Saving Lives

5 Free (Or Darn Close) Feline Enrichment Ideas

We know that cats who are in stimulating environments tend to thrive physically and mentally – and that increases their appeal to potential adopters.

But when resources are tight, how can you fit enrichment into the mix? Kelley Bollen, certified animal behavior consultant and owner of Animal Alliances, points out that feline enrichment "doesn't have to cost a lot, and many enrichment ideas take little time – especially if you tap into your volunteer pool."

  1. Toy Boxes
    Think of all the free and inexpensive boxes at your disposal that could be turned into toys for cats:
    • Cut holes into empty pizza boxes and insert cat treats to make a fun and inexpensive cat puzzle toy.
    • Cheap plastic milk crates make great kitty jungle gyms and double as a retreat spot.

    • Plastic storage tubs can make great cat condos. The ones in this photo are secured together with cable cords.
    • Using old suitcases for enrichment just might help to get your cats packing even sooner. After all, who can resist a ready-to-go bundle of cuteness?
  2. Child's Play
    Be creative with toys recycled from your family or from the kids of your staff and volunteers:
    • Cats, like kids, are enthralled by bubbles. Blow them the old-fashioned way or invest in a cheap automatic bubble blower.
    • "Perpetual" motion toys and simulated aquariums just need to be activated to provide visual enrichment for your cats while you're busy doing something else.
    • Have volunteers use disc shooters to send foam discs hurtling in front of cages in the cat room – you can entertain many cats at once using this easy method. 
  3. Recycled Paper
    Use a variety of paper products to keep your curious cats stimulated:
    • Paper bags-There's no easier or cheaper form of cat entertainment!
    • Crumpled-up paper, old scrap paper, or even wrapping papper can be used as an inexpensive ball to be batted around by a bored kitty. Just make sure any choking hazards, like tape, have been removed.
    • Empty paper towel rolls – or better yet, rolls with paper still on them – make for hours of fun.
  4. Trash to Treasure
    Don't be too quick to consign all your household bits and pieces to the garbage can:
    • Milk caps and wine corks are loads of fun for bored kitties.
    • Shower curtain rings can be placed loose in the cage or on a cage bar – or you can attach other objects to them for even more enjoyment.
    • Carpet remnants are cheap and highly desired by cats since they satisfy their need to scratch. And, like in this photo, you can hang small carpet squares from shower curtain rings.
  5. Arts and Crafts
    Get crafty to keep your kitties clever and serene:
    • Cats like to play with pipe cleaners all on their own, but add a paper fan and you up the entertainment value tenfold!

    • What cat can resist batting around a simple pompom or cotton ball?
    • Cloth and ribbons of all lengths and textures can entertain cats – and shelter visitors as well. In this video, corn husks were tied to the fabric to pump up the fun factor even more. All of these free or low-cost toys have an added bonus: They engage your community members who can both make or donate the toys – and then volunteer their time to engage the cats with them. "Cats grow tired of toys so it is important to introduce new toys every few days," says Animal Alliance's Bollen. But with toys as inexpensive as these, that shouldn't be a problem!