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Holiday 2000 -- Simple Gifts for Your Cat

Although shopping for holiday gifts for your cat is fun, you can also make some great gifts for your cat with only a few items.

1. The Simplest: Shoelaces

When those tennis shoes have seen their last game, pull out the shoelaces and tie them tightly together. You will have the perfect string for your cat to chase. Your cat can chew and claw at the shoelaces without ripping them to shreds. And the shoelace string will get your cat's attention. It seems like the shoelace looks like a very inviting, long white mouse-tail. If you don't want to bend over too far when you trail the shoelace along the floor, tie several together so you have a nice long string.

Don't throw away those shoelaces!

2. Next Step: Shoelace + Bell Toy

If you buy one of those plastic bell toys for your cat that has a open grid on one half and you have some shoelaces, you can tie the shoelaces to the bell toy to create one of the most irrestible toys -- certainly my cat loves hers! Be sure to tie the knot tightly -- it takes a few moments to get it just right, so be patient. (Also, be sure to keep the toy on a table when it's not in use. I've scrunched several underfoot when I've left them lying around.)

Fun toy

3. The Natural Approach

Most cats love catnip. Purchasing catnip in the store is a good gift. But cats also like fresh catnip and freshly dried catnip. Why not grow your own? Catnip is easy to grow. Winter is a good time to start catnip for transplant outside in the spring. Catnip is a perennial, which means it will return every year.

First, make sure you buy seeds for Nepeta cataria. Catnip is a member of the mint family and there are several "catnips" related to the real thing. These other "catnips" are sometimes called "catmint". They are grown as ornamental plants and they don't have the proper ingredients that consititute real catnip. Unfortunately, the seeds all look pretty much the same, so check the seed packet for the Latin name.

Catnip seeds

Second, buy some seed starter soil or some very light potting soil. You can also buy some little seed pots, or put some holes in the bottom of yogurt cups. Dampen the soil before using it in a separate container, following the instruction on the soil bag if there are any. You want damp soil, but not soggy. If you grab a handful and squeeze it, it should form a ball that is easily crumbled when you poke it with your finger. If it is too soggy, add more dry soil and wait.

Seed pot

Third, fill up your seed pot, place 3 seeds on the top, then sprinkle a thin layer of soil on top and press gently. Place in a sunny window, under a plant light, or under shop lights. It will take a week or so for the seeds to sprout. Snip out the smaller seedlings with scissors.

It will take a while, but you will have a small plant, that you can then put in a larger pot. Or, you can plant your catnip in a sunny location in your garden. The plant will grow very large in the garden, so give it a lot of room to spread out.

catnip plant
Small catnip plant

If you choose to keep your catnip plant in a pot, in the summer keep the plant outside in a place that gets about 6 hours of sun and water daily. Harvest fresh catnip as you wish during the summer. Cut the stems back to only a few inches high before you bring the pot back inside for winter. (Also trim the stems back if you keep your catnip in your garden.)

Keep the harvested plant matter and dry it on a paper towel where your cat can't find it! Store in a jar or tight-fitting container. Crumble the dry leaves just before you give them to your cat.

Keep your catnip on a sunny windowsill in the winter and make sure you keep it watered, but not soggy. Harvest fresh catnip during the window, then cut the stems back again in the spring before you put the pot back outside.

You can also plant catnip in the garden, but be careful! Catnip is a mint and will spread if you aren't careful.

You may think this is too much work, but the fresher your catnip, the more nepetalactone there will be -- and that is the ingredient that your cat enjoys. Also, it is the smelling that does the trick, so the more nepetalactone there is the better -- which occurs in fresher leaves. Leaves that have been recently dried are excellent. And you will know how old your catnip is; obviously you can't know how old the store-bought catnip is. As catnip ages, it loses nepetalactone, so it is less potent.

4. A Catnip Toy

If you are feeling a little more ambitious, you can make your own catnip toy. If you have some sturdy cotton or cotton-poly fabric (or can buy a remnant at the fabric store), a little cotton or batting, and some catnip, you are ready to go. The picture below shows store bought catnip on the left and dried, home-grown catnip on the right. You will need a lot more than shown below. Your own catnip will be more potent, but either will do.

Catnip toy materials

Cut a long rectangle about 3 inches wide and 6 inches long. Fold in half lengthwise, right sides together. Sew the long open sides to make a little pouch. Turn right side out.

Stuff the pouch with some batting or cotton, the put a very generous quantity of catnip leaves between the batting and the fabric. Fold over the top and sew it closed. Voila! You have the perfect catnip toy.

Fun catnip toy

You can also tie a shoelace around the toy so you can pull it along the floor to get your cat even more interested. And, if the catnip seems to lose its punch after awhile, rub some catnip into the fabric to freshen it up. Your cat will definately enjoy it!

Ricki enjoying her catnip toy