Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Simple Cat Kennel Enrichment Ideas

Photo courtesy of Chris Tanaka

Cats are not meant to be in a shelter environment (dogs for that matter either, but more on that in a later post); even the most well adjusted cat is measurably miserable in a shelter.  Our job as shelter professionals is to minimize their misery while they are in our care.  Below are some simple, and very low cost kennel enrichment ideas for cats:

1.     Old Shoe Boxes: make great hiding spots for shy cats, beds for tired cats, and even a sturdy box turned upside down can be a perch for alert cats.  If you cut one of the short side out of the same sturdy box, you can even create a hide and perch for the cat. 
a.     Cost = FREE!
b.     Easy donation item to collect from volunteers and community supporters.   You may want to consider having a volunteer or staff ask for donations at local shoe stores—most will be happy to save their discarded boxes for you. 
c.      Since the boxes are free and (theoretically) numerous, you can just throw them away if they get soiled or the cat vacates the kennel.

2.     Tissue Paper (or Newspaper): anyone who has lived with a cat for even half a day knows that they will sit on any piece of paper on the floor, and it seems the crinklier, the better.  Wad up the tissue paper into a loose ball and throw it in their cage for maximum efficiency!
a.     Cost = FREE!
b.     Another easy donation item to collect from volunteers and community supporters, especially good way for people to reuse their old holiday gift wrap!
c.      Again, once the tissue is at its end, just throw it away.

3.     Wine Corks and various bottle caps: make wonderful roll and swat toys.  First time I tried this at a shelter I was working for, I had a volunteer distribute a few to each kennel and she reported that the room electrified with cats romping and playing in their kennel!
a.     Cost = FREE!
b.     One more easy donation item for volunteers and community supporters to collect and reuse.
c.      As with the previous examples, dispose of the items when cat vacates the kennel.
d.     **Added bonus of the wine corks: you can poke fun at the volunteer who brings in the most!  At our annual volunteer celebration party, we gave out silly awards one of which was the “Lush” award given to the volunteer who collected the most wine corks.  In reality, he put up a sign and a collection bin in his apartment building so it was not just his wine corks, but still a funny joke nonetheless!!

4.     Straws: Again, make fantastic roll and swat toys.  Even better if the straws bend!
a.     Cost = FREE! or minimal (good dollar store stock up purchase)
b.     Additional straightforward donation item for volunteers and community supporters.
c.      Items are disposable when the cat moves on.

5.     Plastic Easter Eggs: this enrichment item can double as a roll and swat toy or, unscrew one half, smear a small amount of wet food on the inside rim, and they toy is also a treat!
a.     Cost = FREE! or minimal (additional good dollar store stock up purchase)
b.     Ask for volunteers and community supporters to donate, or stock up during the spring when they are readily available in stores.  I would recommend catching the after holiday sales to maximize your money.
c.      Easy to dispose of items when they are used.

These are such simple items, most used or found in our daily life and are a great way to give a second life to items we would probably just throw away in our home.  I have also found that these are great collection items for groups (corporate groups, apartment buildings, school groups) to gather on behalf of the shelter.  Costs little money and the donations go directly to the animals, so will make people feel very good about their donation.  I also know some shelters that send this list home with adopters—it helps to transition the cat into the new home as well as just an easy and inexpensive toy list for the cats!


  1. Never heard of the crumpled tissue paper idea - I have a ton left over from the holidays. I will bring some in to try out!

  2. Speaking of transitioning a newly adopted cat from a shelter to its new home, the shoe boxes work wonderfully. Send the box home with the cat. The box is a familiar resting place and will help the cat feel secure and adjust to its new home.

  3. Don't forget curled pipe cleaners! They cost 2 cents and the cats Love them!
    A professor/vet from the Koret school of shelter medicine will be giving what looks like it might be an interesting webinar so thought you might want to know about it. You can register for it by using this link: http://event.on24.com/r.htm?e=392930&s=1&k=DE705739D049F8B28C7E4CA080F943B2