Sunday, April 3, 2016

Claws and Fangs at Play (homemade edition)

Bear LOVES to play. And like with everything else, he plays with his whole heart - claws and all. Over the years, we've had some spectacular successes with toys (toy mice, his "string") and some equally spectacular fails (the figure eight turbo track, tiny tennis balls, the Hexbug, catnip ANYTHING). The one thing I've learned that is true for Bear more than anything else is that he is a claws and fangs kind of cat - he likes to rip and tear and be very paws-on with his toys. For this reason, he easily gets bored with a laser pointer or a flashlight. Unless he's really in the mood for the flashlight or laser pointer, he'll make one good pounce and quit when he doesn't get anything to bite (the most fantastic exception was a few months ago when we lost electricity for four to six hours . . . I almost died from tripping over the cat so many times . . . go figure . . . he's all over the flashlight when I'm not meaning to play, but ignores it otherwise). His proclivity to violence with his toys also means I have to be careful about the toys I leave out for him to play with all the time. For instance, Bear likes to chew through string (this is why all my electrical cords are taped to the wall). Because of this, all the toys with string are kept in the pantry unless I supervise. My fear is that he'll swallow a length of string he chews off and it will get caught in his digestive system and perhaps even sever an intestine (think a piece of floss easily cutting through cinnamon roll dough).

For Bear, he also NEEDS to play. I try to play with him every day until he quits, but some days I give up if he doesn't seem interested. I've noticed that playing reduces his boredom; boredom usually results in his more destructive tendencies. I can always tell when he needs to play because he's restless and wanders around the house looking for trouble to cause. If I ignore the small things (like clawing furniture, trying to steal my pens, him staring at me from a few feet away, counter cruising), his acting out escalates to something I can't ignore (sticking his paw in the toaster, knocking stuff in the toilet, trying to jump from the floor to the top of the seven foot tall entertainment center, climbing in my closet). Boredom is also the number one reason he'll stalk me through the house and attack me for no other reason (he loves to come up behind me when I'm standing still, bite the back of my calf and then take off).

In this post, I share the homemade toys 
I've come up with to keep Bear entertained. I'm always grasping at what I can make for Bear that will keep him entertained and active. All of the creations shown below are very easy to make and don't require much skill. They also can be adapted to whatever you have. I hope the photos are self-explanatory because there's really no right way to make these toys - and they all took me 15 minutes or less. Better yet, except for the tape used, all the items would have been thrown away if I hadn't re-purposed them. So essentially, I got "free" cat toys for the cat that likes to destroy them. And the best part? I don't feel like an idiot if he never plays with the toys I make. How many times have I bought a fancy toy (hello, Hexbug) and been so excited to give it to him only for him to completely ignore it and steal my pens instead? 

Bear is tough on his toys, so I keep that in mind when attempting to make something for him. I am also probably on the protective side in terms of deciding what he can and can't have. For each of the items below, I'll tell you whether it's a toy I allow out all the time or whether I only allow it with supervision. You know your cats best - what they like, what they get into, the things that more often than not get them into trouble (like Bear with string); use this knowledge to guide you as you make these decisions. I've also included pictures of Bear playing with the toys, when I have the pictures. Most of the play shots are older and not up to my current standards - but I figured they'd be better than nothing. You might also notice that when I started making these toys, I was focused on interactive play . . . but as time's gone on, I've tried to find more solutions to keep Bear active where my presence isn't required - yay!

Welcome to the jungle . . . cat toy edition (walk barefoot at your own risk!!!).


Case in point for Bear's NEED to play? Poor Bear felt exceptionally SCREWED when Momma paraded out all his favorite toys to photograph, and he didn't get to play with them. More than once, I set up a shot and went back to my camera only to turn around and find that Bear had walked off with the subject of the picture. And this doesn't include all the photobombs (and subsequent shadows) Bear accomplished. By the end, he was especially restless and unhappy and he started acting out as you'll see later in the post. After Momma finished taking pictures, we played until Bear dropped . . . so all's well that end's well.

Bear isn't pleased that he's not included in the "play time" or the focus of Momma's attention :) 


Homemade toys that require <15 minutes to make and are made of stuff you'd normally pitch (besides packing tape):

*** "String." [always available; interactive and solo play]. Without a doubt, these toys have been the most successful. Because of Bear's proclivity to chew through real string, I only let him have it when I'm playing with him. One day I noticed a shirt I wore to bed was shredding across the bottom and Bear was chasing those hanging shreds; I ripped off a number of the shreds and tied them together to form a "string." I also tied knots every so often along the fabric so Bear would have something to hold on to. The genius of this toy is that the fabric is too thick for Bear to chew through - but it still looks like "string." This "string" also serves as Bear's teddy bear; he often carries it around with him and finds it when he needs reassurance or comfort. At one time, he frequently carried it in his litter box with him . . . and he still drags it to and drops it in his water bowl every so often. Since I first made it nine years ago, it's seen a lot of action and a lot of bleaching. This version of "string" has lost about half of the shreds (sometimes the fabric rips all the way through, especially when we're playing tug-of-war) that weren't suitable to be reattached. At first, string was six feet long, but we're down to about three now - including some torn borders of pillow cases I added on.
Bear isn't as emotionally connected to this version of string, but the felt material stretches and rebounds, so it's extra fun for Bear. These pieces of felt were "left-overs" of a sewing project that I knotted a few times along the length. This one is about four feet long.
To play with these toys, I snake them around on the floor and let Bear chase them. These also work for slowly "hiding" under something else . . . Bear usually waits until only a half inch is still visible and then pounces. You'll find the "play" shots including Bear's strings under "paper bag shreds" and "draped towel" below.

*** Fabric knot toy. [always available; interactive]. After one of my sewing projects, I had a strip of extra fabric (about a foot and a half long) that I tied in huge knots in two places so Bear had something substantial to bite or claw. To play, I sit on the floor and drag it around on the floor and Bear chases and "fights" with it. Initially, I thought this was too easy - but Bear REALLY likes this toy - especially the huge knots that he can bite and chew to his heart's content. Pretty good for a strip of fabric I would have otherwise thrown away. 

*** Paper bag. [always available; interactive and solo play]. The first time I gave Bear a paper bag to play with, this happened . . . 

Unfortunately, his modifications were lost when an errant hairball attacked the bag. Though I gave him another bag, he wasn't interested anymore. After trying to figure out how to get him to accept the new bag, I cut a flap in the bottom of the bag and reinforced it with packing tape so it wouldn't rip. My initial idea was that he'd hide in the bag and, through the flap, paw at me walking by. This didn't happen more than a few times, but Bear has chased toys through the flap and, by himself, even managed to get toys in the bag through the flap. Such a simple modification! He might not use it as much as I hoped, but it's something "new" for him to try.

*** Paper bag shreds. [always available; interactive and solo play]. For a long time, I thought ripping up a paper bag for Bear to play with would create clutter. But after watching videos of how much fun cats seem to have with them, I gave in. To make mine, I cut the bottom out of a few paper bags and then cut along the vertical seam. After trying a few bag types, I think he enjoys the lighter/thinner bags more than the thicker ones because there's more crinkle sound and it's easier for him to tunnel under. Overall, I think Bear's favorite use of the shreds is to rip them to pieces. There are pieces of paper bag all over the house from where he tore chunks off; again, a non-harmful way for him to express himself and get out some of his destructive tendencies. The floor of the house is already covered with cat toys, so the addition of a bunch of shredded paper bags doesn't bother me . . . especially when he enjoys them so much.
One of the best uses of the paper bag shreds is in coordination with other toys. He likes digging and running through the shreds after toys. I often hide one of his toy mice and he enjoys "finding" it. Even when the bags don't "hide" anything, if he's going to flop down while playing, he prefers it be on the bags. I assume he likes the noise they make? And here (below) are the promised pictures of Bear playing with his "string" (and the paper bag shreds).




*** Hanger toy. [SUPERVISED ONLY]. This is a copy of a commercial toy one of my friends bought. Because of the springiness of the hanger, whatever you have on the end will bob and rebound like a bird. To make mine, I unfolded a coated wire hanger and on one end (for me) I made a loop to make it easier to hold, and on the other end, I attached a folded up empty paper towel roll. On the first iteration of this toy, I used a folded up toilet paper roll, but the thinness of the toilet paper cardboard wasn't strong enough to hold up to Bear. Here's what I did to attach the cardboard roll at the end: 1) I flattened the roll, then folded it down the length like an accordion, 2) punched a hole through the center of the folded up square of cardboard, 3) threaded the other end of the coated hanger through the hole and bent it around one of the edges, 4) twisted the end of the hanger coming out the bottom of the square into the portion of the hanger going into the square, and then 5) taped, taped, taped the twist so it wouldn't cut Bear. I used a lot of tape to make sure there weren't any sharp edges. I've also had to re-tape the twist once of twice because Bear chews through the tape - just so you know to keep an eye on the end of the hanger where the wire would otherwise be exposed.  Not only does Bear enjoy batting at this flying through the air, but he also enjoys chasing it around on the ground (I think he really likes the sound of it dragging across the carpet).

ABOVE LEFT: "His end."   ABOVE RIGHT: "My end."

*** 
Spiral notebook wire toy. [SUPERVISED ONLY]. When I came to the end of a spiral notebook, I pulled out the spiral wire to throw away and Bear chased after it, trying to get the bouncing wire. This gave me the idea of attaching something on the end for him to grab onto and chase. The first version of this was the top cuff of a sock as you'll see in the "play" pictures. The close-up immediately below, shows the most recent version where I knotted part of a sock over the sharp end/loop of the wire around the sock (I wrapped the wire around the middle of the sock, twisted it together, then knotted the sock over the metal). This way, I don't have to worry about tape . . . but I do routinely check to make sure the end of the wire isn't exposed. Bear loves to play tug-of-war with this one. The wire/coil makes it bouncy and move in unpredictable ways.

The following four pictures show Bear trying to "steal" the toy from where it's kept in the pantry. Any time the pantry's open, Bear makes at least one swipe for the toys hanging in there (in these shots, the wire was still caught on the hook on the inside door of the pantry).



ABOVE: After Bear "steals" his toy from the pantry, he walks around with it in his mouth and meows while showing off his conquest.

The above three shots show Bear playing when I stapled the wire to the ceiling. I was hoping it would entertain him without my involvement (though I still supervised) - and as you can see, he had fun with the springy thing hanging from the ceiling. I stopped stapling the other end of the coil to the ceiling when: 1) the ceiling accumulated a bunch of staple holes (I didn't leave it up when I wasn't supervising) and 2) the coil broke in a couple spots and was too short for him to reach when it was hanging from the ceiling.

ABOVE: Bear trying to free his favorite toy from the hook where it's stored in the pantry.

The next picture shows where I keep the toys in the pantry so he doesn't have access to them without my supervision. The pictures farther up where it looks like he's carrying the toy around a corner are also related to this. In those cases, the toy was still hooked on the hook in the pantry and he was trying to pull it off.
As I took pictures to show where I stored Bear's toys that he can't have without supervision, I noticed this black blob in the background being restless and showing his displeasure with not being included in the toy parade (yes, he's ripping up the back of Momma's chair . . . this is the evidence I promised earlier on in the post of Bear's displeasure at not being the center of attention. If I ignore these "lesser" signs of acting out, he will escalate them to ones I can't ignore. Thus the need for him to play - and these toys).

*** Bows. [always available; interactive and solo play]. Bear loves to steal bows. I keep them in the closet and he loves to grab one if one falls to the ground. I finally taped over the staple on the bottom of one of the bows to prevent injuries and gave him a bow, but he doesn't want to play with it anymore since I GAVE it to him. I won't give him ribbon, for the same reason he doesn't get "real" string.


Bear's "bow party" from Bear "Celebrates" Momma's Birthday.

*** Paper towel/toilet paper roll. [always available; solo play]. Bear used to enjoy playing (whack and chase) with empty cardboard paper towel and toilet paper rolls.  Every so often, he'll still whack one around, but I tried to come up with other ideas where I could use them to make toys; their lightness makes them bounce, which Bear likes. On the left, I cut a paper towel roll in a spiral pattern (the bottom was too thick so I cut that section in a spiral too). Originally my thought was that this would be an interactive toy where I'd hold one end and let Bear chase the others (that's why I reinforced one end with packing tape) - but Bear never seemed interested. He has, however, batted it around by himself. On the right, I took a toilet paper roll and tore four lines in from each end. The first one I made, I just crumpled the four ends, but on the one in the picture, I folded them back. Not one of Bear's favorite toys, but he does bat them around a little - at least at first. And the toilet paper roll tears take thirty seconds to do, so I don't mind making new ones whenever I get an empty roll.


*** Horizontal whack-a-mouse. [mouse on a stick, supervision only: box, always available; interactive]. After seeing these for sale online, I decided to make my own. My thought was to see if Bear was interested in it, and if he was, I'd buy a "real" one. This kind of thing is EXACTLY what Bear likes . . . a toy appearing and disappearing. To make it, I cut one side out of a small, flat box and then cut five holes in the top of the box. I folded the cardboard I got from the cut out side to make a "stick" and used packing tape to reinforce the stick and attach a toy mouse. Before I wrapped the stick with tape though, I bent in up a little and then taped it so it would hold the shape. The first time we played with this, Bear went at it with his whole heart . . . until he shoved his arm in as far as he could and it got stuck. The point is to stick a paw in . . . or a few inches of arm . . . NOT the entire arm up to where it attaches to the cat's body; another case where Bear's exuberance didn't work out so well. HOWEVER, the mouse on a stick is very popular. I've used him in a paper towel roll to peek out and go back in and Bear enjoys that. The stick with toy mouse attached also can be used to peek out of the paper bag scraps or run the stick over the floor; both of these interest Bear.


*** Vertical whack-a-mouse. [mouse on a stick, supervision only: box, always out; interactive]. With the failure of the original whack-a-mouse, I decided to try a different version to use with the same mouse on a stick. I found a box about two feet long and cut random holes along the front and side (the other side was open all the way). I also cut the back into a flap so I could easily get my hand in the back to move the mouse. Later, I added another hole higher up on the front and two on the top of the box to vary the challenge a bit. The problem is that Bear is afraid of these kinds of boxes, so it took him a few weeks to even get near the box. This never really caught on; even when I dragged the mouse along the inside of the box so he could follow the sound to the mouse's next appearance. For whatever reason, bigger boxes make Bear too anxious to play.



*** Toilet paper roll with mouse. [always available; solo play]. After reading an article online about homemade cat toys, I used the base idea, but instead of filling the toilet paper roll with treats for Bear to puzzle out, I put a toy mouse inside. On each end of the roll, you bend the sides in toward the center. You want the cat to SEE that there's a mouse in there (our mice are also filled with something that rattles). I don't expect him to be able to get the mouse out - but he's had fun knocking it around and listening to the rattle in the mouse and the mouse banging around in the toilet paper roll.



*** Sock toys. [always available; solo and interactive play]. The two pouches on the left are from Kitty's time. I knew she'd be anxious and upset about me bringing Bear inside so I bought some catnip, cut up a sock (one from the toe, the other from the "neck"), filled the socks with catnip and sewed them closed. Before I left to wrangle the homeless kitten in the carrier to get him checked at the vet before I exposed Kitty to him, I left these two pouches out for her. When I got home, both were soaking wet and a yellowish color. They didn't smell like pee, so I assumed she had some fun. And Bear rubs up against them every so often, so I haven't thrown them away. The sock on the right was made by dumping the remaining catnip into a sock and knotting it closed (I was too lazy to sew this one and it works just as well). The sock in the middle sacrificed it's "cuff" for the above spiral notebook toy. Not knowing what to do with the rest of the sock, I left it out. Sometimes, Bear attacks it and chews on it - so it's still part of his gaggle of toys.

*** Cat house. [always available; interactive and solo play]. In the past, I've discussed the lack of interest (and even fear) Bear shows for boxes. The below picture shows one of the total five minutes he's spent in boxes in his life (and as soon as he was done cleaning himself, he hopped out). 

When I had the opportunity to get an identical box, I decided to try out an idea I had for a cat house. From the single box picture, you can see that the top was partially enclosed. To make the double box, I cut off the little tabs you can see sticking up from the single box (the tabs keep the box together - but with the additional modifications, they aren't needed) so the boxes would fit together. Then I flipped over the second box and set it flush up against the first. Then I taped the two boxes together around the corners and in the back on the outside of the box, and where the four squares of the boxes meet on the inside of the double box. I wanted the combined box to be sturdy enough to hold Bear's weight if he jumped on top of the box.


Lastly, I added a blanket to the top for him to lay on, and added towels to the inside to make it more comfortable. I did this about two weeks ago and he has yet to use the inside or lay down on the top. However, he's pawed after toys I stuck out the sides from the inside of the box. I'm pretty sure this "house" won't be used - but I was curious to see if my idea would work - and even I was impressed.

Bear's only foray to the top of the "house."


*** Yogurt flat. [always available; solo play]. This requires no modifications at all. The yogurt at Aldi comes in these flats. I brought one home, tossed one of Bear's toy mice in it, and he's enjoyed trying to get the mouse out quite a bit. The big openings make it possible for him to get the mouse out, but as with the whack-a-mouse game I made, when the opening are too small, Bear puts as much of his arm in as possible and gets it stuck - so the bigger openings (and less depth to stick his arm in) work for us.


*** Kleenex box. [always available; solo play]. Another "puzzle-type" game. I took an empty Kleenex box, tore off the plastic that lines the opening in the top and cut one hole in the bottom and one hole in the side length of the box. This way, Bear can bat the box around and stick his paw in the box to "rescue" the mouse. This hasn't been as successful as the yogurt flat in keeping his attention, but he's shown some interest . . . and it cost absolutely nothing, so I figure it's well worth it.


*** Draped towel. [always available; interactive and solo play]. In Chair + Towel + Cat = Tons of Pictures, I addressed the additional play opportunities presented from a towel hanging over my desk chair. When we play, Bear will pull the towel down far enough to hide him and then tunnel out of the "curtain" to grab a toy. It's amazing how that little addition adds so much enjoyment to his play time. As you can see from this post, many of the small things add the most to a cat's life. These pictures are "new" and not in the original post on the desk chair/towel combination.





*** Medicine bottle toy. [always available; solo play]. One of our readers shared her idea of using an empty medicine bottle to create a new homemade cat toy. To make mine, I rinsed out the bottle well (some medications leave 'dust' that I don't want Bear to encounter), let it dry, put one of Bear's toy mice inside, and used the child safety device to close. VOILA! Now Bear can bat it around to his heart's content . . . 

After thinking more about this, you could also leave the cap off and make the game about getting the mouse out. I chose a see-through bottle, so Bear can see the mouse, as well as hear it rattling around. If you choose to leave the cap off, you could also put treats inside for the cat to problem-solve on how to get them out. I'm seeing more and more information about using "puzzle games" with treats because it decreases boredom and encourages the cat to work for the treats (much like hunting would). Modifications to the "yogurt flat," "Kleenex box," or "toilet paper roll with mouse" above are a few other "puzzle toy" ideas; instead of putting a toy mouse in the flat or box or roll for the cat to bat out, you could use treats. If you do that, you need to make sure the openings are big enough for the treats to fall out (especially when you fold the ends of the toilet paper roll in as shown above in the description of that toy).

*** Crisp sheet. [always available; interactive and solo play]. When I take a nap, I sleep on top of the made bed and use a separate sheet that I ball up in a corner when I'm done. I've noticed that when we play, Bear likes to hide in, run through, or tunnel into the sheet. He likes all the noise it makes when the sheet rubs up against itself - much like he enjoys the noise from the paper bag shreds. You could probably also use a crinkly sheet instead of the paper bag scraps; one benefit is that if the cat has a hairball you don't have to pitch it and can just wash it, but a downside is that your cat won't be able to easily rip up the sheet like he can do with the shreds (which is one of Bear's favorite activities).




Have you made toys for your cat(s) at home? Which were successful? Which successes (or failures) surprised you? 

8 comments:

  1. Wow you really have some fine toys there, and clearly a lot of attention gone in to presentation ans safety. Bear is one lucky guy to have you... purrs ERin

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  2. These are fantastic! I work with the cats at our local shelter and am always looking for inexpensive (or free!) ways to provide enrichment. Thank you for these great ideas!

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  3. I have some of these! The Kleenex box I made years ago and of course sock toys. One of my cats favorite toys was the plastic ring off a milk or juice jug. Or just a zip tie you get with garbage bags - the wide yellow ones and close up to make a ring. He would bring them to me and place them on my knee to have me throw them and he would catch them in the air and bring them right back. We called that game "Birdie ". And I don't pay for scratching posts as my current kitty's favorite thing to scratch is just cardboard, either in a box or just setting on the ground. I love your ideas as the cat will decide what they will play with and they hardly ever play with anything I buy.

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    1. That is true. Bear only wants to play with what he thinks he's not allowed to play with. And I've been disappointed every time I got him a moderate costing toy ... but a bow from a present? HOURS of fun! ~Bear Cat

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  4. OK, so you are much more crafty than I am! Rosie also gets a little nuts if I don't play with her daily. Just like Bear, she starts to look for trouble - usually knocking stuff high surfaces especially if liquid is involved. The double whammy of the crash to the floor and the puddle is just so much fun for her.

    I love the shredded bag idea and the kleenex box and medicine bottle! These are all pretty genius. I think you might have a little DIY mom in you, but don't worry I won't tell anyone! LOL

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