There are a variety of ways to make catnip toys, ranging from simply hand-sewing toys to knitting and felting toys for cats. Hand made catnip toys can make great gifts for cat owners, and they can also save money for people with cats, as they can be made from scrap materials and homegrown catnip, rather than being purchased at a pet store. For people with cats who tend to go through catnip toys quickly, being able to make replacements can cut down on costs significantly.
The key thing to remember when making catnip toys is that they should be fun and safe for cats. This means that care should be taken during assembly to avoid the use of dangling strings which could detach and be swallowed, along with other small pieces which could pose a choking hazard. If cats swallow things like buttons, strings, and beads, they may be able to digest and pass them, but they could potentially choke or develop an intestinal blockage, which could require costly surgery. Therefore, catnip toys should be made from sturdy materials, and they should be well-constructed. They should also be replaced if they start to fray or fall apart.
Catnip for stuffing catnip toys can come from a number of sources. Many pet stores sell bulk dried catnip which you can use to stuff the toys, but you can also grow your own. Catnip prefers full sun to part shade, with moist, well-drained soil. It can be grown in containers or in the garden, although you may want to plant it out of reach of your cats, as they can destroy the plants before they have a chance to mature. Stems of catnip can be picked and hung to dry, and the plants typically reseed themselves as long as a few stems are allowed to go to seed.
If you want to sew catnip toys, pick a strong fabric such as a lightweight canvas or felt which will hold up to teeth and claws. You can sew a basic catnip “cigar” by making a simple tube, stuffing it with catnip, and sewing it up. For more creative crafters, it's possible to make little cloth mice, balls, and other shapes. This wiseGEEK author's cats happen to be fond, for example, of catnip toys in the shape of well-known politicians. Velcro or a zipper can be used to close the opening of a sewn catnip toy so that fresh catnip can be inserted periodically. Patterned fabrics can be used for more color variation, and features such as eyes, noses, and whiskers can be added with a fabric pen, if desired.
You can also make catnip toys by crocheting or knitting. Lots of free patterns are available on the Internet, and you can also develop your own, since the basic goal is simply to create a pouch for catnip. For toys which can be recharged with fresh catnip, you can fit a flap of velcro onto the opening. Knitted or crocheted toys can also be felted in the washing machine for a sturdier, more long-lasting toy.
When you make catnip toys, you can also play with things like texture and appearance. If you stuff paper in with the catnip, the toy will crackle in an appealing way, for example. You can also sew fins, feathers, or wings onto the toy, layering paper between the pieces of material for stiffness and added crackle. Avoid the use of mylar and plastics for crunch when you make catnip toys, as these materials can cut a cat's mouth or pose a choking hazard if swallowed. Trailing streamers can be made from thick fabric ribbons which are too large for your cat to swallow, and catnip toys can also be stuffed with bells or squeakers. Many pet stores carry replacement squeakers which you can use when you make catnip toys.