Article at a Glance…
- The best cat toys I’ve found are Go Cat (wand), Kong’s beaver (catnip beaver), hexbug (electronic mouse!), Catit (circuit with ball – my pets’ fave) and crinkle balls (good for kittens).
- Feline play is basically simulated hunting.
- Playing is good for exercising your pet and preventing bad behavior due to boredom.
Cats are thought of as a low maintenance pet. Unlike dogs, they don’t require miles of walking every day. Depending on your pet’s personality, he may not want any attention from you. However, if you think your kitty doesn’t need to play at all, this isn’t the case.
Like us humans, pet cats have an easy life compared to their wild ancestors. They don’t have to hunt for small animals or run from predators. There’s no need to come up with clever hiding places from which to ambush their prey. We provide our pets with food and comfy beds to lounge on.
In other words, house cats have gotten lazy. Lack of exercise and mental stimulation can cause a multitude of health and behavioral issues in our pets. Don’t worry, it’s easy to avoid this. In this post I’ll explain the psychology of feline fun time and look at some of the awesome toys to keep them busy.
Why do cats play?
First of all, what is play? The dictionary defines it as “activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation”. So, the important question is, what do our furballs enjoy?
Well, their favorite activity is hunting. It satisfies a primal urge. Your pet’s wild ancestors hunted to keep themselves and their offspring alive. Although felines were first domesticated over 10,000 years ago, they have retained their predatory instincts (source). Providing an outlet for that desire to hunt will lead to a happier and more fulfilling life.
The Benefits of Playing with Your Cat
Playing with your cat can solve a multitude of behavioral problems. Animals often misbehave out of boredom. In some cases, “bad” behavior is just them trying to hunt something inappropriate. Our boy used to pounce on and bite at our toes whenever we walked around in sandals. I now realize he was trying to hunt them! We may be too big for him to catch but he thought our toes were separate little creatures. Now that I run around with him twice a day, he’s less interested in our feet.
If you’re sick of your feline running wild at night, try adding an energetic entertainment session before bed. This should help settle your pet down. Since his hunting urge has been satisfied, he’s less likely to start chasing shadow “prey” in the middle of the night.
If one of your furballs is a bit of a bully, devoting time to hunting “prey” can stop him hunting the victim cat. In addition, allowing more timid pets to experience the victory of a successful hunt gives them confidence. Playing also fosters human-feline relationships. It’s a fun experience for both pet and owner and allows bonding.
Like humans, kitties get a bunch of health benefits from the exercise involved in leisure. Regular chasing sessions can help prevent obesity and keep muscles strong. Puzzle-style games stimulate your cat’s mind while scratching toys satisfy the urge to claw and keep the nails healthy.
How to Play With Your Cat
It should be clear by now that recreation with your cat should mostly center on simulated hunting. Follow the natural progressiveness – hunt, catch, kill, eat. Try to spend at least 10 – 15 minutes twice a day (source). Here are some tips on effective feline play.
Step 1: Getting your cat’s attention
Every animal has a different personality. Try a few different approaches to see what catches his interest. Older and overweight kitties have less energy and stamina. You’ll have to work a bit harder to catch their interest but they still benefit from short sessions several times a day. You can increase the duration as your pet’s fitness level increases.
If you have trouble getting your lazy fluffball to partake, try turning the lights down. Cats often prefer to hunt in the dark. Another way to entice your pet is to use a plaything with catnip, or rub it on an existing trinket. Don’t use the same set of games everyday as your feline will get bored. Use one or two at a time and put them away when you’re finished. Swap the toys every few days so he thinks he’s getting something new.
Even if your cat isn’t chasing the trinket, as long as his eyes are following its movements, he’s engaged and using his brain. If you’ve tried for a few minutes but he’s just ignoring you, stop and try again later. He’s probably just not in the mood right now.
Step 2: Hunting-style play
Hunting-style play transformed the way I interact with my two. Even my lazy British Shorthair was captivated. The trick is to mimic the movements of a small bird or mouse.
Swing the toy through the air, letting it land and hop on the ground. Keep your movements erratic and unpredictable or he will get bored. Vary your direction and speed. Never move the plaything towards the cat. Prey would never come close to the predator.
One thing my two love is when I hide the toy temporarily. Move it behind something so he can’t see it. In most cases, your pet won’t be able to resist pouncing when his prey comes into view again. Laying out tunnels and boxes can help set the scene. Both kitty and “prey” can use it as cover.
Some cats like fetch. If this is the case, use a trinket that’s easy for your feline to pick up in his mouth. Throw it across the room and when he brings it back to you, praise him by petting. If he doesn’t return it, bring it back yourself and throw it again. It will probably take a while for him to understand the game, and some cats simply aren’t interested in fetch.
Step 3: Winding down
When you’re ready to finish a fun session, let your pet catch the prey. If you don’t, he could get frustrated and not engage in the future. When he wraps all four limbs around the toy, kicks and bites it, he is trying to “kill” it (source). Wind down gradually, allowing the “prey” to struggle a bit before stopping. Finish with a small snack to complete the “hunt, catch, kill, eat” cycle. This will also encourage future engagement as your pet knows there’s a reward at the end.
What to Look for in a Good Toy For Cats
Good toys should be interactive – cats don’t like to play alone so you need to get involved. They should be around the same size as natural prey. Feathers mimic small birds while small fluffy things look like mice and lasers mimic insects. The best interactive toys allow you to move them without getting your hand too close to sharp claws. Knicknacks on a string or wand work well. Here are some other qualities that kitties like:
- Reflection of light
- Different textures
- Noise allows them to locate their “prey” by hearing it
- Erratic movement
- Tents and tunnels to hide in and pounce from
- Well made playthings that will withstand biting and scratching
My Cat Toy Reviews
Even if your kitty loves a toy initially, he will get bored with it if you don’t mix things up. To keep your pet’s interest, get a few types and alternate them. The most common types include scratchers, wand/fishing rods, plush mice, tunnels, food dispensing puzzles, lasers, catnip trinkets and climbing toys.
In my opinion, wands or fishing rod playthings are the absolute best. You have full control over its movements without needing to get your hands within claws’ reach. I recommend getting a few with different things on the end to keep your cats entertained.
I think this style is one of the best cat toys for exercise – although that does depend on your own stamina! If you can run around with it for 10 minutes, it provides great aerobic exercise for both of you. This one from Go Cat has a fluffy little mouse on the end of a flexible wire. The wire makes it a bit more sturdy than string variants and your pet will love chasing the little creature around your home. Another awesome wand is the so-called cat charmer. You can use it to create circles and swirls. The changing shape is sure to attract most felines.
Toys for kittens
Although play is important for all cats, it’s particularly vital for kittens. Kittens learn co-ordination, social and communication skills by romping with their siblings (source). If your kitten has been separated from its litter, it’s up to you to teach it how to interact safely. Allowing your kitten to bite during play could lead to bad habits which are hard to shake in adulthood. Kittens have a lot of energy and are captivated by the most simple trinkets. If you’re looking to wear them out and prevent mischief, you can use like the wand/fishing rod style above.
In addition, provide some knicknacks that the kitten can interact with after you get tired, such as crinkle balls. They don’t move by themselves but your kitten will have no problem chasing them around and making his own fun. The sound and light reflective material will capture all of his senses. Another option for kittens is the simple fluffy mouse. They’re small enough for even young kittens to grasp in their mouths and don’t include catnip. There is no point using catnip on your pet until they’re around six months old as they aren’t sensitive to it until adulthood (source).
Ah, catnip. I must admit, I think I get more fun out of using catnip on my pets than they do. Sensitivities vary – it’s estimated that 50 – 70% will have a reaction (source). If your furball does like catnip, the experience can be funny to watch. Mine rub their heads and body on the affected area, roll around, drool and try to catch things that aren’t there. So, catnip playthings will most definitely catch your pet’s attention.
My favorite catnip toy is this beaver from Kong. It’s refillable so you can replace catnip that’s lost its scent with fresh stuff. The size is also ideal for your kitty to grab on to and nuzzle as cats love to do when they’re “high” on catnip. It’s robust and all of the products I have from Kong are great quality. This means it will last a bit longer, even when your pet is biting and scratching it on a regular basis. The design allows you to twist the plushie to squeeze more oils from the catnip – so you’re sure to get the best value for money from the catnip you use.
Electronic cat toys
Pet toys, like everything, have become more high-tech in recent years. If you think that you can use an electronic device to automatically entertain with your pet, I disagree. There are many gadgets available that claim to amuse kitties without any interaction from a human. However, we have tried most of them and our two fluffballsaren’t fooled. The movement is too slow and predictable – not erratic like real prey – and kitty loses interest quickly. In addition, they can’t cover as large an area as a human so they’re not the best for exercising your pet.
That said, there are lots of battery operated options which are pretty cool, as long as they don’t replace human interaction completely. One which I particularly love is the hexbug mouse. It’s as close as you’re going to get to letting mice run wild in your house for your feline’s amusement.
Another old reliable electronic plaything is the laser pointer. However, there are a few precautions. My two kept trying to look for the source so it was simply too dangerous for me to use a laser with them. It can easily damage their eyes. Luckily there are LED alternatives which are safe. Also, since your pet can’t physically grab the dot of light at the end of the recreation period, he can be left feeling frustrated. Make sure to finish this type of game with a physical toy like one of the fluffy mice I’ve mentioned above.
Toys for indoor cats
Play is important for all cats, but especially indoor cats. Pets who don’t go outside have limited space to roam and exercise. They rarely get the opportunity to chase prey. Indoor felines with no playthings are prone to bad behavior due to boredom. They are also at high risk of obesity and associated illness.
Your indoor kitty will most likely have to spend a lot of time alone during the day. It’s vital that they have safe interactive toys to keep them busy. The best toys for cats home alone don’t require human input. I don’t like the automatic electronic gadgets so I have found some alternative solutions.
My first selection to keep your indoor kitty busy is this simple spring. Once he gets curious enough to bat at it with a paw, it will roll and bounce away. It will keep him entertained until it gets lost somewhere under your sofa!
Of course, you need some variety. One of my absolute favorites that’s guaranteed to engage every feline is the puzzle food dispenser. They are usually maze style games which your pet must engage with to release his dry food. The Senses Food Maze from Catit forces your pet to use his mind if he wants to fill his tummy. This is great for bored cats – even if they aren’t that interested in the “game”, they will get hungry and engage eventually.
Another good choice for indoor cats is this circuit from Catit. As a human, I didn’t find the design all that captivating, but my two loved it. I think it’s the fact that the ball moves in and out of view as they paw at it, a trick my furbabies can never resist.
To create a fun environment for your pet, you need to provide lots of places for them to hide. Tunnels with crinkle fabric emulate the noises of the wild, such as walking on crunchy leaves. Look for one that’s collapsible so your home can go from feline playground to respectable human habit when you have guests over.
Precautions with Cat’s Play
Check your toys for small parts which could break off and present a choking hazard.
Always put fishing rod and feathers away when you’ve finished. Your pet can get tangled up in the string or swallow feather parts, leading to injury.
If you use a laser pointer with your kitty, make sure he doesn’t look into the light source as it will damage his eyes.
Don’t use your hands when romping with your cat. Not only will you probably get scratched, you should train your pet to associate your hands with nice things such as petting and feeding.
When providing hiding places for your kitty, paper bags work well but never use plastic bags. They are a suffocation risk.