Your cat will need an assortment of toys. This is not a waste of money or an indulgence. It is an investment in your cat’s overall health. Cat toys provide mental as well as physical stimulation, which means that they also provide much-needed environmental enrichment.
Cat toys are so cleverly designed that they are nearly always irresistible to cat owners. Cats, however, will soon make their preferences clear. Give some thought to what cats do: hunt. Simulated hunting is a big part of their play, so many of their toys will be designed to tap into their hunting instinct. They also like to carry around small, soft toys, and they enjoy batting things that move (there’s that hunting instinct again).
Remember when shopping for cat toys that it is up to you to assess the safety of the toy. Beware of sharp objects, parts that cat might pull off and swallow, and any interactive toys with strips of strands can easily give cat the equivalent of a paper cut on her lips or tongue.
Soft stuffed cat toys come in a variety of sizes and shapes. While shape, size, and fabric texture can be meaningful to your cat, chances are she won’t care very much if the toy looks like a former president, a dog, a fish, or a veterinarian. You are really buying those to attract your eye. Think more about size and shape.
Some cat toys come stuffed with catnip, but the quality of the catnip varies from toy to toy. We’ll be discussing catnip in a moment, but for now it’s important to know that depending on the manufacturer, the toy may contain low-quality catnip, high-quality catnip, or no catnip to speak of at all, even though the package says it’s a catnip toy. Some toys come with a replaceable catnip packet, or a pocket to hold catnip, so you can always put fresh catnip inside the toy for maximum enjoyment.
Balls are another cat favorite. Not only do some cats like to play fetch, but they love to play their own version of hockey—kicking the ball with their back feet, running and pouncing on it, and then kicking it again. Many kitties seem to think that you can never have enough balls. For self-amusing fun or interactive play, balls are inexpensive and fun. Balls come in several choices. Crinkle balls make a noise when touched, somewhat akin to the sound of a rustling paper bag. Sparkle balls are very sparkly to attract the cat. There are hard balls to kick around, soft balls that can also be carried like a soft toy as well as kicked, rubber balls that bounce, and plastic balls that have a bell inside for cats who like the sound. Those break rather easily if you accidentally step on one.
There are seemingly countless styles of mouse toys. Some are small and hard, some small and soft. Some are filled with catnip while others are made of a crinkly material. Some are made of fabric or fur, while others are made of colorful rope. There is seemingly no end to the types of mouse toys you can buy.
The trackball is a round toy that comes in two sizes and is made of plastic. It’s shaped like a doughnut. There is a deep groove around the edge of the toy with a ball inside that can be batted but cannot be removed. Cat hits the ball and watches it spin around the track. Some also have a scratching surface in the center. This toy is a little more expensive but is well worth it if your cat enjoys it. Some cats love this toy and others are completely uninterested. You won’t know unless you either try it or have been told that this was a favorite before cat arrived in your home.
There are tunnels and sacks and crinkly sounding toys that also provide mental and physical stimulation. There are treat toys for cats, too. They will release a treat or a piece of dry food when manipulated by the cat. This is a great idea, because it makes the cat hunt for her food and use her mind to figure out how to get the toy to release the morsels.
There are plastic cat toys that pop back into position if pushed over and others that bear a strong resemblance to baby toys, such as a roller with a bell inside. There’s a good reason for this: Some of these toys have been designed by the same creative people who have designed baby toys. Why? Most likely it’s to catch the eye of owners who love to baby their pets. But also, what’s safe for a baby is often safe for a cat as well—sometimes. Some flame-retardant toys are dangerous to animals, since they contain a chemical inside that if ingested can kill the pet. They weren’t meant to be chewed open by pets and have their chemicals ingested.
Interactive cat toys—the ones you play with together—are important, not just to create a wonderful playtime and bonding experience for you both, but for the cat’s emotional and physical health. Your cat needs to exercise as well as use her mind. These toys must be put away between play periods because they come attached to a stick or string, and your cat can get into serious trouble playing alone with one of these toys. She can get tangled in the string or wire and injure herself, or chew it off and swallow it and it can create an intestinal obstruction. A bonus to putting the toy away is that when you take it out, cat knows it’s time for special fun with you.
Fishing pole type toys have string tied to a stick, with something on the end of the string—often feathers to make it seem as if cat is chasing a bird. You can swing the toy around so it looks as if the bird is flying and cat can jump to catch it, or you can drag it across the floor so cat can chase it. Some of these toys sound like a bird as it flies through the air.
Wand toys come with a piece of fur or feathers on the end or a long piece of fabric. They are similar to fishing pole toys in that you need to put them away between play sessions. A shorter stick with the fur or tassel-type end allows cat to bat at it and play pounce and jump games. The longer stick with the very long fabric at the end is great for dragging along after you so cat can chase it. There is also a wire toy with cardboard pieces at the end that bounce around. Cats seem to love it.
Laser toys are somewhat controversial. There are those who say they are perfectly safe and there are others who feel they are potentially dangerous. The laser can damage the cat’s eye if it is shined directly into the eyes. As someone who has had two laser surgeries, I am hesitant to use a laser toy for fear of accidentally causing eye damage to my cat. Cats move so fast that it’s easy for their eye to suddenly be in line with the laser beam.