How to choose a toy for your cat

Cats, like young children, often prefer the box and packaging to the toy inside, so you don’t have to spend a fortune to keep your cat amused. What most cats want is interaction with their owner and a toy that moves.

In a survey carried out some years ago by this charity, 40% of the respondents said that their cat retrieved. While this behaviour might be expected from dogs, it seems surprising for cats. Many of the retrieving cats were either young or had initiated this behaviour when young. Some were pedigrees - Burmese or Siamese - which often seek interaction with their owners. Some of the cats lived solely indoors and had lots of energy and needed stimulation. 

Cats which retrieve are really training the owner to join in and to throw the toy; the cat then brings it back to start again. Fetching is simply an extension of a natural feline behaviour – cats will carry prey back to a place of safety to eat it or to give to their kittens. Cats which enjoy retrieving often do so with great enthusiasm. Although this may wane a little as they age, a cat which lives indoors (for whatever reason) needs exercise and stimulation and a game of fetch (particularly up and down stairs) provides this and nurtures a bond between cat and owner. 

Very simple toys can provide hours of entertainment – rolled up balls of paper, empty cotton reels, ping-pong balls, cardboard boxes, tents made of newspaper - are all ideal and cost little.

‘Fishing rod’ toys which feature a feather or small item on the end of a string or wire are a good choice. The owner jerks the string to create rapid movement just out of paw reach or along the floor. The particular advantage of such toys is that it keeps the owner’s hands away from those sharp claws and the cat does not learn to grab hand or feet. Cats need to learn to play gently – what may seem cute and funny in a kitten becomes far less so, particularly to children, as the cat gets older and stronger.

Cats should be firmly discouraged from grabbing, scratching and biting hands.

To keep your cat’s interest, rotate the toys you give him.

Some toys are designed to dispense kibble (dry cat food) and can provide amusement and exercise for inquisitive cats. Any food consumed in this way should be considered part of the daily food allowance to avoid weight gain. 

There are a range of toys on the market; each requires varying degrees of paw or nose dexterity to free the kibble. Some cats will enjoy the challenge of working out how to access the food hidden in a ball or maze; others will become bored or frustrated. Such toys can help to meet an active cat’s instinctive desire to hunt and catch. In their natural habitat, cats love to observe, chase and pounce. Rolling balls and flashing lights can attract and hold a pet’s attention and provide plenty of fun .

An example of a food-dispensing toy is the Trixie Cat Activity Fun Board, which received one of the International Cat Care 2014 Cat Friendly Awards.

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