My childhood cats didn’t have a lot of toys. For one thing, they lived outdoors in the tool shed, so neither they nor their toys had very long lifespans. Second, there wasn’t a wide variety of cat toys to choose from.
I usually had to settle for a plastic ball with a bell inside or a catnip mouse that the gang shredded within minutes. All of them were poorly made. And most of them were downright unsafe.
“Play is important for cats,” according to Dr. Mark Cousins, DVM, ABVP. “Play teaches cats hunting and stalking maneuvers that are essential in the wild in order to survive.”
Once cats are in play mode, a wad of paper quickly becomes a mouse on the lam; the creature wriggling about in a discarded grocery bag is no longer a fellow fur person but an alien life form that must be pounced upon and subdued. Perhaps this is what author Margaret Benson meant when she wrote, “A cat is, above all else, a dramatist.”
This is where the interactive toys come in. Making sure your cat understands that your hands are off-limits, grab that wand or fishing toy and wave it around till he’s leaping like a ballerina.
You can also take a small toy and make it move “like a mouse or a bird,” suggests writer Gary Loewenthal. “Don’t overdo it; subtle moves are quite effective. Vary the speed and direction of the toy.” After all, it’s not just a matter of piquing his interest — it’s a matter of keeping it.
Let your cat set the pace and try different approaches to see what works. For instance, you might consider “dimming the light since cats like to hunt when it’s darker,” Loewenthal says.
My cats have always been in love with laser toys — probably because that red dot is the only thing that moves faster than they do. I am careful to keep the laser-toy sessions short so that they don’t get too hyper.
Ingrid King reviews all sorts of cat-related things on The Conscious Cat, her award-winning blog, including toys. She is conscientious and thorough and has 2 tortoiseshell assistants, Allegra and Ruby.
Her cats get to try out all the toys once they’ve been deemed safe. “Toys need to be well-made from materials that are non-toxic,” says King. “No glued-on pieces, such as eyes or whiskers. We have plenty of ‘blind mice’ at our house because I tear off the glued-on pieces before giving them to the girls. Toys with any type of elastic or rubber band are a no-no.”
She prefers toys “that awaken the prey instinct in cats…that mimic the movement of prey…. I like interactive toys — fishing-pole type toys because they encourage joint play with cats and their guardians.”
She has 1 caveat about those interactive toys, however: Don’t leave them lying around once playtime is over. Cats can get tangled up in the fishing-toy line. Or they can swallow it, causing a potentially fatal blockage.
In this video, Grace Fitzpatrick discusses dangers associated with common cat toys:
Keeping It Simple
For many years, I ordered my cat toys from Catnip Corner. The business offered colorful handmade “furries,” “critters” and crocheted spirals at reasonable prices. The furries and critters were stuffed with Grade A catnip. And they were safe.
Sadly, Catnip Corner is no more. But you can easily fashion your own toys out of fabric remnants and catnip as long as you have some basic sewing skills, or check out the toys in our online shop.
Corks, ping-pong balls and golf balls are always popular. Avoid having the ball escape under the sofa by putting it in the bathtub (when the tub is dry). Boxes and paper bags are a big hit, too. Just make sure that any handles have been removed first.
There are a lot of cat-toy possibilities out there. With a little ingenuity, you can make your felines very happy.