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What Makes a Good Cat Toy?

Playing with your cat is half the fun of having one. But cats can quickly get bored of their toys. So what makes a good cat toy?

What makes a good cat toy? If your cat is sick of its toys, but it something new and different, that grabs its attention with colors and noise, and that your cat can chase after and catch. If they toy is durable or easily replaceable, encourages good health in your cat, and is something your cat can play with on its own, then even better. Get your cat several toys so that it doesn’t get bored of any of them.

The guide below first looks at what makes a good cat toy, before looking at a few interesting cat toys you may never have seen before.

What Makes a Good Cat Toy?

People love to stick with the classics: things like string, feathers and tiny toy mice. But these aren’t the only toys you can find for your cat. So when you’re picking something out, what separates a good cat toy from a bad one?

Let’s find out.

1) New & Different

cat playing
Image courtesy Kevin Dooley, CC by 2.0.

Cats are just like us. If they play the same games and play with the same toys over and over again, they can get bored. So if your cat is bored with all its toys and you’re looking for a new one, something that you haven’t got your cat before would be a good choice. There’s no point buying your cat a teaser toy if it’s bored with the one it already has, so pick something new instead.

There is a huge variety of toys available. Obviously there are different sizes and shapes of common toys like toy mice. But there are different kinds of toys altogether: cat fetch toys, scratching posts and mats, balls and ball spinner trays, automatic cat teaser toys that your cat can play with on its own and, of course, lots more. You can find these either online or at any normal pet store. The joy of it all is that after a few months, you can reintroduce your cat’s old toy and it will probably find it fun to play with again. That’s what zoos do to keep their animals entertained.

Bear in mind that your cat might be picky when it comes to toys. It might not find the new toy you got it very fun to play with. Try a few different toys to see what it finds fun.

2) Attention-Grabbing

A toy that commands your cat’s attention is more fun than one that doesn’t. There are a few different things that can entice your cat about a toy, such as:

  • Bright colors. Cats can’t see all the colors we can, but they’re not completely color blind. Bright blues and greens are probably most obvious to cats. Patterns are still obvious to a cat, too.
  • Quick, jerky movements like a toy mouse bobbing at the end of a string. Movements like these remind cats of the way that rodents move. That’s why they love chasing toys like these so much.
  • Toys that activate several senses. A toy that smells of something (like catnip!) or that makes an obvious (but not scary) sound will get your cat’s attention.

In particular, you should look for toys that grab your cat’s attention in ways that are different to its other toys. So, your cat might like a toy mouse that moves in the same way a mouse does, but have you ever had it play with one that sounds like a mouse does? Cats can enjoy playing with squeaky toys too, because the squeaks remind them of the sounds mice make when cats catch them. Alternatively, consider buying your cat a toy that smells appealing or looks appealing if you haven’t already.

3) Catchable

When cats first start to play, they do so as kittens. The reason kittens play in the way that they do is that they’re preparing for adulthood. Pouncing on other cats and kittens teaches them how to fight; chasing things teaches them how to hunt. This pouncing and chasing play becomes ingrained in cats from an early age. You should therefore prioritize toys that your cat can catch, as these are the most fun toys for your cat to play with.

The exception that might spring to your mind is the laser pen, which cats famously enjoy playing with. While your cat may enthusiastically chase after a laser pointer, it’s not satisfying for your cat to play with because it can’t catch it. Physical toys like toy mice are better. You can see why when your cat plays with one: not only will it pounce but it will display other hunting behaviors like biting, kicking, and toying with it (e.g. batting it from paw to paw).

4) Replaceable

The best cat toys are, of course, ones that last a lifetime. But if your cat enjoys playing with something, no matter what it is, it’s going to get dirty; it’s going to get ripped, and in some cases torn to pieces! As such, good cat toys are either strong enough to put up with your cat’s claws and teeth, or cheap enough to be replaced easily.

Ideally, you want something that’s both cheap and tough. Even if something is cheap, it’s a pain if you have to replace it after your cat plays with it once. Feathers are a good example of this: cats love playing with them, but they quickly get goopy and gunky from your cat’s spit, bits of feather come out and leave the toy looking threadbare, and they can easily get bent and snapped. By contrast, a small plastic ball with a bell in it that your cat can chase might still be cheap but will be far more durable.

5) Good For Your Cat’s Health

Play is good for your cat’s health in lots of ways. If yours is an indoor cat, then play may be the only time that it breaks out into a run, leaps and pounces, and gets a little exercise. You want to maximise this benefit by getting it toys that exercise it in several ways. So, for example:

  • A toy that it can chase like a toy mouse or a ball
  • Something that it can climb like a cat tree—not strictly a toy, but definitely helps your cat exercise
  • A toy that your cat can scratch to keep its claws healthy

By having a variety of cat toys and furniture available at all times, even an indoor cat can stay in good health. Play exercises the joints and the heart, for example, the health of both being key to extending your cat’s life.

6) Toys Your Cat Can Play With On Its Own

cat with toys
Image courtesy Osiristhe, CC by ND 2.0.

What a lot of cat owners don’t appreciate is that there are also toys that cats can play with on their own. Some you can set in motion and leave, while others are ‘cat-activated’. Having toys like these means that your cat can play before you wake up, when you’re away on holiday, when you don’t have energy after work, or if you just can’t be bothered.

You may not see this as a good thing, though. Playing with your cat is one way to build your bond with it, and having it play on its own means that you don’t build that bond. You could therefore stick exclusively with toys that you and your cat play with together, or have some ‘cat-activated’ toys and some normal toys. The choice is yours!

What Is The Best Kind of Toy to Give Your Cat to Play With?

Not to disappoint you, but this, of course, depends on your perspective—and your cat’s perspective. Your cat may not enjoy playing with a toy that another cat adores. With that in mind, here’s a list of cat toys you may never have seen or owned before; there might be something new in here that your cat loves to play with.

1) Cat Exercise Wheels

Yes, you read right: cat exercise wheels!

A cat exercise wheel is exactly what you’re imagining. It’s a big, round wheel that your cat can get in and run in just like a hamster runs in a hamster wheel. The wheel is typically made of wood, and sometimes has a lining/coating that makes it more suitable for cats. So, for example, it might be lined with carpet so that your cat can get good purchase on it as it runs.

While the idea of a cat running in a wheel might seem silly at first, there’s actually good reasoning behind it. If you have an indoor cat, then it may never run as fast as it can simply because it doesn’t have the room to do so. But in an exercise wheel, it can run as fast as it would outside. This is good for your cat’s health, and is fun besides.

Your cat may not immediately realize what its new toy is for, so it may be a slight uphill battle getting it to use it. Encourage it to get into the wheel with treats, praise and affection.

2) RC Mice

remote control toy mouse for cats
Image courtesy of Wuestenigel, CC by SA 2.0.

A remote control toy mouse is like a remote control car, except instead of a tiny Porsche or Lamborghini you’re driving around, it’s a rodent. There are good reasons for your cat to enjoy playing with one: they look like a cat’s favorite prey, they move with the speed and agility of a real mouse, and they don’t have a big string attached that makes it obvious that you’re controlling it.

Reviews suggest that some cats like them and some cats don’t. The high-pitched noise the motor makes can either be off-putting or intriguing depending on your cat. There are also more breakable parts in a remote control toy than in a regular fabric one. But since they aren’t too expensive, that’s not a big problem, and there are a fair few brands available.

3) Cat Fetch Toys

Cats can play fetch too! Some breeds like the Siamese are actually known for it.

A cat fetch toy is like a kind of Nerf gun that shoots discs or balls that a cat can chase. If you ever played with a tracer gun or a disc gun when you were younger, it’s the same kind of thing. The discs are typically made of something like foam, and they don’t shoot out too hard, so that they don’t hurt if you’re hit by them. You load the disc either onto the front of the gun or into the ‘magazine’ and fire it.

Not all cats take to playing chase. As above, some cat breeds will, like Siamese; kittens of all kinds are more likely to enjoy it. That’s because kittens are naturally more playful, so will quite literally leap at any opportunity to play a new game.

Your cat may not play fetch in the traditional sense. It might not understand that it’s supposed to bring you back the disc so that you can fire it again. But even if it doesn’t, the toy isn’t a complete failure as your cat will still chase the disc as it flies.

4) Catnip and Catnip Alternatives

Catnip is maybe the best cat toy there is. If you’ve never given any to your cat before, you should! Put simply, catnip makes cats happy. It causes four common responses:

  1. Sniffing. The cat will first sniff and identify the catnip.
  2. Licking and chewing, along with head shaking.
  3. Chin and cheek rubbing. This is similar to marking behavior, i.e. where the cat rubs its facial pheromone-producing glands on something it wants to mark.
  4. Head-over rolling and body rubbing. Your cat will flop onto the catnip/catnip toy and rub itself all over it.

Even though catnip has a reputation as being like a ‘drug for cats’, it really isn’t. There has never been a case of a cat experiencing negative side effects due to catnip, it has no long-term health effects, and is not addictive. It’s also cheap and very easy to find from any pet store, or online store that sells pet products. You can either get ‘raw catnip’, which is just the ground-up plant that you can sprinkle wherever you like, or you can get a toy that’s stuffed with catnip. Toy mice stuffed with catnip are common, for example.

Catnip causes these responses in about 50% of cats. The other 50% experience limited effects, or no effects at all. If that’s your cat, then you could try catnip alternatives like silver vine, which can work for cats that don’t like catnip. These are a little harder to find, but are so worth it!