Do You and Your Cat See Eye to Eye About Toys?

Advice from Crystal the Cat to humans on how to understand what her fellow felines want in their toys.

By Crystal the Cat, Advice Columnist, KhD (Kitty has Diploma) in Human Behavior
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With Help From Laura Palka, Founder of Tiger Cat Creations
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I get lots of my fellow felines out there writing to me about their need to help their humans understand what exactly it is that floats our boat in terms of toys.

Of course, we all have our preferences as to what gives us happy cat bumps (no, kitties do not get goose bumps – how ridiculous!). Chester might like foil balls; Peanut may have a penchant for all things stringy; Mr. Hairball just loves squeaky things…you get my drift. But generally speaking we tend to respond to pretty much the same things.

Let me set the scene. You think you have found the perfect toy that you are just certain your beloved cat will adore. You imagine her eyes lighting up as you place it in front of her, tail twitching with excitement just before she pounces on it in a frenzy of kitty ecstasy. She and her toy become one.

Eehh!! Here comes the reality check. Your cat watches you intently as you unwrap the new offering, place it before her and…yes, she gives it a quick sniff, looks at you as if to say, “That all ya got?,” and walks away, tail in the air signaling her forgiveness towards your embarrassing and utter lack of understanding.

So, what did you do wrong? Are you really that clueless about Creampuff (names have been changed to protect the finicky) and what makes her dream toy? Lest you be too harsh on yourself, my dear human, history is littered – pun intended – with thousands of tragic stories similar to Creampuff’s. What is that tragedy? I’m glad you asked.

In a word…marketing. Now, I am sure that many cat toys are designed by people who actually have cats, or at least have seen them on TV. And many of these also care greatly about whether or not your precious Toonsies actually enjoys the toys they market and sell. But the skeptic in me feels deep in my skeptical kitty cat heart that there are many “suits” who are clueless and just want to make money. How dare they!

Here’s how these suits think. Let’s name them collectively as “Bob.” Bob wonders, “What do cats like? Why, they love those mousies! And catnip…yes, catnip! And stuff stuck to sticks. These cat owners are suckers for anything that says cat toy on it!” Okay, I paraphrase, but it could happen like this somewhere in some office far, far away. The point is that cat toys are usually made to appeal to people, not us cats! The reason for this is because normally we kitties don’t have large bank accounts, checkbooks, or trust funds from which to get the money to purchase their own toys. And even if we did, we don’t have the opposable thumbs needed to shop and pay for our items. Therefore, we must rely on our humans to know what gets us all a-twitter.

Should you put a moratorium on purchasing any cat toys in the future? Perish the thought. Remember, we felines need to play!! It is part of their enrichment, and without this enrichment we will find ways to amuse ourselves such as biting your ankles as you walk past us and having staring contests with the goldfish. Simply keep in mind the following when selecting (or even making) toys for your cat.

Cats love toys with any one or more of the following:

  • Move. Okay, so the “stuff stuck to sticks” idea has merit. Just keep in mind that whatever is stuck to the stick needs to appeal to your cat. The interactive toy, Da Bird, is the #1 selling cat toy for a reason. With colorful feathers attached to a pull-apart rod, this toy simulates a flying bird better than a flying bird does. And once your feline catches it and sinks her teeth into those feathers, there is a crunchy sensation that satisfies any cat. Trust me, I know – to date I have a tally of 16 of these that I have single-handedly decimated and destroyed. Can you say, ‘Super predator?’ Me-OW!!
  • Scurries. This is similar to toys that move, but these are things that scurry along the floor. As you may know, cats love a good rolled-up ball of foil, a plastic bottle cap or a ping pong ball. If you can handle the frustration of fetching these items from underneath the refrigerator, these free toys are for you. I personally love to make these roll under mommy’s bed so that I can be entertained by my human fighting the dust bunnies to retrieve them.
  • Crinkle. Cats are very attracted to things that crinkle. This is because the sound reminds us of the noises prey makes when it is foraging. Mylar toys are good for crinkle-lovers, as well as crinkle bags which can be purchased at many stores.
  • Stringy Stuff. Although it is dangerous for cats to play with string since we may swallow it, there are other alternatives. Thicker fabric ribbon, for example, will excite most any cat. Actually, anything that is long and stringy is a sure bet (again, as long as it is safe). Sure, we have nine lives, but why take chances?
  • Smell. Fifty percent of cats are affected by catnip, which is why toys with catnip are so popular. Other than catnip, many cat owners forget the fact that smell is a cat’s strongest sense and is the means by which we “see” the world. To provide enrichment, don’t overlook bringing new smells to your cat for their sniffing pleasure particularly if yours is an indoor cat like me. My human sometimes likes to let me smell the mail when she brings it indoors (think of how many hands have touched the mail and the different places it has been). Try to make it a habit of letting your cat smell your hand when you approach her, particularly if you have been outside. Your hands will tell a story!
  • Bunny-Kickability. Ah, the bunny kick of a kitty cat. The Death Kick, as I like to call it. Place anything mouse-sized or larger in the wheel-house of your kitty’s tummy, and watch those back legs go to town. And don’t worry that the “mousie” doesn’t have fur, cute button eyes, or two pink felt ears. Pickles doesn’t care – her instinct tells her to shred first, ask questions later. And if you can give her something larger to mince, all the better.

In your cat’s brain, anything which resembles prey and smells intriguing is fair game. If you don’t want to waste your money and Fuzzy-Wuzzy’s precious time, remember the above points when choosing her toys. Think like a cat – if it looks like prey, smells like prey and acts like prey, it’s a duck…oops, I mean it’s prey and will be a winner!

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