Welcome playful feline friends! Skye Blake here today all about fun… Let’s discover the best cat toys and go play!
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.
All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping…
Do Cats Need Toys?
Well, that’s a silly question… of course we need toys!
But you might not know why. We cats see toys as real prey, not toys!
We’re the most efficient, complete hunters on earth.
Hunting is in our nature and essential for our mental and physical health.
Our toys are different from dog toys, too, because our play is all about hunting.
Dogs prefer romping with other dogs or fetching for people, which can include hunting.
It’s rare to find a cat who fetches a toy and brings it to you because we hunt and eat alone… we’re not good at sharing food.
We do like to show you our kill sometimes though.
Playing with your cat is, besides food, the most important thing you can do routinely every day.
It’s the primary way to correct and prevent unwanted behavior like inappropriate peeing or aggression.
The key is to maneuver the toy to act and sound like prey.
Satisfying the “hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom, sleep” natural routine that IS your cat is key to having a great life together.
Discover the wonderful world of play at “Playing With Cats the Right Way!“
So Many Toys
There’s a dizzying array of cat toys, all claiming to be the greatest thing since real mice!
How do you find the right toys without breaking the bank?
Behaviorists encourage having lots of toys, but you don’t have to spend lots of money.
You can do this by buying some and making the rest yourself (have the kids do it… they’ll have fun).
Throw some out there so your cat has plenty but keep some hidden away and rotate them to keep things interesting.
Use toys that don’t have small parts that your cat can bite or chew off and swallow.
String, ribbon, feathers, yarn toys or those with glued on eyes are examples of toys that might be a problem.
The best way is to leave out toys like those little furry mice… save feather and ribbon toys for supervised play.
Wand or fishing pole toys will have string… store them where a cat can’t get them when you’re not using them.
Not only is that safer for your cats, it makes it more fun because they’re new prey when you bring them out… exciting!
Start by trying a few to see how your cat responds to them.
Catnip toys are usually plush “mice” or other shaped toys with catnip added to attract the cat to play.
Most kitties love catnip… but some don’t bother with it.
Discover what you should know at “Catnip – What Fun!“.
There are two main types of cat toys and you’ll need some of both…
- Object Toys – cats play with these on their own
- Interactive Toys – you use these when playing with your cat
What toys are best for both object and interactive play?
As with everything pet-related, companies market toys to appeal to you, the human… makes sense since you’re the one buying them.
But you’re not the one using them!
Look at toys through the lens of both safety and what appeals to your cat’s hunting nature.
We cats don’t care if a toy looks like a cactus or a steak.
If it moves and sounds like prey (whether on its own or by you), that’s what appeals to the hunter inside.
Object Cat Toys
Object toys are ones that cats play with that they activate themselves.
These are typically little balls, milk bottle tops and rings, fuzzy mice, and a variety of toys you can toss on the floor for your cats.
When deciding on object toys for your cat, consider these points…
- How intense is your cat when play hunting?
- Does he destroy everything quickly or does he do the delicate paw touching and gentle mouthing?
- Does he do a combination of these?
- Do the toys that look interesting to you appeal to his hunting instincts?
- Are there little parts or yarn, string, or ribbons that can be swallowed?
One complaint cat lovers often have is that the toys they bring home are ripped to shreds the first day by a very enthusiastic feline.
This is especially true of larger breeds and high energy cats, so you might want to try small dog toys or thick plastic, well-made cat toys for them.
Here are various types of object toys to consider…
Chasers & Balls
Object chasers are anything that cats can bat and chase around, particularly rolling toys.
They differ from interactive chasers because the cat starts their motion, not a motor or person.
Balls are often the toy that people think of most for cats.
If your cat plays delicately with them and isn’t a shredder, the foam rubber or plastic balls with a bell might be fine.
But some cats end up eating the foam rubber bits accidentally and some break open the plastic balls, making the bell a swallowing hazard.
Foil balls and metal, plastic, or pipe cleaner springs are other options that cats can bat around.
Springs should be big enough that a cat can’t accidentally swallow them.
Whatever the toy is, it should be small enough for most cats to pick it up and carry in their mouths… just like when they catch a mouse.
Plush & Mice
Plush toys, often made to imitate the size, shape and feel of mice, are often given to cats… who then sniff and walk away or bat them under the sofa, never to be seen again.
Think about your cat’s energy level… are those that look cute going to be tough enough or appeal to your cat’s hunting instincts?
Some have feathers or string tails that you should supervise in case a feather or string falls off.
Cats can choke on broken feathers and get tangled up in string, so it’s important to put them away when your cat’s done hunting.
Kicker toys are soft stuffed toys (usually tube-shaped) that cats enjoy holding with their front paws and kicking with their hind legs.
Sometimes we literally kick the stuffing out of them… so be sure kickers made of strong fabric and safe insides!
Tunnels are a great addition to your cat’s world and add to the fun of playing.
You can even use them as part of an obstacle course… yes, cats can be trained for that!
Cats love hiding places, so tunnels in their living areas add another dimension to the play experience.
They use hiding spots to keep their prey from seeing them while calculating their next move in the hunt.
You’ve probably seen this when they hide behind a chair before butt wiggling and pouncing on a toy.
There are many different types of tunnels… from T-shape to circular to A-frame, some with exit holes or dangling puff balls.
Some are simple and others are tunnel systems. Some have scratching surfaces on the sides, and many are collapsible.
You can make your own tunnels from cardboard boxes and any tubing that’s big enough for a cat to go through without getting stuck.
Activity toys are technically any toy your cat will play with, but also a specific category of toys made to fight boredom and stimulate your cat mentally.
Most are puzzles, mazes, and challenges where you hide a ball, treats or even a meal, so your cat gets to hunt for them.
They give cats the opportunity to strategize how they’re going to capture the prey inside.
Activity mats are tough tight-weave carpeting made into a cave with holes where cats can hide, play, scratch and generally enjoy themselves.
Discover more at “Cat Food Puzzles“…
Strapped for cash? You’re in luck!
Cats don’t care about whether toys are expensive or not.
We love things that crinkle, move like prey, and are chewable.
Water bottle caps, crinkly paper, or aluminum foil balls are a few of the homemade toys we love.
Just be sure your cat isn’t one who will try to eat them… and don’t use string or yarn!
Cats can swallow string but can’t spit it out… both endangering their life and creating a big vet bill!
Boxes with holes and paper bags without handles are also great for making play fun.
You can cut holes into a box, put a ball inside and tape the top shut. Your cat can have fun trying to get the ball out.
Interactive toys move on their own, whether powered by you, electronics, or motors.
Your interaction using these toys is very important for your cat’s welfare, especially if she can’t hunt outside.
A cat who can’t satisfy her inner hunter, the essence of her “catness”, becomes anxious, destructive, and tries to satisfy the hunter in ways people don’t like.
These types of interactive toys are perfect for bringing out the inner hunter while keeping your feet, legs, arms, and hands out of the way.
Your cat learns that the toys are prey, not you or other people.
Since a cat’s hunting instinct is aroused by hearing skittering of mouse feet or fluttering of bird wings, wands, teasers, and fishing pole toys work well.
We’re also attracted to sudden movement of prey followed by a moment of stillness, then more movement.
Some cats prefer flying prey while others prefer ground prey that runs around.
Others will go for everything!
Wands & Fishing Poles
Wands and fishing poles are similar and allow you to control the play action.
Some wands are retractable so you can adjust the length.
They have things like feathers, toy fish, ribbons, fabric snakes, or bees and spiders on the ends for your cat to chase and catch.
Experiment to discover which ones your cat prefers… some of us are fascinated by bugs and birds, others by mice or snakes.
These toys give you the fun of making it move and even sound like the favored prey.
Discover more about play hunting at “Playing With Cats the Right Way!“.
Teasers are toys on shorter poles that are great for distraction while you’re close to a cat.
They have pom poms, feathers, and/or foil balls attached to the pole end.
You can see these used by judges at cat shows.
Some teasers attach to a window, shelf, or other surface, but if your cat is a toy destroyer, it’s not a good idea to have these out when you’re not supervising.
When the string breaks or the toy is ripped off, it’s easy for a cat to swallow bits, turning a play session into a medical emergency.
Laser pointers were all the rage for cats a few years ago, but behaviorists are not recommending them because most people use them without understanding the nature of a cat’s hunting needs.
They get the cat worked up but never give them the necessary satisfaction of achieving a physical catch and kill.
The cat is all riled up and never gets to calm down properly and satisfy his needs, so ends up with behavior problems that people don’t understand.
If you want to use a laser toy, learn about the nature of the cat (the hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom, sleep routine) before using it.
Be sure to let him “catch” it but putting the dot on an actual toy a few times so he can have something to “kill”.
Then wind down the play and give him treats or a meal.
Motorized and robotic toys run on batteries and are fun for cats because they move a lot like prey, although some are better at this than others.
Some are motion activated… they “wake up” when a cat walks by and catch her interest.
Others operate by remote control, so you decide when they activate.
Some are spinners that move and pause like prey.
Those that move around in a circle under a cloth are fun for a minute, but cats lose interest quickly because prey doesn’t usually run around in circles.
Also, anything that runs at a cat can be alarming and turn into a threat because prey runs away from cats, not toward them.
If a mouse or rat suddenly turns and runs at them, the cat runs because now they see a threat coming… until the prey runs away again.
Some cats are more sensitive to this than others.
As with other toys, having a few and rotating them keeps them interesting.
Here are some videos that help you understand toys and making your own…
Now that you’ve learned a bit about cat toys, discover how to use them with your cat at “Playing With Cats the Right Way!“
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.
Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.
However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
The Cat Whisperer by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.com
Decoding Your Cat, by Editors, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., New York, hmhco.com, pp. 90, 102-8, 155-6, 202, 223, 230-2, 244-6, 284-5,
“Toys That Say ‘Wow’,” Cat vs. Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Penguin Books, New York, 2004, pp. 78-9
“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss” by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011
“The Trainable Cat” by John Bradshaw and Dr. Sarah Ellis, Basic Books, Hachette Group, New York, 2016
Updated December 27, 2023