Playcare for Pets

enrichment advice for your
home-based family animal friends

cat enrichment
dog enrichment
small animal play ideas

Start with: 108 Things to Do With a Box

Experiment with: Video Catnip for cats.
Movies add stimulation to the indoor cat's environment;
check out my list of cat-friendly dvds and viewing tips and ideas :)

free & fun!

Practically Free Toys & Games

Paper Towel Tug of War
Play under a closed door. You on one side, your cat on the other side. Peek a paper towel under; they'll grab it, and pull at it. Game ensues. Let them get it almost all the way to their side before pulling it back. Poke it under different places to keep them pouncing about. At the end, let them win! Laugh at how many pieces they've shredded it into (they love to brag about the kill :) For cats.

Straw Mania!
Cats love to play with straws. They toss them in the air, hide them in secret stashes under the sofa or bed. Make a game out of putting the straw somewhere tricky for them to go hunt, like hanging over the edge of a shelf that's at a good height for them to reach up and snag. If you're up for a game they won't ever want to end, you can get straws that have paper wrappers on them (dunkin donuts and starbucks are my cats' faves) and blow the paper wrapper gently at the cats so they can jump and chase it. The same wrapper can be blown several times before you have to move on to a new straw. Make sure to use straws with paper wrappers only (plastic wrappers are choking hazards), and take away any straws that are bitten into pieces - usually straws are safe and durable, though.

Wrapping Paper Game for Cats
Use up your left-over holiday wrap playing a fun game with your cats! I start the game this way: for a day or two put a big piece on the floor or on the bed for them to lay on, play on, and roll around on. Then, take the paper and rip it into strips and make little balls out of them. Toss them for the cats to chase. It's so simple, and cats go totally wild for this game. Toss it overhand for those fast-to-chase balls. Pop-a-fly with an underhand toss for the best shots for cats to leap up and catch. I usually make about 20 little balls, and keep them in a bucket. My cats like the "now mom has to pick them all up and start over again" part of the game, as well. The whole thing is just a really fun interactive game! Experiment with different size paper-balls. Also, not every cat favors wrapping paper. Some prefer tissue paper balls. Some like notebook paper, lol. Imagine the fun of trying out all the different types of paper with your cats to find their favorite style... ps. when the balls get too shredded or too smooshed, just plop them in the recycle bin, and start all over with fresh paper.

Tissue Paper, Every Day, Every Way
Tissue paper is rather inexpensive and can bring so much happiness into your cat's life. Most cats absolutely love laying on it. Give them one sheet, or several. Lay it flat, or crinkle it up. Put it in a cat play-cube or a cardboard box for them to hide in or snuggle in. It's extra-great because when it gets shredded or too old, you can just toss it in the recycle bin or add a few more sheets. My cats also love to take a running dive into a pile of it! And always great is a game of paper hide and seek.

Do not leave ribbons and string out loose when your cats are alone. String and ribbons can strangle and choke your cat, wrap around their limbs, or they can swallow it and it can get impacted in their bellies. Be careful!

Playing with string and ribbon in a supervised manner with them keeps it an extra special game, btw :)

Bins Make All Sorts of Things!
You can always find bins on sale at Target, Walmart, or the dollar stores. And they can turn into so many kinds of fun! Here's some ideas to consider:

Inexpensive cat beds. Add a favorite blanket, one with characters on it will increase the Wow factor for everybody who sees it. And, try to make one per each cat, or they might fight for alone time in the one you have for them.

Dwarf Hamster Play Ideas!

Dwarf hamsters tend to be too little for regular cages and long upright tunnels. Always look for a cage system that is specifically for dwarfs (ask at the pet store if you're not sure). My favorite cage for my dwarfs is the Dingo Home by S.A.M. It's perfect for their little feet and short climbing height! Other cages have open gaps in the wheels, for example, that their tiny legs can get stuck in! Seriously. So just take extra care. And standard tunnels are too wide for most dwarfs, they can slip and have an awful fall. (The Dingo Home, for example, offers them just one short curved tunnel, that is safe for their use.)

Help Them Learn to Use Tunnels

However, they still love to climb tunnels. So this makes tunnels a wonderful option for interactive play! Most stores sell tunnels individually or in a big mix-and-match bag. When you have your hammy out for playtime, let her climb on in and give it a try. Always supervise! Make sure you keep your hand cupped at the exit, so they don't escape or get hurt. They'll be happy to climb out into your loving palm. Give them praise. Keep the tunnels angled - not straight up and down!

When my dwarf Figgy first started playing this way, he'd nestle into a corner and I'd have to wait a while for him to come out. That was okay; but using shorter tunnels, like just one or two elbow-shapes, at first, made it a lot easier to get him out if he got too nervous.

Check out a little video of Figgy's first day of tunnel play...

Figgy's been doing great ever since; here's a video of his first attempt at a long tunnel. I added in a "lookout" recently. He loves it. Notice how I keep the tunnel at a gentle angle so he doesn't fall down it!

* I did once have a dwarf who was rather large for his breed; he eventually (at age 3) grew big enough to use a long tunnel in his cage. Use your best hamster-parenting judgement :)

A little home schooling?
Pets love to learn new things. Got an achiever-type? Give the Language Board Project a try. The folks who work with Koko the gorilla created it for dogs, but I think other animals could also enjoy this method of communicating. Modify their guidelines to fit your pet's unique personality, and let them know your results (they want feedback).

Health How-To's
(with a fun approach)

Cornell's Feline Health Center offers free online cat health videos that teach you how to do a variety of things including trimming claws, giving your cat a pill, or brushing their teeth. They focus on simple, loving techniques that help you and your cat work together as a team. I can't say enough good about these videos.

And bird families should read though Birds: 10 Household Hazards You Must Know

HomeAgain: Can Cats and Dogs Live Together teaches how to bring these family animals together without any fights or problems! Purrfect, good advice :)

Holidays and Pets!
Keep your pets involved with your holiday games, play, rituals, and family gatherings. Visit my Holidays for Pets page to learn easy ways to include your pets in the holiday cheer!

Making Music Together
My cat absolutely LOVE music. They like every game more when it's played along to good tunes, and now they are learning to play music themselves! We use paw-safe instruments: kids keyboards work great (we use the Meowsic Keyboard that you can get on Amazon or at Target), and the Paper Jamz drum is absolutely purrfect for them. They can run back and forth across it. They love it! The Paper Jamz guitar works too, but isn't quite as easy for them to hit the part that makes music. We do "music lessons" where I direct them (like you would anybody learning to play an instrument); they needed to get used to the concept first, and learn in baby steps. First I actually held them and helped them press the keys/drum. Next, I helped them learn to walk back and forth (see video Drums One with Apache below). These days, I turn their instruments on, put on a song that they like, and they play it along to the song all by themselves. Everybody learns music at a different pace. Try different things. And, remember that they might get nervous and run off. Allow that. Never force it! But, encourage them to keep trying if they act interested. You'll know they like it if they don't run off and hide under the bed, lol. Have fun!

Check out this cute little Teacup Pig Playing Piano. I noticed the piglet gets a food treat reward after. I used praise and hugs & kisses as my reward, but a food treat is okay, too. They are working to learn something new.

Hamster Feeding Tips!
From Critters USA Hamster care guide

~ A great list of Fresh Food That's Safe to Feed Your Hamster includes carrots, cucumber, strawberries, watermelon, and many more. Print the list to take shopping with you!
~ Make sure to always check the Hamsters: Foods to Avoid list to keep your little one safe :)

The New Electronic Cat Toys
From lasers to chase, and butterflies to catch as they float away, there are new, fun, and physically challenging toys out now that keep your furbabies interested and happy. Every feline likes things differently, so give them a try! Look for sales to buy them when they're down in price a bit; they are expensive. And, please, be very careful with the ones that have a laser to chase around - lasers in the eyes can do permanent damage! Here's our family's favorite so far... the Hot Pursuit toy by SmartyKat. We found it on sale at It has provided literally hours, days, and weeks of joy and exercise here!

More Ideas

Food & Treat Dispensers
Hunting Games

(more much coming soon!)

Page created by Sandy Stahlman.
Happily, I received my formal training in animal enrichment and play at the San Francisco Zoo, the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, and at the Marin WildCare and Terwilliger Education Center. Informally, Apaches and Brianna keep me busy coming up with new ideas and projects to keep them fit, happy, and learning.

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