It's hard to know just which cat toys are best with thousands on the market, from the simple to the sophisticated. Cats need regular play and excitement to keep them happy and healthy, but they’re notoriously fussy, so picking their next plaything can be a tricky decision.
Research has shown that cats vary hugely in their preferences – in the types of toy they like best as well as the amount of time they like to spend playing and socializing with their humans. There’s no foolproof way of finding the best toy for your cat, but these tips should help you narrow down your options. You can also read our round-up of the best cat toys for some more ideas.
Recreate the hunt
Despite living alongside us for centuries, cats still have strong hunting instincts. Watch a litter of kittens at play and you’ll see them practicing their stalking, jumping, pouncing and catching skills.
According to Cats Protection, “the drive to hunt is not because they are hungry, but because hunting activity – the stalk, pounce, play and kill – releases feel-good hormones called endorphins. The best games encourage cats to stalk, pounce, chase and bat objects with a paw in a safe way”.
While there’s no guarantee a cat will like a new toy, you’ll probably have the most success with toys that look like prey or mimic a small animal’s movements. Materials such as feathers, wool or synthetic fur might help a cat to get in the zone and imagine it’s out hunting for food.
For other cats, a squeaker or a material that produces a crinkling sound may be more effective. Some cats will chase anything moving on the end of a string, no matter what it looks or sounds like.
Try out a few different toys and a variety of ways of moving them to pinpoint exactly what it is that excites your cat. You can use homemade toys for this experiment before you spend money on anything else (you may even find that you’ve created the perfect toy for your cat and don’t need to go shopping).
Once you’ve figured out how to bring out their inner hunter, you’ll have a better idea of the types of toy to look out for.
Toys you can play with together are great for bonding and for encouraging as much movement as possible, but you won’t always be in the house when your cat wants to play. It’s worth finding a couple of toys that are safe to be left out without supervision and get your cat practicing pouncing and batting on their own.
Balls and simple plastic or wooden puzzle toys will present enough of a challenge to keep them entertained without the risk of any parts being chewed or shredded. Puzzles can often be stocked with a handful of treats too, letting your cat have a snack while you’re out and making the game even more enticing.
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Safety is just as important as fun when buying a new cat toy. All the materials and attachments should be safe for cats, and the toy should be constructed well so none of the components pose a choking risk. Don’t be dazzled by the look of a toy – fluffy bits and sequins might make a product appealing, but there’s a chance your cat will get their claws caught or accidentally ingest a small part if it comes off.
Shopping in-store allows you to take a closer look at a toy’s construction. Make sure the toy is an appropriate size for your cat, inspect the materials to assess their quality and tug components to check they’re securely attached.
Looking for cat toys online offers you a huge amount more choice, but makes it harder to check what you’re buying. Be wary of bargain sites or brand names you’re not familiar with. They may be completely legitimate, but there are also sites that use photos of other companies’ products to sell cheaper, poorly made versions.
Check reviews – if other customers say a toy was poor quality, or that parts fell off during play, avoid it and be wary of the seller. This is important even if you’re shopping with a familiar brand; sometimes there are faults or mistakes in a toy’s production, making a product from an otherwise trustworthy company dangerous.
When a new toy arrives, be sure to carry out the same checks you would in a store. If anything about the item seems off or sub-standard, it’s best to send it back. Inspect the toy again after your cat has played with it for the first time to make sure nothing has broken or come loose.
Try something new
Sometimes, the best toy for your cat is simply the one that’s unlike anything else in their collection. Cats can easily lose interest in toys, making it harder to keep them engaged, mentally stimulated and physically active, so variety is important.
Look for toys with a feature you know your cat usually enjoys – a noise or a material – presented in a different way. For example, if your cat used to love a fishing-pole toy but no longer chases it, try a ball you can roll across the floor or a motorized toy.
You don’t need to buy a new toy every week to keep your cat’s attention. Once you have a handful you know they like, there’s a simple way to stop them getting bored – don’t let them play with all their toys at once.
Rather than leaving everything out for your cat to choose from (or ignore), rotate the toys on offer every few days. This keeps playtime exciting and means you can introduce a brand-new one only when you feel like treating them or an existing toy is reaching the end of its life.
You know best
Hopefully, this advice has pointed you in the right direction in your search for the perfect cat toy. Remember; no one knows your cat like you do – if something catches your eye and you have a feeling they will like it, trust your instinct.
Find toys you both enjoy playing with and getting your cat active will never feel like a chore. Our list of the five best toys for indoor cats will give you some more ideas for feline fun.
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