How To Find The Best Cat Toys

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Does your cat seem more interested in playing with a wad of trash or your curtains than all those toys you buy them? It may be because you’re not picking out the best cat toys out there from your cat’s perspective and instead are focusing on other factors. Don’t feel bad! It can be challenging to think like a cat.

A cat sits in a window looking pensive off to the side.
Just thinking about playing with some real freakin’ sweet toys. Photo by Angel Plascencia.

While not all cat toys are created equal, there are some toys that are way more likely to be appealing to your cat than others. Let’s go over some things to look for to help you pick out a cat toy your cat will love!

Listen To Your Cat

If you think back to your childhood, chances are there were toys you liked to play with and toys you weren’t a fan of. Heck, even now you have hobbies you enjoy and others you realized you didn’t like! Cats are very similar as they, too, have preferences for favorite types of toys they like to play with. Others, they’ll just ignore even if you play with your cat correctly.

The quickest way to figure out what types of toys your cat likes is to see what they’re already playing with. What are the qualities of the toys they seem to like? Are there non-toys that they seem to play with quite a bit such as leaves of plants or crumpled-up trash? How big are the toys they like to play with?

By finding similarities between the toys your cat is using, you’ll know more about their preferences from the beginning. Finding toys that are similar will make it much more likely that your cat will actually want to play with the new toy you get them. While there’s nothing wrong with trying things that may be different, try to maintain some of the qualities of their known preferred toys.

Think Like A Hunter

To cats, play is hunting and hunting is play. The best cat toys are ones that will take advantage of their instinct to hunt. That means you’ll want something that resembles prey a cat may hunt in the wild in both appearance and behavior.

Toys that you can move, such as wand style toys, tend to be some of the best options out there to achieve the behavior of prey. While some cats will occasionally like playing with small solo play toys, they don’t really act like prey unless you manipulate them and shouldn’t be the only thing offered to your cat.

A grey kitten lying on a white carpet with some bright pink cat toys.
So many toys. Photo by Kim Davies.

Toys cats like tend to be about the size of something they would hunt in nature. Most of the time, this means smaller toys are generally going to be better as they usually hunt smaller creatures. Unfortunately, I see too many cat toys out there that are too big for your average cat. Even if you see a toy that’s really appealing to you, if it’s too big compared to an average mouse or bird, you’re better off putting it back on the shelf.

The 4 B’s of Wand Toys

Most wand-style cat toys, which are my favorite because they allow you to really play with your cat in a natural, satisfying way, can be divided into one of four categories based on what type of cat prey they most resemble. I call these categories the four B’s because it’s easier to remember them that way. Chances are your cat will display a preference for one type of toy, though some cats will play with anything! Let’s take a look at what each of them are.

Birds

This one is pretty obvious, but bird style toys are ones with feathers. They’ll often get your cat going if you wave them around through the air. If your cat is really enjoying themselves, they may even leap off the ground! Just make sure the bird lands eventually as some cats may prefer to cat a bird that’s on the ground.

Examples of the best bird cat toys include Da Bird and Fukumaru Cat Wand Toy.

Bugs

I make it no secret that my thoughts on bugs are less than positive. One of my favorite things about cats is that they hunt bugs and may cats will like toys that look like bugs. Think toys that have a small moving part to them and that move erratically.

The best cat toy out there, the Cat Dancer, happens to be a bug toy. You can also turn the Cat Charmer into one by tying a knot in the end. If you prefer an automatic toy (and your cat isn’t scared of it), HexBug has a really fun vibrating bug toy that your cat will chase for hours. Zoloft loves his!

Basilisks

You may be reading this one and wondering “What in the heck is a basilisk?” A basilisk is a serpent from European mythology that would kill whoever looked into his eyes. Basilisk style toys are thus anything that’s snake or worm like. Think long, wiggly, and moving back and forth.

The Cat Charmer is a great example of a snake style toy, but so are these insanely popular wiggle worm toys. Your cat needs to try them!

Beasts

The final of the four B’s is the beast style toy. These are anything that is solid and oblong shaped like a mouse. These ones tend to be pretty universally popular among cats, though keep in mind that size matters when it comes to how appealing they are to a cat. The toy should be about the size of an actual mouse as toys that are too big won’t get your cat’s hunting instinct activated.

A few examples of beast toys include the Rabbit Fur Mouse Wand Toy, Da Bee, and the Play N Squeak Tethered and Feathered Wand Toy.

Use Caution With Electronic Toys and Lasers

I know, I know… Your cat loves their laser toy or it’s the only toy that seems to get them playing. Despite this, I still urge caution when using laser toys. Lasers can be frustrating for cats as they can never complete the full hunt cycle. The red dot is impossible to catch and the use of laser toys has been associated with behavior problems. If you are going to use a laser toy, it should be very brief and the cat should be transitioned to a toy they can catch quickly.

Many laser toys may be automatic ones that you can’t control and transition to a regular toy later. I encourage caution with these as your cat may appear to be engaged in play, but they are actually becoming frustrated over time.

Non-Laser Based Electronic Toys

For automatic toys that aren’t based on a laser, my recommendations are a bit more mixed. These ones generally can be caught by your cat so they can fully imitate a hunt. However, they often don’t really act like prey normally would, can be scary to some cats, or both. It may be worth testing some to see, but they really aren’t a replacement for playing with your cat yourself.

I’ve tried a few electronic toys myself and there are some that seem to be a bit more successful with cats. The butterfly flutter bug toy seems to move in a way that is similar to how a real bug might and, for less noise-sensitive cats, isn’t too scary. The SmartKat Concealed Motion Teaser is an automatic toy that has a wand move under a sheet back and forth to entice your kitty. This seems to appeal to cats that like that kind of play and isn’t as loud as others on the market.

Don’t Forget About Kickers

Besides chasing and hunting, some cats like kicking things with their back legs as part of play. There are some toys that will naturally satisfy your cat’s urge to bunny-kick something. Typically these are larger toys so your cat can hold them with their front paws and scratch away, though some cats will do this motion even with small prey.

The right size kicker depends on your cat as you don’t want them to be too big. For many adult cats, a 15″ kicker is going to be sufficient while a shorter kicker will be better for kittens. While your cat likely won’t care about the design of the kicker as long as it appeals to them, kickers come in a lot of fun designs. There are spaceships; baguettes and wine; and even Squidward shaped options you can find.

Play With The Toy Correctly

Even if you find a treasure trove of the best cat toys around, if you don’t play with them correctly your cat isn’t going to care. Remember how a bit higher up I mentioned hunting being like play? Well, you want the way you use a cat toy to imitate how a cat would hunt. That’s part of the reason leaving a bunch of toys around won’t replace active play with your cat: the toys don’t move so they’re basically dead to the cat.

Instead, pick an awesome wand toy you can move around. Move the cat side to side or away from your cat. Moving it toward them or dangling it in their face isn’t what real prey would do and it makes the hunt too easy. Move at varying speeds and consider eventually moving erratically like injured prey would. Remember that as long as your cat is watching the toy, they’re engaged. Many cats don’t pounce right away so keep it going as long as they’re keeping an eye on what’s happening.

Eventually, you do want to get your cat to catch their hunt. Get the toy into an easy catching position and then let your cat pounce!

Want a trick to make play even more effective and satisfying? Give them a small meal or a few treats after a play session. This makes play even more like what cats would experience in nature as they can consume their prey.

The Best Cat Toys Are A Variety Of Toys

While cats may show a preference for one style of play or kind of toy, most cats are going to like it if you give them some variety. You may have seen this before if your cat loves a particular toy for a while then suddenly will barely glance at it. It’s a good idea to switch out toys even if your cat is playing with a particular toy a lot on a regular basis. This also keeps to toy like new so you don’t have to constantly buy new toys.

Of course, if you want to buy your cat new toys I don’t think they’d be upset.

How frequently should you swap out toys? For most cats, I suggest a weekly switching of toys. Put the one toy away so your cat can’t find it at all and grab a new one. Rotate through a couple of toys and then bust out the first toy again. It will be like the firs time your cat ever played with it again!

If you’re looking to keep things simple, you can get a wand toy with a clasp to allow you to swap out the toy portion, but keep the wand. Your cat won’t care as much about the actual wand so just keep switching the toys each week. You can even get a set of replacement toys if you want to add more variety to your cat’s life.

When it comes to which cat toys are the best cat toys for your cat, the unfortunate reality is you may have to try a few different kinds to find out. Rather than looking at it as an expensive chore, think of it as a way to get to know your cat better. As you figure out their preferences, you’ll be able to get better and better toys that you’ll both have fun playing with.

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!