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Ways to Play With a Cat Without Toys: 10 Vet-Approved Ideas

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on May 6, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Cute cat playing inside a paper bag

Ways to Play With a Cat Without Toys: 10 Vet-Approved Ideas


Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo


Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Keeping your cat entertained by playing is crucial for their health and well-being. Mental and physical stimulation keeps them in good physical shape and maintains an active lifestyle. It can also help prevent destructive or unwanted behaviors, such as attention seeking, crying, self-mutilation (fur pulling and biting), and the destruction of furniture.

Playing also builds the bond between you and your cat. For young kittens, it can help teach them appropriate behavior and how to interact nicely.

You don’t need to spend lots of money on toys to have fun with your cat, as there are ways of playing with your cat that require no outlay (or very little). This article will take a look at 10 ways to play with your cat without using toys, so you can plan some fun-filled days with your pet with things you probably already have at home!


The 10 Great Ways to Play With a Cat Without Toys

1. Cardboard Box

The humble cardboard box has always fascinated cats and kittens, perplexing their owners when they seemingly prefer the box their new toy came in over the toy itself! But there is a good reason for a cat’s love of cardboard boxes, which comes down to instinct.

Cats are usually solitary, and when they’re fending for themselves, they need a place to bed down that’s secure, away from potential predators or other cats, easily defensible, and warm enough to relax. Dark, enclosed spaces are ideal for this, and the cardboard box ticks nearly every box (no pun intended) when it comes to a warm, safe den.

The closeness of a box around the cat helps them feel safe, but a cardboard box can also act like a jungle gym. Two or three can be stacked on top of each other or nested next to each other with cat-sized holes cut into them, making a perfect playground for your kitty. Pair this with a paper ball, and your cat will be jumping about having the best time!

Striped gray kitten peeping from inside a box
Image Credit: InterStudio, Shutterstock

2. Wadded-Up Paper

Another cheap and entertaining game to play with your cat is a chase with a scrunched paper ball. Cats like the crinkling of paper, and the way a paper ball bounces around gives them something to track and pounce on.

A few different-sized paper balls can be used for variety, and it is a good way to bond by batting the ball back and forth between you and your cat. If you’re going to use a homemade ball, don’t use foil, as while cats enjoy the feel of it, it can easily tear off when they bite at it, potentially causing a severe injury.

3. Digital Games/TV

There are so many videos online now that are specifically made for entertaining your cat. These “for cats” videos offer a unique experience and have massive variety, letting your cat watch and bat at anything from birds and laser pointers to cartoon mice running in and out of holes!

The same is true for phone games, as some even encourage your cat to bat at an object to earn points, which is truly remarkable. However, remember to ensure your device or TV is secure. If your cat is watching a video, they may really try to “catch” what’s being shown and bat at the screen with some force, potentially getting hurt if the TV topples over, for example.

If you allow your cat to play these games, make sure your cat gets the “kill” at the end of the game—for example, by throwing a paper ball for them to pounce on. Cats can get frustrated if their efforts aren’t fruitful.

Cat intently watching TV
Image Credit: SnacksInTheBackpack, Pexels

4. Paper Bags

Paper bags are another strange love that cats have; they enjoy them for the same reasons they like cardboard boxes. They feel secure and safe in the enclosed space, but the paper bag also has the added excitement of making a great noise when attacked.

Hiding a treat in the back of the bag can be a great way to play with your cat, as they’ll have fun exploring the back of the bag to find it.

5. Fetch

Fetch is often seen as a game reserved solely for dogs, but many cats love to play fetch with their owners; they just need a little convincing. Cats have a prey drive as strong as that of a dog, so finding something for them to chase (such as that scrunched-up paper ball) and bring back to you for a treat can help you both bond, and it can also be an excellent way for your cat to get in some exercise.

Cute fluffy Ragdoll cat on the floor
Image Credit: Tatyana Vyc, Shutterstock

6. Hide-and-Seek

Hide-and-seek is a game that some cats love and some hate. If your cat is part of the “love it” camp, you won’t be able to go a day without being ambushed for a game. Running from your cat and “hiding” around a corner, only to poke your head out and watch them creep toward you, is a popular game, but be sure not to tease your cat with your hands and feet. This can inadvertently cause them to see your appendages as fair game to hunt and may end up with you getting scratched.

7. Empty Toilet Roll Tubes

A classic, the toilet roll tube is a feline favorite that is replenished each week and used in various ways. By rolling them around, throwing them for fetch, or filling them with paper and treats for a quick puzzle treat feeder, toilet roll tubes can entertain your curious pet. However, be sure to keep an eye on the condition of the tube, as the cardboard will undoubtedly begin to degrade after your cat bites and paws at it a few times.

Cat playing with puzzle toy
Image Credit: jessjeppe, Shutterstock

8. Hunt-a-Treat

Similar to the concept of hide-and-seek, hunting for a treat can be done with a small number of treats and a cat that’s not otherwise distracted. Place a few well-hidden treats and some that are easier to find in a room. Then, get your cat excited by getting their attention and giving them a treat before encouraging them in an excited voice to find more. Your enthusiasm will rub off on them, and you can watch them try to find their next tasty morsel.

bengal cat having treats
Image By: YRABOTA, Shutterstock

9. DIY Cat Puzzlers

Using the cardboard boxes, tubes, and paper bags you’ve collected from previous games, you can make a DIY puzzle feeder to keep you and your cat entertained for hours. Cutting holes in the box and attaching tubes that you can fill with paper and treats can give your cat a challenge.

If you want something simpler, cutting some holes in a plastic bottle (making sure there are no sharp edges) and filling it with some treats or dry food can give your cat a fun task to figure out.

10. Improvised/Reversed Whack-a-Mole

This last game is a lot of fun, and while it needs a little more planning, it’s worth it. First, take a large cardboard box, and cut out some paw-sized holes, making sure to smooth any rough edges. Then, find a straw with the tip bent up, and attach something light to the end, like a “bird” made of paper, that will fit through the holes.

Once your cat is in front of the box, you have an improvised whack-a-mole that you can control by pushing the paper bird (or whatever you decide to use) up through the holes. This will make your cat whack and bat at it, sometimes even sticking their paws through the holes to get to it.

Kitten playing with interactive handmade toy
Image Credit: Olya Detry, Shutterstock

divider-catclaw1 Conclusion

Playing with your cat is a joy that every family member should experience, and it does wonders for a cat’s mental and physical health, allowing them to exhibit natural behaviors and bond closely with their humans.

Expensive toys are always fun, but the simplest of items (like the cardboard box) often end up being the most treasured by your pet, so we hope this list has sparked your creativity and given you some ideas on how to play with your cat without toys.

Featured Image Credit: Pocket Canyon Photography, Shutterstock

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