All sleep and no play makes Tiger a dull kitty.
True cat lovers know which cat toys make their cats jump (and scamper) for joy, and which toys just clutter up the floor, waiting for Dad’s unsuspecting bare foot in the middle of the night. As a cat owner for seven years, I can say with confident finality which toys get the thumbs up, and which get the big thumbs down.
Fake mouse toys get a huge thumbs down. You surely have seen them – those cheap little toys that you can buy 3 for $1 at the pet store. They are furry, colorful, and have tails to make them appear to be mice. The problem is, they don’t move like real mice do! With a few exceptions, cats are enthralled by things that move, or appear to move. Cats see these furry mouse “toys” on the floor and act as if they don’t even exist, they might as well be a part of the carpet. The only way to make these toys mildly interesting is to attach them to a string or stick and dangle them over your cat’s head. That will give your cat a good five minutes of amusement.
Balls of yarn get a thumbs up. Maybe it’s the fact that they roll, maybe it’s the string that attaches to their claws, but whatever it is, cats love ’em. Cats, especially kittens, go absolutely crazy off of a ball of yarn on a hardwood floor. They will likely end up getting tangled in the yarn and possibly even chew some off, so keep an eye on them.
Want a free toy that gets a huge thumbs up, and will tie up your cat long enough for you to watch an episode of Frasier in peace? Buy a gallon of water and pull the plastic “cord” from around the top to open it. Throw the circular cord on the ground in front of a playful kitty and watch him go wild. He will grab the cord, let it go and then attack it. Once he feels that it is “dead,” he’ll pick it up with his mouth and carry it somewhere to repeat the process again and again, until the circular piece of plastic gets lost under the refrigerator that is.
Electronic toy mouses are a relatively new cat toy product on the market, and get a big thumbs down. They come either in a plastic casing, or with a fake fur coat on the outside to make it actually appear to be a mouse. Some of them are activated when the cat touches it. When I purchased one of these toys I was sure that it would be a toy that my cats would love, but I was wrong. I put in the batteries, set it on the ground, and waited for a reaction from my cats when it rolled across the floor. My cats recoiled and ran for cover, which isn’t very reassuring in the event that there was an actual mouse in the house. My older cat is fearless, so there had to be something else up. I believe that cats are too smart to believe that these electronic toys are actually mice. They know that it is some type of foreign man-made object. The sounds the toy makes give it away. Eventually, my cats got used to the toy and just ignored it. Definitely not a top choice if you want to give you cat a toy they will cherish.
Laser pens get a thumbs down. Not because of their ineffectiveness as an interesting toy for your cat, but for the potential negative effect this “toy” has on your cat. The laser dot pen emits a red dot wherever you point it, which cats happily chase to no end, to the point where they start to look like they are going insane. That’s the problem though; they are participating in a chase that will never be fruitful. Cats love the chase because it will eventually result in the capture of its prey. With a red laser dot, you are tricking the cat into believing they have a chance of getting the dot in their hands, but of course they can’t. Continued use of a toy that results in no capture for the cat may lower his or her self-esteem; you don’t want that. Laser dots have also been shown to create overactivity in the brains of cats, potentially harming them. Most animal lovers agree that laser dots are meant to amuse the human more than the animal. Cruel little kids who use magnifying glasses to kill ants will most likely love messing with the heads of their cats with a laser pen. It comes highly unrecommended by this cat lover.
After many years as a pet owner, I believe that in a cat’s mind, any game involving interaction with their human companions is preferred over a store bought cat toy. Dangling a string over their heads or hanging a stick with something attached to it in the cat’s face is sure to get them to swatting. Another toy that cats love is electrical cords, such as the cord to an iron. But this only becomes interesting to a cat when their owner is participating in the game. If you run through the house with the iron, cord dragging behind you, you will quickly find that every cat in the house is following you. Again, they love the chase, and the end of the iron cord is a very tangible moving prey. The movement of the cord may also remind them of a snake or mouse. Other cats will participate in the game because they just like to chase after their owner.
After many trials I’ve found that the most effective cat toys are those that don’t cost much, or anything at all. Cat owners who love their pets can save a lot of money and time shopping by realizing that the best tool for effective playtime is human interaction.