Today’s article is a guest post by Stef Hu, the writer and creator behind Why Cat Why, a cat resource site dedicated to answering life’s big questions, like Why are cats scared of cucumbers? and How do I get my cat to stop liking me so much?
She has two cats, Sita and Pippin, who spend their days alternately sleeping facedown on the couch and reenacting their favorite UFC fights.
If you’re anything like me, you derive an inordinate amount of joy from buying stuff for your cats. When I first acquired Sita, my feisty Shanghai feral kitten, I picked up all the usual necessities: litter box, scooper, bed, kibble. Before long, I was poking my head into every pet supply store I passed..you know…just to look around. Then came Amazon Prime (and then went the neighborhood).
To my great surprise, such wanton kitty spending isn’t actually all that sustainable. After a couple cycles of UPS deliveries where my cats showed far less interest in their new gadgets than in the packaging it came in, I had an epiphany: Cats are not high maintenance trophy wives. Even the most dignified of smush-faced fur gremlins will eagerly disgrace herself in the presence of a good milk jug ring. Or a twisty tie. Or an upturned paper bag. And therein lies their silly, hilarious charm.
To that end, I’ve compiled a few tried-and-true methods for entertaining your cats—all without having to buy a damn thing.
1. Scrunched up paper balls
Yes, I know. Crumpling up scraps of paper and hurling them at our cats is hardly glamorous (or particularly inventive). But more often than not, it’s the simplest things that cats respond to the most. (If you’ve ever dropped a Q-tip or a zip tie on the floor in the presence of kitties, you know what I mean.)
To make a slightly more enticing variation, tear off a quarter-sheet of paper and sprinkle a pinch of catnip at its center. Crumple the paper up tightly around the catnip—the more compact and perfectly round you can get it, the better. Experiment with different ball sizes. Pippin, our resident lovable airhead, loves lightweight, loosely packed paper approximately the size of a ping-pong ball. Sita, the seasoned pro midfielder, will turn her nose up at anything bigger than a soybean. (Hey, my girl loves a challenge!)
2. Repurposed sock wrestle toy
Not sure if you’re aware, but cats are actually avid sports fans. We’ve covered soccer (or football, for y’all Europeans), and now we’ll touch on their love of UFC. That’s right, folks—cats go nuts for WrestleMania. Sita’s a big fan of Ronda Rousey and her arm bars, but when Pip’s not around for her to practice her piledriver on, a catnip-stuffed sock makes an excellent substitute.
Find yourself an old woolen sock—the thicker ones will be harder for kitties to eviscerate—and sprinkle a couple pinches of catnip inside. Stuff it with old pillow stuffing, if you have any, and some crumpled up paper (cats love crinkly sounds). Sew it shut, or just tie it off if you’re feeling lazy. Those craftier than I am can sew on some felt ears, button noses, and a shoestring tail for added realism.
Now sit back and watch your little monster bunny-kick that thing into oblivion!
3. Cat TV
This is the most mercifully hands-off method on this list. Thankfully, it also happens to be one of the most effective. If you’re a mom with rowdy youngsters, you know the instant relief that comes with surrendering your little monkeys to an hour of cartoons (while you guzzle wine in the kitchen). This is kind of like that, except maybe a little less guilt inducing. When cats watch their shows, their brains will be buzzing with activity, rather than melting away into inert ooze.
A couple of my kitties’ favorite channels: Birds | More birds | Fish!
To note: Make sure your cats have access to their favorite toy (or hey, a crumpled paper ball!) when you put on their shows. This will ensure they have an outlet for their prey drive. Or, even better, polish off that glass of wine you’re nursing and get in on the action with a DIY wand toy!
This next tip is pretty sweet, but make sure you don’t leave your cats unattended when you bust this thing out. As you’re probably already aware, cats love things that dangle and sway above their heads. Like the drawstring on your hoodie, or that enticing cable trailing from your laptop. To give them something a little more appropriate to bat at, find yourself a helium balloon. (I know I said we wouldn’t be spending a single dollar for any of these methods, and to that I hold! So, you know…keep an eye out for children’s birthday parties or blowout sales at your local car dealership. You’ll stumble across an escaped balloon soon enough.)
Bring home your loot, and tie something lightweight enough to be lifted airborne onto the end of the balloon string (like…a crumpled paper ball! Who knew those things were so darn handy?) Release your kitties into the room and watch the mayhem unfold. Here’s where the “don’t leave them unattended” bit is particularly important: cats can get tangled up in the balloon string (or string of any sort, really) and should never be left alone with it in the house.
5. DIY window perch + nature’s cat TV
If you don’t have windowsills in your home, it’s not too difficult to craft your own cat window perch using old items lying around your house. I really like this tutorial, which repurposes an old wooden serving tray for a lovely vintage look. Yes, you may have to go out and buy some brackets from a home improvement store. But apart from that, the assembly is very simple (and super worth it—your cats won’t know what hit them, they’ll be so psyched).
After that’s all set up, move a bird feeder outside to where your kitty can see from her new window spot—and bam! Endless hours of cat-tertainment. If you don’t already own a bird feeder, it’s incredibly easy (and fun) to make your own with just the stuff you have lying around the house.
6. Cat treat scavenger hunt
Cats love a good scavenger hunt. In the wild, they’re used to tracking down (and messily murdering) their prey. Stowing treats for them to find around the house satisfies a bit of this hunting drive, minus a lot of unpleasant goriness. I usually drop a few treats on their cat tree, behind the couch (within paw’s reach), and tucked away into a few of their favorite hiding spots. This is especially effective if you’re going to be away for a couple days and know they’ll be spending their time wistfully awaiting your return.
7. All sisal everything
If you’re a loud and proud cat owner (get it!) and don’t care who knows it, then this could be a pretty sweet option for you. Sisal rope is that lovely scratchy material that’s wrapped around many cat trees and cat scratchers. Rather than dropping a couple hundred on a pre-sisal’d piece of cat furniture, why not do it yourself? Get yourself a roll of sisal rope—ok, I realize I’m now failing miserably in the “without spending a dime” department—but sisal isn’t expensive! I promise!
Wrap the rope tightly around your staircase railings, on a table leg, or around that random column separating your living room and dining room. Presto! Instant (and not too shabby looking) cat climber/scratcher combo.
And there you have it! 7 ways to entertain your cats without spending a dime (sort of).
Remember, at the end of the day, your cats just want to spend time with you. Despite their reputations for being independent women (and men), standoffish, or aloof, most cats are really just pathetically fond of you and wish you’d stop trying to buy their love.
In fact, they wish you’d stop buying them things altogether. Treat yourself for once, they say! Go on that online shopping spree! Fill the house with empty shoeboxes! And, and you know, just…leave them there.
Let us know about additional free or inexpensive ways to play with your felines!