14ish Fun Ideas for DIY Enrichment For Cats

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Have a bored cat? You may have a cat with behavior problems if you do! Providing a stimulating environment for your cat benefits not just them, but you as well.

Of course, when people say “enrichment” it can sound complex or expensive. The good news is that there is a lot of enrichment you can do for your cat with supplies you already have at home or can easily purchase. DIY enrichment for cats is about getting creative and understanding what cats find enjoyable. I’ll share a few ideas to get you started, but don’t be afraid to build off these ideas based on what your cats like.

Make A Toy

Let’s start with a few simple ideas for DIY enrichment for cats focused on play and hunting. Most of these use recycled materials so start saving those large boxes.

Create Food Puzzles

While not all enrichment for cats has to involve food, making food puzzles is a fairly easy project to start with. Give the following a try:

  • Take a paper towel or toilet paper tube and cut slits in the end. Fold the flaps of one end in. Cut small holes slightly bigger than your cat’s kibble or favorite crunchy treats. Fill the tube with a snack for your cat and fold then end in. Set it on a hard surface to let your cat push it around until the treats fall out.
  • Take a cardboard box or large paper bag. Fill it loosely with news paper or butcher paper that is crinkled up. Toss in a handful of treats or kibble.
  • Find some small dishes or shot glasses (or get yourself these colorful cat face pinch bowls) and fill them each with a small amount of kibble or treats. If you place them in easy to find locations, wet food or Churu is also an option. Place them in different hiding spots so your cat has to hunt for them.
  • Add some kibble or treats to an ice cube tray.

Make A Water Game

If your cat enjoys playing with water, you can create water based enrichment for your cat. You may want to set them up in a sink or bathtub so cat your cat can’t get water all over the place.

For this activity, you’ll need the following:

Set up the pan/tray/whatever you use in the location you want your cat to play. You can either toss some ice cubes in alone or add just a bit of water. Alternatively, you can add at least a 1/4 inch of water and toss some ping pong balls in. The ping pong balls should be floating. You can even do a small amount of water and add ice AND ping pong balls. You could even add ice cubes and ping pong balls without water.

As the ice melts, it will create a trail of water that it will slide around on. Your cat can bat at the ice or ping pong balls until the ice melts or they get all the water out. You can add a bit of catnip to entice them to play if needed.

Use Their Nose

Cats have powerful senses of smell. You can use that sense of smell in a variety of DIY enrichment for cats. If you’re looking for a whole course on scent based enrichment, I cannot recommend the Nosework Cats course enough.

An orange cat sniffs an outstretched finger of a human.
Smells like you should give me more treats. Photo by Leonid Privalov.

You can start using scent with an easy one using catnip, silver vine, or valerian root powder to get your cat engaged with a toy you already have on hand. You can also try sprinkling some of the cat drugs in different places around the home to draw your cats into a box or a cat tower they may not have used a ton. Take advantage of the things you already have! If you want to try all three, you can get a special sample pack through Meowy Janes that comes with a bit of each.

If you are a cat and plant person, you can even try growing your own catnip at home. Valerian is also pretty easy to grow from seed. Bringing in some cat safe plants that may have interesting smells for your cat. Just know that your cat may try to nibble on them so I suggest screening your plants and asking your veterinarian before bringing home anything new.

Another option is bringing the outdoors inside. Consider grabbing some leaves from trees you know haven’t been treated with chemicals or some twigs and putting them in a box for your cat to sniff. Scent is very important to cats so while it may not seem like a fun activity to you, to cats it can be. Alternatively, consider getting a scent enrichment kit. That isn’t exactly DIY enrichment for cats, but you could always get some different cat-safe scents from around your home to use. Just make sure they’re not too strong and ask your vet to make sure they’re safe!

Create An Obstacle Course

While agility is more often associated with dogs, it can be just as fun for the right cats. One way to do agility involves teaching your cat to follow a target using clicker training. If you want to try clicker training your cat, you can either start with a book on training cats or a clicker training kit. I can also help with clicker training lessons if you want individualized help.

Once your cat has learned to follow a target stick, you can lead them over all sorts of obstacles. Toss some pillows on the floor or create tunnels with boxes. Have them weave between a series of objects. Have them jump over a short and then gradually taller barrier. You can even use your own body as an obstacle by having them move around your legs in a figure 8. Get creative with what you use!

While my main focus is on things you can do at home, if you get really into agility, there are special agility kits you can buy that can supplement what you have around home. Most are made for dogs, but many can work for cats. I suggest starting with something simple involving cones and a jump.

Enrichment For Cats Using A Play Based Obstacle Course

Of course, you don’t have to do clicker training to create a fun obstacle course for your cat. You can toss some pillows or boxes on the floor in an attempt to create some places for them to have to hide as they stalk a wand toy. This creates an environment where your cat will feel like they can get a good, satisfying hunt.

Speaking of play…

Change How You Play

Are you playing with your cat correctly? If you are just tossing toys on the floor, chances are you aren’t getting the maximum benefit out of playing with your cat. One way to enhance both play and provide some extra enrichment is to change up how you play with your cat from time to time. A few ideas of ways you can mix up play using things you have around home:

  • Grab a towel or blanket and move a wand toy around under it. Just make sure you don’t use your hands or feet as the toy.
  • Take a box and cut a hole in it that’s somewhat small. Stick a wand toy in and move the wand around inside the box, occasionally hitting the side of the box to create some noise. Bonus idea: combine this with butcher paper or newspaper.
  • Take a string-based toy like the Cat Charmer and tie a knot into the end. It may seem like a small change, but it’s enough that your cat may enjoy it more.
  • Some cats like playing under doors. Consider sticking a wand toy under a door and moving it back and forth.

DIY Enrichment For Cats Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

Hopefully, this post inspired you to try a few things to add enrichment using what you have around home (or with just a few extra supplies). Cats are funny creatures and their interests can sometimes seem strange to us. That means that things you already have (or may have otherwise thrown away) are potential toys for your kitty. Just make sure everything you use is under direct supervision and that your cat can’t ingest anything you’re using that you don’t want them to ingest. Treats? Totally okay for your cat to eat those!

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!