Your adorable cat may not seem like it, but they are a well adapted, carnivorous predator with a great drive to hunt. However, they simply don’t need to pursue their food anymore, as we provide them with it every day. So how does your cat satisfy this urge to hunt? This is where cat toys can help. They simulate the hunting experience in a safe and convenient way to help keep your cat happy, healthy and fulfilled. Without the appropriate toys, your cat will try to turn belongings such as shoes and furniture into toys, scratching and chewing them for a release, resulting in a frustrated and angry owner.
The benefits of having your cat play with toys:
- Honing of hunting skills
- Release of aggression
- Builds confidence
- Improves circulation
- Builds muscle tone
- Prevent or reduce behavioural problems
- Relieves stress and boredom
- Mental stimulation
- Bonding with your cat
Which toys are best for my cat?
Cats are keen scratchers, doing so to mark their territory and sharpen their claws. As this is natural behavior, it is extremely difficult to stop it all together. This is where cat scratching posts can help, providing a suitable place to re-direct and carry out this behavior. Cat scratchers can range from low-cost cardboard ones, to elaborate stations which also allow for a place for your cat to relax and hide.
Cats are naturally curious and love squeezing themselves into small spaces, these tunnels serve as a space for your cat to play and interact. Most of these tunnels also crinkle and produce sounds that your cat loves, also providing hanging toys which your cat will instinctively swipe at.
Teaser wands consist of a stick with a small toy or feathers attached at the end. This toy allows you to wave, flutter and twitch around so that the toy at the end of the stick moves randomly, exciting the cat as this mimics it’s prey such as birds and insects. This is great in that it allows for interaction with your cat, you choose where to and how fast to move the dangling toy in response to the needs of your cat.
Much like the teaser wands, play balls mimic cat prey, in this case scampering animals such as mice. This similar movement will entice your cat to chase and seek it out. Treats such as catnip can also be inserted into the cat balls to entice further attention. Most come with some sort of bell in the middle in order to stimulate the cat via sound.
Cats shouldn’t have food always available to them as this can cause obesity and other problems. Food-dispensing toys aim to make your cat work for their treats. The Kong Wobbler (a Kong cat toy) shown to the right is a perfect example of this kind of toy, dispensing treats when the cat swipes at it. It is possible to adjust the opening of many of these toys in order to control how many treats are dispensed, it’s usually a good idea to increase the difficulty as your cat becomes more used to it.
Most cats find catnip stimulating, and adding the herb to a toy is a good way to increase interest in it. You can either buy ready-made soft toys with catnip stuffed inside such as the ones in the Kong cat toys Kickeroo range seen to the left, or add it yourself to toys such as play balls.
These are similar to the ball toy, but instead has a mind of its own. By winding up the toy and letting it go, the toy becomes exciting and live, with your cat undoubtedly wanting to chase it.
- Think of each time you use cat toys as a hunting exercise, with each toy acting as prey and your cat its predator.
- Playing with cats can either be a solitary activity (alone with toys and objects) or social (with an owner or other cat).
- Start off with small movements towards the cat to entice interest, and once noticed, move it away from them (as natural prey would want to move away from its predator). Continue this chasing for a short while and then let your cat win and ‘kill’ the toy, this may include swiping at it with its front claws and biting on it. This helps the cat feel as if it has achieved something and keeps their interest.
- Go at your cat’s own pace, some cats will be more interested than others, it’s important to try out lots of different toys to find out what your cat enjoys most. It’s also important to find out what time of day best suits your cat to play, whether it be in the morning, late evening or before eating.
- When playing with your cat, don’t be too rough and get your cat overly excited. This can result in some painful scratches and bites. If this problem does occur, take a break for a while, and once the cat is sufficiently calm, try again.
- It is important to put away and hide the cat toys once you are finished playing with your cat, in order to keep interest in them and stop the cat from ingesting anything while you’re not watching.
- Vary the toys often, using the same toy over and over will bore your cat, so make sure to alternate toys every so often and occasionally purchase new ones.