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Choosing the Right Toys for Your Cat: My 12 Tips

choosing the right toys

It can be extremely confusing when you stand in the cat toy aisle at your favorite pet supply store or browse the internet in search of a toy your cat will like. Advertising on packages claim their toys are irresistible to felines but how do you decide? Perhaps you’re enticed by the picture of a playful cat on the label, or maybe the sound and look of the toy itself makes you smile as you imagine how much fun your own cat might have.

Based on how many forgotten toys end up stuffed in drawers or left abandoned in corners, it may be time to rethink the type of toys you purchase and the way they get used. Although the idea of buying a toy for a cat seems as if it should be very basic, in order to be successful you need to keep individual preferences in mind along with safety reminders. Here are some tips on increasing the chances of toy selection success:

1.  Safety and Durability

For toys for solo playtime, do a good inspection to make sure there are no glued-on parts that could be swallowed, strings or sharp pieces. When I bring home fuzzy fake mice for my cat, I pull off the glue-on eyes or nose pieces and do a good inspection to make sure the tails are securely fastened. My cat has never once seemed to care whether the mice she chases are missing their eyes and noses.

When it comes to interactive toys, also do a good inspection and make sure the toys are securely made with heavy string that will withstand many play sessions. Look at how the toy on the end of the string is attached to ensure there are no sharp pieces sticking out that could hurt if your cat bites down. And, no matter how well an interactive wand toy is made, you should always put it away in-between play sessions to avoid the risk of having your cat chew on the string or get tangled in it.

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The price of cat toys has certainly increased quite a bit and in order to hopefully avoid spending money on toys that are unsafe or poorly designed, check out on-line reviews such as on Amazon.com. I’ve noticed many very helpful reviews warning of poor quality in regards to some recently highly-marketed cat toys. Hopefully, manufacturers will pay attention to the warnings of reviewers and put more time into improving the quality of their toys.

2. Type of Cat Toy

There are toys meant for solo playtime and ones meant for interactive sessions. Don’t choose just one type and leave out the other. Although cats are naturally curious and playful, don’t depend on solo playtime to provide all of the enrichment.

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

When it comes to solo playtime, there are toys meant to simply be batted around, stalked, pounced on, carried and even nibbled on. There are also reward-based toys that provide the cat with a treat for a job well done. Food-dispensing toys are very popular now and easy to find. These toys provide activity for your cat and a mini-meal at the same time. Some food-dispensing toys require a little training to help your cat get the idea but it shouldn’t take long before he figures out that solving the “puzzle” will result in a tasty reward.

In addition to food-dispensing toys there are also puzzle toys that reward the cat with a little toy for his work.

3. How the Cat Toy Moves

Cats are hunters so when it comes to toy appeal, its movements need to resemble that of prey. Even though your cat gets top quality nutrition and his daily existence doesn’t depend on being able to actually capture a meal, his play technique still is based on hunting. Cats want to stalk, chase, pounce and ultimately capture their treasure. Does the toy resemble prey either in its appearance, size, shape or movement? Will the cat be able to bat at it, pick it up in his mouth or pounce on it comfortably?

Photo: Fotolia

Photo: Fotolia

When it comes to resembling prey, much will depend on the way it moves when the cat pounces or swats it. Does the toy easily skitter across the floor, allowing for a fun chase? Or, if using an interactive toy, can you mimic the movement of prey by how you drag it along the ground or flip it in the air? Much of an interactive toy’s success depends on how enticing you make your moves.

Offer a variety of movements to keep your cat enticed. Even if the toy is meant to be waved in the air to mimic a bird, do some on-the-ground movements. Experiment with your movements to see which toys work best in different environments. One toy may be most irresistible on the floor and not as appealing on carpet.

4. Size of the Cat Toy

In addition to being predators, cats are also prey because of their size. When shopping for cat toys, keep that in mind so you don’t end up getting a toy that’s really too large for your individual pet. If the toy is too big, your cat may view it as an opponent and the play session may turn into more of a battle.

5. Sound

I’ve had many clients show me these large, motorized toys purchased for their cats but when they set them up, most of the cats become scared. If you choose a motorized toy, make sure it doesn’t make a whiney sound that ends up being disturbing to your cat. The typical prey sounds are little squeaks and ultrasonic sounds. A cat’s hearing is extremely sensitive.

Pay attention to your cat’s size and personality. A timid cat may not view a motorized or large, noisy toy as an opportunity for some fun play time. Use the information you know about your cat. Does he seem intrigued by little squeaky noises in the house? If so, then maybe a toy that squeaks would be a huge success. Again, every cat is different and you have to appeal to individual personalities.

6. Texture of Cat Toys

Texture plays a big role in a cat’s life. If you’ve lived with a cat for any amount of time you know texture matters when it comes to the litter in the litter box, the places he likes to nap or the mouth feel of different brands of food. Well, texture also matters to a number of cats even when it comes to playtime. Your cat may prefer a soft toy that’s easy to bite or he may like a smoother toy that’s easy to bat around. Toys come in all different textures, styles and shapes. You can choose a feather-covered toy, a leather toy, a fuzzy one, a crinkly one, fabric-covered, hard, soft, you name it! There is no shortage when it comes to cat toy selections.

Photo: Fotolia

Photo: Fotolia

7. Toy Testing

If you’re unsure of what type of texture or shape your cat would like, you’ll have to experiment by purchasing a few different types. When it comes time to play with your cat though, offer one at a time. Don’t offer the assortment all at once. You can more accurately evaluate a toy’s appeal if you offer it on its own. Very often, how you offer it can also influence whether it’s a hit or a miss. For example, instead of just tossing a solo toy in the middle of the floor, place an open paper bag on its side and then toss the toy in there.

If offering an interactive toy, it’s the movements that go across or away from the cat’s visual field that spark the prey drive. You won’t increase the toy’s appeal by dangling the toy right in front of the cat. Remember to mimic the movement of prey – that’s the key to igniting a rewarding play session.

Photo: Fotolia

Photo: Fotolia

8.  A Little Help From Catnip

There are toys containing catnip and there are also ones with resealable pouches for you to place your own catnip in if your cat enjoys that. Not every cat responds to catnip but if your kitty does, my recommendation is to buy non-catnip toys and then separately purchase some good quality catnip to rub on them or stuff in the pouches. You can even grow your own catnip. I keep a stash of toys “marinating” in a container of catnip at all times. This way, one is always ready when needed. For many cats, a little catnip added into the occasional play session can really kick it up a notch and create a renewed interest in a previously ignored toy.

9. Toy Rotation

You don’t need to have a collection of 500 toys for your cat. Once you have a core collection of ones he likes, rotate them weekly to help maintain their appeal.

10. Changing with the Times

Toys that your cat loved when he was younger may not be as appealing if he’s a senior or has some mobility issues. Maintain playtime with your cat but if certain toys are no longer of interest, this may be the time to re-evaluate your playtime technique to accommodate his needs but also, you may need to experiment with some different styles of toys. For example, he may no longer find it comfortable to bite down on hard toys and may now prefer a softer feel. Again, it comes down to knowing your cat and adjusting his playtime environment as needed.

11. Homemade Cat Toys

Toys don’t have to be purchased. You can make food-dispensing toys using everyday objects such as a plastic water bottle or a plastic tube. A quick search online will result in several clever toy ideas and instructions. There are also countless options for making toys using socks, fabric and many other items. Just be sure your homemade toy is safe and durable.

Photo: Fotolia

Photo: Fotolia

12. And Remember… Be a Part of the Game!

Even the best toy isn’t a replacement for time spent with you. Conduct as least two play sessions with your cat a day. About 15 minutes each is all it takes to enrich your cat’s day and help him see how much fun a particular toy can be.

Books by Pam Johnson-Bennett

Need More Information?

For more information on matching toys based on your cat’s play technique, refer to the following article:

Pick Toys That Match Your Cat’s Play Style Preference

For more specifics on cat behavior, playtime with your cat or how to train a cat, refer to any of the books by Pam Johnson-Bennett. The books are available through your favorite online retailer, at bookstores everywhere and are also sold here on our website.