Cats need to play as much as dogs do. Help keep your feline happy and healthy by selecting cat toys that satisfy her natural instincts and encourage her to exercise.
Cats have a reputation for being low maintenance. Unfortunately, this gives many people the mistaken belief that cats don’t need as much attention as dogs do. The fact is, cats require physical and mental stimulation in order to thrive. This stimulation includes play, and a selection of engaging toys. Choosing the right cat toys can go a long way to ensuring a happy, contented and well-adjusted kitty.
Why play is important to felines
Play is vitally important to a cat’s mental and physical health — and it’s especially important for indoor cats. Even though cats can sleep up to 16 hours a day, they need stimulation when they’re awake, and the best way to accomplish this is through play.
- In the wild, when lions, tigers and other wildcats aren’t sleeping, they’re either hunting or teaching their young to hunt. Play is nothing more than channeling your domestic tiger’s hunting instincts, allowing her to exercise the sequence of stalking, pouncing, catching and “killing”. Cat toys should be designed to stimulate felines to indulge in this natural behavior.
- Play is also a great way to get your cat to exercise. According to a recent study, 55% of America’s cats are overweight or obese. In addition to feeding your cat a species-appropriate high quality diet, exercise is the best way to keep her fit and trim.
- Playing with cats is a wonderful way to strengthen the bond between feline and human. While it’s lovely to spend time with your cat while you’re watching TV, reading or doing a million other things, be sure to make time to actively play with her while focusing only on her and the fun she’s having.
Cat toys should mimic prey animals
- Toys made from natural materials such as wool, feathers and synthetic fur mimic the look and feel of real prey animals. Look for toys that are well made without any loose pieces that can be ingested. Avoid toys with glued-on decorations.
- Some of the best toys are the interactive wand and fishing pole types. Interactive toys engage feline hunting instincts and allow you and your kitty to have fun together.
- Puzzle toys are a wonderful way to engage cats when you can’t be there to play with them. They’re designed to be filled with treats, and challenge the kitty to retrieve the treats through various openings.
Inspect all toys periodically for any loose pieces, wires or clamps, especially where the toy attaches to the string (if there is one). Many toys use safety pin-type attachments, and it wouldn’t be impossible for a cat to chew firmly enough on that part of the toy to pop the pin open.
Keep fishing pole toys out of your cat’s reach when they’re not in use. Cats can become entangled in the string, or even eat and swallow it, which can cause an intestinal blockage.
Don’t let cats play unsupervised with electronic toys that have moving parts. Depending on the toy, paws and whiskers may get caught in the mechanism and your cat may be injured, or at the very least, traumatized.
How to play with your cat
When playing with your cat, don’t just toss a toy and expect her to chase it or wave it around. Think about how cats naturally hunt. In the wild, they stalk their prey, inching closer and closer, then pounce on the unsuspecting animal. When using wand toys, move the toy erratically and alternate between fast and slow motions. Don’t dangle the toy in front of your cat’s face – this is not natural prey behavior.
Don’t keep the same toys out in the same spot all the time – this will almost guarantee your cat will get bored with them. Put some toys away for a week or two, then bring them out again. Your cat will think she just got a brand new toy. Of course, you won’t want to do this if your cat has a favorite toy that she plays with all the time!
Make time for one or two play sessions each day, and make them ten to 20 minutes in length. You and your kitty will find that you look forward to these daily playtimes.
Catnip, honeysuckle, silver vine
Cats have varied reactions to toys stuffed with catnip. Only about 50% of cats are affected by catnip, and not all react the same. Whether or not cats respond to catnip appears to be genetically determined. Some respond with euphoria, although it can have a calming effect on others. A few cats, however, become so stimulated by the herb that they may release their excess energy by picking fights with other cats in the household, or by attacking their humans.
For cats who either don’t react to catnip, or have a negative reaction to it, newer herb alternatives for enhancing cat toys include honeysuckle, valerian and silver vine.
Cat toys don’t have to be expensive. Companies such as Armarkat offer a wide variety of good quality inexpensive toys. And keep in mind that some of the best (and safest) toys are things that aren’t even designed to be toys: ping pong balls, plastic shower curtain rings and boxes!