Indoor cats require our help to create environments that are interesting and engaging. Cats who stay physically active and mentally stimulated are happier and healthier than bored cats and have an easier time avoiding health issues such as obesity and depression. A great, nurturing environment will include plenty of perching space, hideouts, scratching posts, toys, and beds… the expense of which can add up very quickly if you’re not careful. Luckily, you don’t have to break the bank to keep your cat happy at home. Here are some budget-friendly ideas.
#1 – Take advantage of pre-existing vertical space Cats like to perch up high because it gives them the most advantageous view of the environment. From up there it’s easy to stalk prey and feel relatively safe from predators. Your cat’s wildcat instincts will drive her to seek out elevated surfaces to perch on even if your home is safe and free from predators. Cat trees are one of the most popular ways to add vertical space to a home, but they’re very expensive. The good news is that you may already have some prime vertical space in your home that you can take advantage of for free! Are there surfaces you can spare? Consider shelves, bookcases, the top of a dresser, etc. You’ll get bonus points if there’s a window nearby from which your cat can watch birds and insects.
#2 – Use cardboard boxes
It can seem like cats are magnetically attracted to cardboard boxes. Many of us can probably relate to spending a decent chunk of money on a toy or bed only to have our cats ignore it in favor of the box it was shipped in. Cardboard boxes are free and easy to find, so why not cut out the middle man? Instead of immediately breaking them own for the recycling bin, let your boxes stick around for a bit to give your cat a budget-friendly spot for napping, hiding, playing, and preying. You can even cut a hole in the bottom to create a tunnel or stack them (with the opening facing out) to create a multi-tiered box jungle gym.
#3 – Use paper bags Many cats love paper bags just as much as they love cardboard boxes. They make great places to hide and cats love the crumpling sound. Fold the top couple of inches down over the side of the bag to stabilize it. If it’s not self-explanatory, never give your cat plastic bags to play with, since they’re suffocation hazards.
#4 – Grow your own greens
Has your cat been eating your houseplants? It’s common for cats to seek out greens to eat, and it can even be good for her health as long as the plant isn’t toxic to cats. Healthy or not, it can be frustrating to have a cat chomping on our beloved houseplants. You can often coax your cat away from your plants by offering a more appropriate option like cat grass or fresh catnip. Investing in mature, potted plants can get expensive though, so consider growing your own from seed. Seeds are inexpensive and cat grass is easy to grow and care for.
#5 – Stream videos If you’re reading this article, you’re probably already paying for internet service. Did you know the internet can be fun for your cat too? There are whole YouTube channels devoted to videos that have been specifically made for cats. These videos nurture your cat’s instinct to hunt and prey, usually featuring small critters like birds, squirrels, or mice. My own cats are particularly fond of these ones:
#6 – Get in touch with your creative side
If you have the desire, time, and tools to get a little crafty, going the do-it-yourself (DIY) route is a great way to create cat-friendly items for cheap! The internet is a nearly endless resource for creative DIY ideas for cat beds, hideaways, toys, food/treat puzzles, scratching pads, and anything else your cat wants. Here are a few of my favorites:
#7 – Search for secondhand options
The upside to cats being so finicky is that many people have invested in pricey items that their cats are completely disinterested in, and those people will be looking to sell those items that are otherwise just taking up space. One cat’s trash is another cat’s treasure! Look for used cat trees, beds, and other items for sale in your local classified sections. Many cities even have their own local buy/sell Facebook pages. If you choose to buy used cat products, be sure to inspect and clean them well before introducing them to your own cat since a previously used product can harbor fleas and other parasites that could put your cat in danger (plus your cat may become distressed if she smells another cat’s scent on a product you bring into your home). A few years ago I bought a cat tree this way. The previous owner’s cats never used it and I was able to buy it for 1/4 of the original price. After a thorough cleaning, my cats love it and use it every day for napping, playing, scratching, and watching the birds flutter outside the nearby window. Have a critical eye and be prepared for a scrubbing, but don’t discount an item simply because it’s not new!