Five cheap cat toys you (probably) have in your home

Dash watches "cat TV."

Cats are simple creatures, easily amused, and not to be taken seriously. When it comes to entertaining them, well-intentioned cat owners often get distracted by the brightly-colored, jingly toys available in the pet store. A little secret: Those toys are not made to entertain your cat. They are made to entertain you.

Look at them: neon colors, cute designs and pleasantly tinkling bell attachments. Real prey animals consist of dull colors, beady eyes and spine-chilling squeaks and scratches. No one wants to bring that into their home, and they certainly don't want their cat to do so. Fortunately, odds are you already have some delightful cat toy-ready objects lying about your house. Here are five of my own finding, but you are limited only by your own imagination.

1. Peanuts. No, don't give them to your cat. Rather, place them outside, preferably near a window where your cat can see the squirrels they attract. My own cat, Dash, loves watching the squirrels that pop up next to the window in search of peanuts. We call it "cat TV" because he is just fixated on them. I use unsalted shelled peanuts, though you can use peanuts still in the shell, just be aware that those make a mess.

2. Remote control car. This doesn't have to be anything fancy. In fact, the cheaper and smaller, the better; ours is a $7 car from Wal-Mart. I drive it up and down the hallway and Dash chases it, I drive it in circles and he spins around, and I drive it from under one sofa to under the other, and he absolutely loses it. All the fun of chasing a rodent under the sofa without there being an actual rodent under the sofa.

3. Blanket. Not the blanket itself, it's what's UNDER the blanket that matters. For instance, when I'm reading in bed, Dash usually jumps up to join me. And if he's feeling playful, every time I move my foot he pounces on it. So I like to wiggle my foot until he notices it, then move it right as he tries to jump on it. Then I wiggle my other foot, and so on and so forth. Cats love the unknown (curiosity killed the cat, so they say), so hiding something moving under a blanket entertains them to no end. A word of caution: if you decide to use your foot or hand, be aware that cats do bite the things they play with, so use a thick blanket and wear socks.

4. Paper bags/cardboard boxes. Cats are both hiders and seekers, and paper bags and cardboard boxes indulge both. Place a paper bag (no plastic, it's a suffocation hazard) upright and watch your cat jump in, place it on its side and watch it creep in on its belly. Put a cardboard box on the floor, cut a hole in the side, and you have a kitty hidey-hole. Have two cats? Watch one hide, then pop out and scare the other. 

5. Cloth measuring tape. This is my personal favorite. Found in all sewing kits, it works like a ribbon but is much more durable, as it doesn't fray or trap claws. I like dragging it along the floor, then flipping it into the air and watching Dash jump to catch it; sometimes I'll flip it from one sofa to the other and he'll jump back and forth. It's great exercise for him, and keeps him happy and healthy.

So go ahead and look around your own home. Cat toys don't have to be expensive, they just have to work. The point of all toys is this: To keep your cat happy and healthy. (Although the whole "keeping actual rodents out of the house" makes for an excellent perk.)

Rachel Polaniec

I live in Westlake with my husband, our two sons, and orange tabby cat Dash. In my free time I like to read, write, and cook. My family and I take part in War of 1812 reenactments throughout the summer. My lofty dreams are of traveling abroad, visiting the great museums, and drinking all the coffee. For now I content myself with antiquing and Keurig sampler packs.

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Volume 5, Issue 3, Posted 10:19 AM, 02.05.2013