cat enrichment anxious cats resting on scratching post

Cat Toys and Enrichment to Help Cats With Anxiety

Anxiety is a surprisingly common issue in cats. In the wild, felines are fueled by their basic instincts to hunt, reproduce, eat, and claim territory. These instincts still run strong in our domestic feline companions but they often lack the necessary opportunity to exercise these needs regularly. This can lead to boredom, cat anxiety, and even depression.

Cats are also lovers of a routine and have a strong desire to be in control of their environment. In the home, cats rely on their owners for all their needs but they still require a space that is truly ‘theirs’. 

This is where cat enrichment comes in! Providing your cat with furniture, such as cat trees, that they can claim as their own, and cat enrichment toys to stimulate that natural hunting instinct, you will soon have a happy, content kitty. 

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Cat Trees / Cat Towers

My own cat is in love with his cat tree! He visits it several times a day for a good scratch and curls up on the top platform when he’s in need of a nap. He even gets annoyed when we put an object, such as a glass, on it.

large cat tree cat tower our scared cats love

Cat trees are amazing enrichment items for cats because they have a multitude of uses:

  • They have scratching posts to keep your cat’s nails trimmed
  • Their several levels give your cats the opportunity to climb and stay fit
  • They often contain covered areas that are great places for more shy cats to relax in.
  • They add height to a room. Cats love to be up high because it helps them to feel safe. They can also easily survey their surroundings for potential threats. 
  • Cat trees sometimes come with dangling toys that can provide hours of fun for your feline companion and stimulate their natural hunting instincts.
  • Cat trees help to keep the peace in multi-cat households because the different levels can be claimed by different cats. They can also help your felines to establish a hierarchy without the need for physical fighting. The most dominant cat will immediately claim the top platform which will advertise their status to other felines in the home. 
  • A cat tree can provide safety for cats that live with other animals or children. 
  • Cat trees give felines a territory to claim as their own.

Cat trees come in a range of sizes, heights, and shapes to suit every budget and space. You can even purchase a cat tree for large cats, such as Maine Coons or Siberian cats.

We reviewed 10 of the best in our article: Best Cat Trees: Your Happy Cat’s Personal Playstation.

For example, the FEANDREA Cat Tree for Large Cats has a 22-inch wide perch that will fit any sized cat! The wide base also makes this cat tree incredibly sturdy. If you’re looking for something a bit more extravagant, consider something like the OTLIVE Cat Tree Condo for even more climbing opportunities. 

When searching for the perfect cat tree, look for a frame made from solid wood. Other lighter materials may buckle or snap after repeated use. If you are environmentally conscious, there are now a variety of naturally sourced and built cat trees such as the Rizzo Modern Cat Tree Tower, which is made from the branches of pear trees that no longer bear fruit. 

You will also need to ensure a cat tree has claw-friendly surfaces such as carpet, sisal, or faux fur. A slippery surface could cause your cat to slip. 

When it comes to your cats, you need to consider a few things:

How playful is your cat? This will determine the size of the cat post you buy as well as how many platforms or toys to look for.

How many cats do you have? The more cats you own, the more platforms you’ll need on a cat tree.

How confident or social is your cat? Shy cats may appreciate more hidey holes, whereas more confident cats will enjoy open platforms. 

How active is your cat? You will also want to consider their age as older cats are generally not as playful as younger cats. They may also suffer from health conditions that may limit their movements such as arthritis and degenerative joint disease

Does your cat like heights? Yes, vertical climbing is a natural instinct for most cats but not all cats are the same! More docile breeds such as Ragdolls may also not want to climb up high because they are generally lazier than other breeds!

If you don’t have much of a budget and you enjoy a bit of DIY, you can even consider making your own cat tree from reclaimed bits of wood, old pieces of carpet, and fallen branches. Just make sure it’s sturdy enough to hold your cat’s weight and no dangerous nails or screws are sticking out.

Cat Toys for Enrichment

cat tunnel toy calming cat enrichment

There are a vast variety of cat enrichment toys on the market to entertain our feline companions. They are also great at staving off mental health issues related to boredom, such as separation anxiety and they can be comforting when they are placed in their cat carrier to help ease a cat’s travel anxiety.

Teaser toys and laser pointers, such as the KONG Active Feather Teaser Cat Toy or the Rechargeable Laser Pointer Cat Toy, make interacting with your cat fun for both of you. With toys like this, always make sure you keep play sessions short and ensure your cat has a reward at the end, whether that’s a tasty treat or the chance to ‘catch the toy’. Remember, cats are hunters so the inability to catch their prey (e.g. a red laser dot) can lead to frustration.

If you want to find some cat enrichment activities to entertain your cat while you are out at work, there’s a huge array of interactive cat toys that stimulate their hunting and foraging instincts. 

Here are a few good options to consider:

  • PETFUSION Ambush Interactive Electronic Cat Toy – This smart little device has a feather that randomly pops out of one of six potential holes. LED lights are also used to attract your cat.  
  • BENTOPAL Smart Electronic Cat Toy – This toy runs on two motors to make sure it moves around the room in an irregular fashion, just like real prey! It also has built-in sensors that can detect objects. So, you’ll never have to worry about it getting stuck. For even more convenience, this toy automatically switches off every 10 minutes to give your kitty a rest. 
  • FRISCO Butterfly Cat Tracks Cat Toy – If you’re looking for a simpler option that doesn’t involve batteries or electronics, this toy could be a good option. It has three track levels with colorful balls that your cat can bat around for hours. There’s also a teaser toy on top for even more entertainment. 
  • Gigwi Interactive Melody Chaser Cat Toy – Does your cat spend hours watching birds out the window? This realistic bird toy will feel just like the real thing to your cat. It even makes realistic chirping noises when touched. 
  • Andiker Collapsible Cat Tunnel – With several different entry points and a hanging ball toy, your cats will love zooming through this colorful tunnel. This is a particularly good option for multi-cat households because they will have great fun chasing each other and hiding. As an additional bonus, this tunnel folds down so it’s very easy to store.
  • Legendog Catnip Chew Toys – The addition of catnip in these cartoon mice teething toys will certainly attract and entertain your cat while you’re out of the house. They are made from bite-resistant fabric and come in packs of five. So, you don’t have to worry about them being destroyed quickly by your overzealous kitty! However, bear in mind that cats can become immune to the effects of catnip if they are continually exposed to it. So, make sure you rotate different toys regularly. 

When it comes to cat enrichment toys, remember that every cat is different. So, a bit of trial and error may be needed to determine which toys your cat goes for. My own cat is scared of any toy that makes a noise but he absolutely adores anything with feathers!

Puzzle Feeder Cat Enrichment Toys

If you have a food-orientated cat, then puzzle feeder toys can be a great investment. These are designed to make your cat work harder for their food. This not only stimulates their minds but also keeps them busy for longer. Most cat puzzle feeders have holes or cups that you can place treats or kibble into. Your cat will then need to use their paws or mouth to retrieve the tasty rewards. 

Some of the best puzzle feeder toys on the market are:

  • Cat Amazing Interactive Treat Maze and Puzzle Cat Toy – This toy is 100% recyclable and is made from 30% recycled cardboard. Simply drop treats or kibble into the holes and watch your cat have fun. This toy also has three separate compartments of different difficulty levels. So, it’s suitable for all cats, no matter what their ability is.  
  • Petstages Interactive Cat Puzzle – Make your cats work a little harder for their food with this innovative design of slides and rotating ladybirds that your cat has to move to get to the treats. 
  • Petsafe Slimcat Feeder Ball – Teach your cat to roll this ball around the room so the food drops out of the 1cm hole. This toy is a great option for overweight cats because it prevents overeating or eating too quickly. 

Always make sure you show your cat how to use a puzzle feeder toy before leaving them alone with it. If they don’t know what to do, it can cause frustration and even more anxiety. Start off by making the game easy, then gradually increase the difficulty as your cat gets the hang of it.

Cat Enrichment DIY

catnip spray Kong naturals spray on toys

Shop-bought toys can be great additions to your kitty’s anxiety-reducing arsenal. However, DIY cat enrichment toys can be just as fun. Plus, they are generally easy to make with random items you probably already have in your home, such as cardboard boxes, toilet roll tubes, and empty food cartons. 

Here are a few ideas to get your creativity flowing:

  • Simple forage feeder – Finished that carton of eggs and ready to throw the box in the bin? Don’t! Egg carton boxes make amazing forage feeders for cats. Simply drop treats or kibble into the holes and watch your kitty try to fish them out. If you want to be more elaborate, try attaching empty yogurt pots, small open boxes, and loo roll tubes of different sizes onto a flat piece of cardboard to create a bigger, more complicated puzzle.
  • Ping Pong ball toys – There is so much fun to be had with a ping pong ball! Throw a couple into a cardboard box or tub and watch your kitty try to get them out. Alternatively, simply throw them around the room for your cats to catch!
  • Wall-mounted cat shelves – Is your cat constantly climbing on the back of the sofa and on top of the bookcase? If you have any old wood lying around, try making cat shelves of different lengths and heights to give your cat a vertical play area. With this type of enrichment, it’s better to wrap the shelves in old pieces of carpet to provide an easy-grip surface so your cat doesn’t slip. 
  • Activity mats – There are unlimited options for this form of enrichment. All you need to do is cut holes into an old mat or rug. Lay it out so there are raised areas and hide treats underneath. Your cat will love digging around to get the tasty rewards. You can also step it up a notch by adding pieces of crinkled-up brown paper or felt strips for more sensory enrichment. To attract your cat even more, consider sprinkling catnip or valerian over or under the mat. 
  • Cat sensory garden – Bring the outdoors in by creating a sensory garden for your feline companion. You will need a sturdy tub or basket to grow your variety of plants in. Then place it in a prominent area of your home such as a windowsill. Certain plants even have medicinal benefits for cats such as valerian, rosemary, and parsley. Rosemary is particularly good for cats suffering from arthritis because it’s a natural muscle relaxant. Just make sure you do your research before deciding on which plants to use because some are toxic to cats. 
  • DIY cat tunnel – Have you got some old boxes lying around? Then consider making a cat tunnel. Just cut holes in different places on the boxes that are big enough for your cat to move through. Then attach your boxes together with duct tape to make a tunnel or maze. You can even go one step further by adding comfy blankets, dangly toys, crinkly materials, and cat treats for your feline to find (find that your cat sucks blankets? Read here). 
  • Window perch – Cats love to watch the outside world go by from a safe vantage point. All you need to do is add a couple of comfy blankets and a favorite toy to a window ledge in your home. Your cat will thank you for it!
  • DIY puzzle ball – This one is super easy but can provide hours of entertainment for your cat. Simply place treats inside a toilet roll tube and fold down the ends to create a loose seal. Your cat will need to bat it around and nibble at the tube to get to the treats inside. Alternatively, you can cut holes in a plastic bottle with treats inside. Your cat will need to roll the bottle for the treats to fall out. 
  • Catnip toys – Instead of buying a bunch of catnip toys, make them! Trace out the desired shape of your cat toy (think mouse, fish, or even something more exotic like a crab or rabbit) onto two pieces of felt. Cut them out, and attach them by sewing around the edges. When you have a two-inch gap left, stuff the toy with cotton wool sprinkled with catnip for cats. Then sew the toy completely closed.  

Conclusion: Cat Toys and Enrichment to Soothe Anxious Cats

Cats are one of the most popular pet choices worldwide. Yet, sometimes we can forget that our fluffy companions are territorial hunters at heart. If they are not given the opportunity to exercise their natural instincts, cats can quickly become bored and suffer from mental health issues such as cat anxiety.

Cat enrichment is essential to keep your cat happy, healthy, and fit. Remember, enrichment doesn’t have to be expensive and with such a wide variety to choose from, you are bound to find something your kitty loves. You know your cat best, so whether its shop bought toys or your own cat enrichment DIY projects, you can ensure your feline companion is enjoying life for years to come.


Picture of Carla Shaik, Chief Editor and Writer, BSC Animal Behavior and Welfare

Carla Shaik, Chief Editor and Writer, BSC Animal Behavior and Welfare

Our resident animal welfare expert, Carla Shaik has always had a passion for writing and educating the public on topics that really matter, especially cat welfare. Since graduating with a BSC in Animal Behavior and Welfare, Carla has written for a national cat magazine for eight years and more recently branched out into becoming a freelance writer full-time. Carla is an avid cat lover and has owned cats all her life. She couldn’t imagine life without them.