By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 9 November 2011)
Providing cats with toys is important. Otherwise, they will be more inclined to practice their hunting skills on household objects, local wildlife, other pets, or an owner’s hands and feet.
Most cats respond best to toys that move like real prey. For this, the owner must participate. Interactive play is great for enhancing the bond between humans and their feline companions, as well as helping cats stay fit and healthy.
Interactive Cat Toys
The best cat toys for interactive play include:
- Fishing Rod Toys – Easy to make at home with household materials, these playthings consist of a wand with feathers or some other target toy attached to the end of a string, usually used to simulate a bird in flight.
- Cat Dancers – These toys comprise a springy wire with a target toy attached to the end, which can be made to bounce like a cricket.
- Cat Charmers – These simple but highly entertaining items consist of a flexible wand with a long narrow strip of fabric attached that can be used to simulate the motion of a snake or a rodent’s tail.
If choosing fishing rod toys, select those that have relatively long rods, strings, or ribbons to keep your hands out of harm’s way, as an enthusiastic cat may not be able to distinguish between your hand and the toy until it’s too late. A long rod or string is also beneficial for timid cats, as it puts distance between the human and the toy, making the cat feel that it is safe to participate. In addition, using two long-range toys is best when playing with more than one cat simultaneously because they allow each cat plenty of room to play without crashing into the other.
Acrobatic cats may prefer toys that are used to mimic birds in flight so that they have the opportunity to leap, whereas cats that are obese, timid, or elderly may prefer toys that simulate ground prey, such as a mouse. Avoid puppet-style toys that fit over the hand, as they encourage the cat to view a human hand as something to tackle and bite.
There are also battery-powered moving toys available such as the Panic Mouse, which is entertaining five kittens in the photo above. Although cats should be supervised when playing with battery-powered toys, moving toys are beneficial in that they leave a busy owner free to do other things in the same room.
Solo Cat Toys
Exuberant indoor cats may need to let off steam when their owners aren’t around. Providing plenty of toys reduces the likelihood that the cat’s excess energy will manifest as destructive behaviour. Good solo cat toys include:
- Cloth mice (with or without catnip)
- Small catnip pillows or catnip “cigars”
- Mylar balls
- Feathered toys (ensure that feathers are securely attached)
- Plastic rings
- Toys wrapped in sisal twine (these often appeal to cats that don’t like regular cat toys)
- Cardboard boxes
- Play tunnels
- A sock with some catnip in the toe
- Paper bags (remove handles)
- Ping pong balls (don’t use these in a home with a resident dog, as the dog may puncture or swallow them)
- Stuffed animals
Toy preferences vary from one cat to the next, so it may be necessary to experiment with a number of different playthings to find the most appealing ones.
Stash toys around the cat’s play areas so that she can enjoy discovering them. Switch toys regularly, putting one batch away and taking out another, as cats grow bored of playthings in the same way that children do. Owners will know that their cats have appreciated their efforts when they come home to find the toys scattered around the house.
Catnip is perfectly safe – cats will not get addicted or suffer adverse health consequences from using it. However, if playing with multiple cats, keep in mind that some cats get feisty on catnip and may be a bit aggressive. There are also cats that don’t respond to catnip at all.
Many cat toys contain catnip, but loose catnip can also be sprinkled on non-catnip toys the cat has grown bored of to make them interesting again. If purchasing loose catnip, choose brands that include only leaves and blossoms – if stems make up a high proportion of the catnip, the quality will be lower.
Cat Toy Safety
Cat toys should not have parts that could be ripped away and swallowed, or any sharp pieces. Also, any toys that cats will play with alone shouldn’t have loose strings or ribbons that a cat could become entangled in.
Although cats are often depicted playing with knitting wool or string in works of art, in reality, yarn can be a deadly plaything. Cats have rearward-facing barbs on their tongues that facilitate grooming and tearing meat from the bone. When a cat chews on wool or even string, it’s hard for him to spit it out because it gets stuck on the barbs. In some cases, this forces the cat to keep swallowing, and swallowing pieces of wool or string can cause severe intestinal tract injuries or internal blockage. For the same reason, owners shouldn’t leave sewing needles with thread attached lying around. Cats may chew on the thread and swallow needles by accident.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- Johnson-Bennet, Pam. (2007). Starting from Scratch. Penguin Paperbacks.
- Tree House Animal Foundation. (2005). “Play Therapy and Cat Toys.” TreeHouseAnimals.org.
- Wisconsin Humane Society. (2009) “The Cure for Playful Aggression and Boredom.” WIHumane.org.