Interactive Cat Toys

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I, for one, love cat toys. Living a life of luxury appeals to many domesticated cats, including sleeping on a cozy couch or being fed on demand by their pet parent. But despite the overwhelming evidence, cats aren't wired to laze around the house all day. Introducing your furry friend to interactive cat toys, including cat toys that dispense food, is an optimal way to keep them mentally sharp and physically agile.

The Importance of Interactive Cat Toys

Multifaceted toys are popular because they present a challenge and appeal to hunting instincts. They reduce unwanted behavior toward people (biting your hands and feet) and rough-housing with other household pets, says the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Enrichment play reduces boredom — bored cats quickly become mischievous cats — and stress, which is a win-win situation for all of you.

brown cat lying on floor playing with a cat toy that dispenses foodSedentary cats are prone to health issues, including arthritis, diabetes and obesity. So what better way to get them off the couch than with toys that keep your cat moving and grooving?

Cat Food Puzzles and Dispensers

Cat toys that dispense food are some of the more popular interactive toys because they're intriguing and provide treats! Cat food puzzles range from simple to complex, from DIY to commercially available, including a plastic container with holes filled with a portion of kibble that your cat can bat around until they "catch" the food that falls out. A cardboard box with holes works well, too. Some food-dispensing devices are stationary mazes, much like a board game for cats, or spiral towers (sometimes called cat food trees) where the food rolls down a chute.

The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery notes that the benefits of food puzzles "include weight loss, decreased aggression toward humans and other cats, reduced anxiety and fear, cessation of attention-seeking behaviors and resolution of litter box avoidance." Creating a harmonious, stress-free environment contributes to the well-being of you and your kitty.

Cat Teaser String Wands

Cats love interactive "teaser" wands, essentially a fishing-pole-style stick with feathers or a small stuffed toy tied to the end. Your feline friend is a natural-born predator, drawn to toys that skitter, rustle and fly, so they love this challenge of stalking, jumping and pouncing. This activity enhances your cat's athletic agility and stimulates their hunting instincts. Wand toys also build your cat's trust in you because you're helping them forage for "food."

Be sure not to take the "teaser" part literally, however. Teasing is stressful for a cat, so allow your cat to catch their prey to satisfy their instinctive predatory behavior.

Mechanical Robotic Animals

It's not science fiction: Robotic mice, fish and birds are taking over the world — the cat toy world, that is. With life-like action and unpredictable movements, these critters resemble the real deal and boost your cat's confidence in their hunting abilities. "Studies have found that adult cats show more intense and prolonged play with toys that resemble actual prey items," says International Cat Care. Mechanical "prey" provides indoor cats with the hunting enrichment they need while keeping them safe from outdoor predators (and wildlife safe from cats).

cream-colored kitten playing with a spiral ball tower interactive cat toyBalls and Ball Towers

Although balls don't replicate the appearance of a cat's natural prey, their movement expertly mimics that of a small animal. A free-rolling battery-powered or rechargeable "smart" ball or a disc-shaped ball tower with tiered tracks are examples of ball toys that provide mental and physical stimulation. Because cats bite and nip while playing, you can protect yourself by tossing a ball across the room to redirect your cat's instinctive behavior toward the toy instead of your ankles.

Many cat toys only should be used during supervised play, advises Best Friends Animal Society, because cats can ingest the strings, feathers, cords and other potentially dangerous materials. If your cat ingests a foreign material, immediately contact your veterinarian or an emergency vet. When not in use, store the toys in a cat-proof spot.

Remember, you can be a part of your cat's playtime! Interactive cat toys are a terrific addition to the many fun things to do with your cat at home. Engaging in enrichment playtime with your kitty deepens your bond and your love for each other.

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien

Christine Brovelli-O'Brien holds a Ph.D. in English and is an accomplished storyteller and lifelong pet lover. A professional member of the Cat Writers' Association, her work has received Muse Medallions and Certificates of Excellence. When she’s not exploring pet health and behavior, she’s busy mothering one child and four pets.

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