier or harder based on how big the box is and which hole you put the treat in.

    1 agrees
  15. Some of the cats I've had over the years have loved those pre-made gift bows. They're sturdy and large enough that you don't have to worry about swallowing, they're sparkly, and you can stick them to the wall. They also light up really cool if you point a laser at them. Bonus points if you have a whole bag-full sitting out as you wrap gifts and they "steal" one!

    1 agrees
    • I love the stick on bows for Christmas, but pets love to steal them. I would wait till christmas day to put them on other wise they will be gone as kitty play things. Of course we spend christmas at my moms house and her dog is also a bow stealer.

  16. My cat's favourite toy is the button placket of a shirt cut to about 6 inches long with a fuzzy ball at each end. Like hair ties she can carry it around in her mouth easily, but she can't chew through it and end up ingesting rubber. Anything knit or crocheted from eyelash yarn seems to be a big hit too.

  17. My last cat didn't care for any store-bought toys EXCEPT a particular green fuzzy ball. Why green, I don't know.
    My current cat loves when we make small paper airplanes and fly them over her head.

    1 agrees
  18. I love that paper tube idea! I may have to try that. My cats never really touch the bought toys, but love shoe laces and paper wads. Also, cardboard boxes are very exciting for them. For a little something different… when we get one of those long and slender fridge pack boxes of soda… when we empty it I break open both ends and leave it on the floor for them. I take it out when I take everything else out, but at least for a little while they are entertained. They run at them and dive into the box like superman(cat?), sliding through the kitchen. It's entertaining for everyone involved!

    2 agree
    • I suppose that really didn't solve the actual question though "doesn't look like trash" part… since well, they are technically trash.

      Oh! What if you braided some thicker strings together (to create a non-ingestible(?) size)? You could do whatever colors you want, and if it was left on the floor when company came, it would at least look intentional, not trashy. I know that the shoelaces can look kinda sloppy too (we have two kicking around downstairs and we look like we just never put them away). You could even try making a couple paper wads out of colored or patterned paper. That sounds like kind of a waste of fancy paper (maybe use scraps?), and the cat sure wouldn't care, but it's an idea!

      1 agrees
  19. My roommate's cat loved all the typical cat junk, but his favorite "toys" were canvas grocery bags: he'd jump in them, scoot them around the house, hide under them, etc. They were tough enough to stand up to his horseplay, resisted chewing, and didn't look as bad as cardboard boxes (second-place favorite).

    1 agrees
  20. I made my cats a toy that hangs on a door handle out of ribbon and very tightly felted wool balls. I sewed a loop of ribbon big enough to go over a door handle to three pieces of ribbon of different lengths. Then I sewed a felt ball to the end of each of the three ribbons. It looks great, my cats love it, and it keeps them from stealing my underwear that escapes from the hamper and dragging it into the hall.

  21. I'm dreading Christmas decorating… my cat last year made it his mission to destroy EVERYTHING we put up. He ruined the tree, and we cleaned tree bristles out of his poop box more than once. So… guess that's another cat safety warning.
    Cat + Fake Tree = potential tummy issues.

    My cat's favorite toys are my feet! I can't hold still ever and fidgeting toes under a blanket are just totally irresistible to him. He also beats up on the dog, so we really don't need too many toys for him. We have a fair-sized power ball he bats around sometimes, but for the most part he just attacks his family rather than play with toys. :/

    1 agrees
    • Next year, hang the tree from the ceiling. Thankfully our cats prefer sleeping under it instead of climbing it but hanging it from the ceiling was an idea we were given when we had babies instead of kitties. We ended up putting the tree in the playpen which worked for kids, not so much for the cats. 🙂

  22. I forgot to mention my cats also love plastic grocery bags. I try not to let them play in them though (afraid of suffocation cuz they shove their faces into the plastic). However, a canvas bag sounds like a fabulous idea! 🙂 My one cat loves to sleep in/on backpacks, and inside paper bags (the big ones you used to able to find everywhere at groceries but have been replaced by just plastic 🙁 ). Just be sure if there are handles on the bag to be careful. I have witnessed lots of flipping and twisting with the cats in those bags, and it always worries me when they get really playful in them. They'll sometimes stick their heads through the loops. If it's a brown paper bag with a loops/handles, I snip the handles so they can still play with them, but won't get choked. I watch them if it's something potentially hazardous. I sound like a paranoid cat-owner.

    • I'm the same way. I get worried my fur baby will get stuck or hurt in some situations. We don't have a cover for the vent under the sink and he gets stuck in there sometimes. Makes for a good youtube video but it's not funny when we gotta pull out a frantic cat by the freaking shoulders!

      I made a thingy to block it since I never remember to buy a vent cover… he can't get in there anymore.

    • Paper bags are the #1 source of amusement around here for my cat. Every trip to Trader Joe's is cause for celebration. 🙂

      2 agree
  23. I cut empty toilet paper rolls into maybe 10 little rings. It looks slightly more intentional than a bottle cap, and the kits react to it like one. They go nuts.
    We also put a little mirror mobile in front of a window. When it moves (it's barely within kitty reach) it scatters light on the floor for the other kitties to play with.

  24. My cats don't like playing with anything BUT trash. No joke. I guess that's what we get for naming them Oscar and Grungetta Grouch. They like to get high off the nip, but buy them a catnip-scented toy at the pet store and they couldn't care less about it. 🙂

  25. All of my kitties looove cat nip. I just buy a few sheets of felt, and a tub of bulk catnip and sew little shapes using embroidery floss. I fill them with a cotton ball or two and quite a bit of catnip.
    One of my cats will steal the cap right off of your drink if you're not careful, so I have a stash of caps.
    I'll knit little squares out of a chunky yarn, like 3×3 in size, my baby cat it in love with them.
    I know a lot of people are against fur, but cats aren't! A friend of mine raises meat rabbits and she'll give me their cured pelts occasionally. I cut the fur in strips. They don't last very long though- the cats rip them to pieces quite quickly!
    If you have a lot of those mini beanie babies taking up space- cut them open and refill them with cat nip, my three legged cat loves to cuddle and get high with them.
    Baby socks make good wrestling buddies! Stuff 'em with cotton balls and catnip. One of my cats will fight them for hours.

  26. please be really careful about using a laser pointer. i DO NOT rec it. please read this. http://jacksongalaxy.com/2011/11/28/laser-toys-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-part-3/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+JacksonGalaxy+%28Jackson+Galaxy%29

    as for some you make, i like to twist up plastic bags & knot them a bunch until it's in a thick rope-ish kind of shape. then i play fetch w/ my kitty. i think she likes the knotting b/c it makes it easier to carry

  27. also, you should look up foraging toys (some can be safely made w/ a water bottle). they are amazing. cats will play with them & it really relaxes them. they get to hunt for their food & get some exercise as well.

  28. Why do cats enjoy trash so much? My cat would rather play with a plastic grocery bag or twist tie than any of the fancy toys we get. We have twist tie creatures all over our house.

  29. To appease my sister's newest she-cat (who hated me and was aggressively trying to appear dominant over me in the pecking order) I cut the ankle off an old tube sock, filled it with catnip, and sewed the top shut. Took me fifteen minutes, and it kept her happy for almost a year.

  30. The best entertainment for your cat is another cat! While you are at work your single cat will get not only bored but lonely. It costs very little to add a second cat, but if you'd like to try it for free, look into fostering. Animal shelters and private organizations will often provide the food and litter so that a cat who needs a temporary home can live with humans instead of in a cage. And kittens! Especially in the spring, when the shelters are flooded with the results of people not spaying their cats. We've raised nearly 200 of them in 5 years, taking on a litter at a time and caring for them until they were old enough to be adopted. It is absolutely the most rewarding hobby I can imagine and after the first litter our own two cats got used to it and now groom and play with the motherless little guys all day. They are NEVER bored – in fact we've created high-up spaces for them to escape to when the kittens wear them out with constant play.

    5 agree
  31. Also remember that you can turn any home-made toy into a rattling toy (way more fun, somehow). Use a hard container small enough to fit easily into whatever you're stuffing and put some dry rice or corn inside. I've used two soda bottle lids taped together, which can fit into any of the sock- or cloth-based toys mentioned above.

    2 agree
  32. If you can get your hands on some left over building supplies- take em!! My husband does prison security so there are tons of empty wooden and super thick cardboard wire spools laying around. Add some free carpet scraps of Craig's list, and some sisal from Lowe's. You can find patterns online for cat towers, or dream up your own. Our cats love all the tubes and circular perches. Much much much cheaper than buying a cat tower! It's also a really fun project.

  33. My cat loves plastic grocery bags. She'll sit on them and paw them so they crinkle. She also likes empty toilet paper tubes. I have just resigned myself to the fact that I'll have "trash" all over my house. I just throw it in a basket when guests come over.

    Anyone else notice that this picture is of a pallas cat? It's a small wildcat native to Mongolia. I assume this one is in a zoo somewhere. It makes me chuckle because these little guys are feisty, most definatly the opposite of a housecat!

  34. I had a Beanie Baby Octopus that one of my cats went nutso over. She hated all other toys, and all other Beanie Babies, but the octopus was THE SHIT. I would find it every morning in the strangest places! I let her have her 'baby' and eventually it was lost for good when she ventured outside with it. =(

    My cats now like hair ties, balled up socks, particularly fancy underwear (one of my cats can open drawers, and does, just to get at the lacey panties hidden within!) and balls of tinfoil and boxes to jump in and out of.

  35. I feel weird admitting this, but my cat loves nothing more than a felted ball made out of her own cast off fur. She's a british shorthair, so her hair is very wiry and lends itself well to being rolled into a felted ball. Whenever I brush her I collect the fur in a plastic bag, then roll it until it's very densely packed and throw it to her. And she loves it. I think it may be a texture or a smell thing? But I can say for sure that she doesn't love any toy nearly as much. I'm not too concerned about choking, because I only give her balls that are too big for her to swallow, and hairballs aren't an issue for her since I give her regular hairball treatments and IAMS hairball control food.

    …Does anyone else have a weirdo cat who loves to play with their own cast-off fur?

    • If I'm not careful, my Swee'pea will attack and then try to groom balls of her fur from the brush. I know she thinks its great (grossly enough) but cleaning up the vomited hairballs just isn't worth it. I've tried hair ball treatments, but nothing really works. It's odd what will occupy a cat

  36. My in-laws got a feather toy that made chirping noise when it was rolled, ever since then our cat loves anything with feathers(It also peaked Tristan's, my cat, interest with birds, the result caused him to knock the screen out of the window on a warm spring day & the little monster go stuck on the roof ). He abused the poor little toy & I haven't been able to replace it, but I every so often go out hot glue feathers on those cheap little balls you buy for cats, he goes crazy hunter (like he'd know what to do with a bird if he caught one, lol).

  37. My cats like to wander through my studio and grab whatever suits their fancy…most times, glittery pompoms, with a side of pipe cleaners. Maybe I should reconsider my storage options…

  38. My cat discovered all the origami bits I was learning to make. Somehow, the pretty paper cranes and flowers don't look quite so garbage-like while strewn upon the carpet.

    1 agrees

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