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Ever get the feeling that you might be wasting money on cat toys? It’s probably because you are.
The main reason cited for giving cats toys is precisely the reason why they don’t need them – cats are born carnivorous predators, hardwired to hunt. They need the stimulation of finding something to kill and killing it. And because this is something that they crave, they will do it as long as they stay in the habit.
For both cats and their humans, toys are only fun for a short period of time. When Wessie was a kitten, I was excited to buy him little catnip-infused mice, laser pointers, and to craft homemade fishing pole toys.
But like almost everyone else who has ever tried to make their cat play with a toy, I quickly realized that he was not so easily won by “for cats” labeling. He didn’t want cat toys just because they were sold for cats.
Give your cat a rich, stimulating environment and they won’t need any toys.
One of our biggest #adventurecat inspirations is Jun of Jun’s Kitchen.
Jun is a Japanese YouTuber who makes beautiful, calming videos, primarily about cooking. His approach to raising his three cats, Kohaku, Poki, and Nagi, is similarly beautiful. Jun takes a very simple approach to keeping his cats happy and entertained. He allows them to engage with the simple curiosities that are all around us. When preparing a dish, he allows his cats to sniff each ingredient, constantly introducing them to new scents and experiences. Jun explains that he gave his cats an outdoor enclosure where they could safely experience nature before expanding to outdoor nature walks on a harness and leash.
Jun notes that you should entertain your cat in the way that suits their personality. One of his cats enjoys going for bike rides, while another likes playing fetch with plastic wrappers.
No toys necessary – and these cats have wonderfully stimulating lives.
To me, this is a great example of what a holistically stimulating life looks like. There’s no need to clutter up your house with toys when your cat is surrounded by simple stimulation.
How to Entertain Your Cat Without Toys
Outdoor adventure, in general, is a good idea.
There’s nothing much more exciting to a cat than the great outdoors. In my experience, even cats who were originally scared of the outdoors will grow to love being in nature. The love of nature is a powerful thing and it’s best to harness it lest your cat never want to come back inside. Use a harness and leash to keep your cat under control while you explore the outdoors at their side.
Be patient and allow your cat to have fun in the way they see fit. This could mean running up tree trunks or sniffing the air for half an hour. Endure as much kitty meditation as you can, but don’t torture yourself. Remember that you’re the “parent” and you get to decide when playtime is over.
Just twenty minutes of outdoor time will create a massive change in your cat’s temperament.
If you work a regular 9-5 job, your cat is most active when you’re at home. Take that opportunity to entertain them.
With the exception of hyperactive kittens and cats, most cats are most active in the morning and evening. This is when, naturally, these cats would go out on the hunt and catch prey.
Before you go to work, schedule a few minutes to take your cat outside with a harness and leash. It’s not much different from taking a dog outside for their nature calls. I’ve found that even cats who are hesitant about the outdoors tend to love being outside around dawn. This is an opportunity for them to turn that morning energy into something constructive as they wander around in an ultra-stimulating environment.
Once the two of you have shared a little early-morning quality time, bring your cat back inside, feed them breakfast, and go. You’ll notice a reduction in destructive behavior when you’re not home.
Keep your cat involved in your life.
If you’re reading this, you probably know it already, but cats aren’t toys or decorative objects. They have lives of their own and enjoy being a part of the family. Invite your cat into family activities, letting them sniff and explore as they wish. When you’re cooking dinner, show your cat the ingredients and let them taste the carnivore-appropriate ones.
Give them species-appropriate environmental enrichment.
You may not need to give your cat toys, but you do need to make sure that they have plenty of outlets for their unique needs. The feline need for height is often underestimated, resulting in behavioral problems like climbing on curtains and jumping up where they don’t belong. Providing cat trees, shelves, or designated elevation zones of any variety, is a way to tell your cat that you understand and respect what makes them different from a human.
Use alternatives to toys.
There are so many household items that cats like just as much as formal toys. Here are a few examples of items that your cat will love playing with:
- Milk carton seals
- Ponytail holders
- Crumpled balls of aluminum foil
- Pieces of yarn
- Pine cones
- Dust bunnies
- A feather tied to a string
- Real rodents
And feed them stimulating food.
If any species knows how much fun it is to play with your food, it’s cats. But don’t worry—you don’t need to give your cat living prey to provide a stimulating meal experience. I’ve found that raw meaty bones are often enough to stir up that predatory joy. Raw meaty chicken rib bones or other challenging foods make your cat work for their food—something deeply satisfying to the feline psyche.
Generally, no cat needs toys. Every cat needs species-appropriate stimulation.
You can achieve this by taking your cat outside for adventures in nature, seeding your house with opportunities for hunting-play behavior, keeping your cat engaged, providing environmental enrichment, and giving your cat fun food.