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By Kathy Blumenstock
When it comes to games for cats, our felines often like watching us chase the newest cat toy ball we’ve brought home over actually playing with it themselves.
But playtime is essential for physical and mental exercise for cats, and a cat interactive toy can be a great option for this. “Interactive toys can bridge the gap between ordinary play and excited play,” says Yody Blass of Companion Animal Behavior, who suggests asking yourself these questions when considering cat toys or cat puzzle toys:
Does it move like prey?
Is there a place for the cat and/or toy to hide?
Does it make a swishing or crackling sound?
Can you hide cat treats inside it?
Cat Play Styles Through the Ages
Rita Reimers, also known as Rita the Cat Analyst, says that your cat’s life stage is key in determining the right cat toys and play style. “Kittens love to roll around on the floor, jump up high and chase things. Your older cat would prefer more mentally challenging toys, such as puzzles that allow him to sit in one place and play.”
While cats of all ages enjoy playing, “They can get bored easily, so they prefer play that stimulates their curiosity and satisfies their urge to hunt,” says Blass. “Interactive toys can satisfy both needs, and interactive play offers a bonus by getting the cat parent involved, increasing the cat-human bond to satisfy the cat’s need for attention and affection,” she says.
Marci Koski of Feline Behavior Solutions adds that while younger cats are generally more active than older ones, “Mature adults and seniors still need play that includes physical and mental stimulation. It may take a new or novel toy to interest them,” she says, and even if play sessions are shorter, “they’re still critical to keeping older cats healthy in body and mind.”
Get the Ball Toy Rolling
If an ordinary ball doesn’t always inspire your cat to play, try a cat treat toy that offers a reward. The KONG Active treat ball cat toy “is a great toy to let your cat play with alone,” says Blass. With unpredictable movement, the KONG Active treat ball challenges cats to swat it to release cat food rewards. “I recommend getting a couple of these and putting some of your cat’s kibble inside, so he can learn to work for food and have fun too,” Blass says.
Blass also likes the Temptations Snacky Mouse cat treat toy, especially when introducing two cats, “because the toy and treats keep them focused on playing instead of staring or chasing each other.” Shaped like a tubby mouse, Temptations Snacky Mouse is a wobble toy that can be filled with your cat’s favorite food or treats, and you can decide how many bits of food are released at a time.
Koski approves of food puzzle toys because “cats in the wild spend at least 30 percent of their time hunting for their next meal.” She continues, “We take away a lot of physical and mental stimulation by simply giving them a bowl of food instead of giving them a way to work for their food. Toys that act as puzzles for cats to solve in order to get treats or food keep their minds active, and helps to prevent gorging—which is commonly referred to as ‘scarf and barf.’”
A cat toy with a trackball also offers a safe and fun alternative, says Koski. She says it might be good “for a younger cat who is more interested in the rolling motion.” The Bergan Star Chaser Turbo scratcher cat toy includes a motion-activated LED ball and catnip along with the corrugated cardboard scratch pad.
Made of durable plastic, this toy’s “light-up ball gets the cat's visual senses involved, which can help encourage cats to play with this for a longer period of time,” says Blass. She adds that cat scratchers allow them to engage claws and mark with scent glands during play. Reimers’ own cats have a trackball toy, and she suggests using a catnip spray “to keep them interested longer.”
The Chase is on With Wand and Mice Toys
As cats grow out of kittenhood, “they are more interested in toys that resemble a live prey item, make noises (like prey) or move in an unpredictable way,” says Koski. The Pet Zone Ball of Furry Fury cat toy offers mental and physical stimulation with a mouse toy inside a ball. With “RealMouse” technology, this toy’s noisemaking squeak is identical to that of a live field mouse, which will likely engage your cat’s hunting instincts.
Blass suggests this toy for younger adult cats, as “most cats might get frustrated since they can never get to the prey.”
“My absolute favorite type of chase toy is an interactive wand toy,” says Koski. “These are best for giving your cat a good workout, and are really the only type of toys that can take a cat through all steps in the prey sequence—staring, stalking and chasing, pouncing and grabbing, and performing a kill bite.”
The Pet Fit For Life 2 feather wand cat toy includes two feathery attachments that resemble birds in flight, as well as a detachable bell. “This type of play absolutely scratches that ‘predatory itch’ that cats require to be happy, healthy and stress-free,” Koski says.
Hide-and-Seek With Tunnel Toys and Play Mats
Because cats “love dark, secure places to hide, a tunnel toy is perfect for that,” says Reimers. The SmartyKat Crackle Chute collapsible tunnel cat toy—made of lightweight plastic that rustles—offers cats a hiding place with a large side opening for quick getaways. “Cats love the sound of crinkle bags and tunnels,” Blass says. “When we engage their sense of hearing during play, cats are stimulated to play longer instead of getting distracted by other noises.” Koski says cat tunnel toys offer a place where cats can hide and feel safe.
The Snuggly Cat Ripple Rug activity play mat offers a scratching spot, cozy bed, playing mat and hiding places. Blass says, it has a “creative design that simulates playing underneath a rug, which cats love to do, and can get their hunting instinct involved as they play hide-and-seek.” Koski has a ripple rug for her cats, and one of the kitties “likes to hide between the layers of rug and ‘catch’ the toys that [she pokes] in the various holes.” Reimers “fell in love with this mat” for its versatility—“scratching pad, cubby holes, solo or group play, made in the US—plus it traps loose fur? What’s not to love?”
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