Evaluate Cat Toys Like a Pro
By Elizabeth Parker
The next time you’re on the lookout for a cool, new toy for your rambunctious kitty, imagine trying to find one in a room the size of ten football fields with 2,357 booths. The annual Global Pet Expo, featuring the latest and greatest products for horses, dogs, reptiles, fish and cats, was held in San Diego this past year and is headed to Orlando in 2009. Lucky for you, the selection of cat toys at your local pet store will be a lot smaller, since about 4,000 buyers from pet stores around the country comb the Expo to choose the very best to sell in their stores.
When it comes to rating a cat toy, you might wonder how the Expo pros define “best.” Most explain that cat toys are not all about fun and games, even though your playful pet remains blissfully unaware of the deep thought that goes on behind their construction. The best cat toys serve an important purpose by keeping your feline mentally alert and physically active. One of the Expo’s Best in Show winners, the Fling-ama-String, does just that. It features a string that automatically pops out of a thin rectangular plastic holder and then retracts within a few seconds, only to pop out again. The surprise action tantalizes felines.
Here, our experts provide some specifics to keep in mind when shopping for kitty’s plaything:
- Appeal to the hunting instinct “Cats like to track things, so they love any toy that brings out their hunting instinct,” says Michele Levan, creator of the award-winning Fling-ama-String toy.
- Hold your cat’s interest “It’s good for indoor cats especially to have something besides food to interest them,” says Tina Cheng, DVM, of the Animal Clinic of Encino in Encino, Calif. “Cats are attracted to motion -- they will always love anything that bounces around and simulates the movement of a live insect or mouse,” she says. Undercover Cat, by Panic Mouse Inc., is a toy with a small piece of plastic that moves beneath a round nylon sheath in a perfect imitation of a scurrying mouse. Because the movements are erratic, cats are entertained for hours as they plan and execute their attacks. This toy was also a Best in Show winner at the recent Global Pet Expo.
- Safety first “A toy shouldn’t have any little eyes or a nose that a cat could pull off and choke on,” says Maria Sabatine, owner of Pets Naturally, a pet store in Sherman Oaks, Calif. She warns against leaving any cat alone with a toy that has feathers, for the same reason. Look for toys that are sturdily made, with no detachable parts. Even a simple string can be dangerous. “Nothing is worse than a loose string,” says Levan. “When cats chew a string, it can get caught in their intestines.
- Don’t make it too frustrating For research and development, Levan, who is also the owner of Moody Pets Inc. in Philadelphia, relies on three official testers: Gritty Kitty, age 16; Meeack Meeack, age 3; and Auggie, age 6 -- her very own cats. The Philadelphia-based inventor discovered that if her Fling-ama-String moved too fast, her cats became so frustrated by not being able to ultimately catch it that they got up and walked away. “That’s why this toy has two speeds, and most cats like it on the slow,” says Levan.
- Intrigue fat and lazy cats “Cat obesity is on the rise,” says Dr. Cheng, who warns that excess weight can lead to serious health consequences, such as diabetes. A toy that intrigues a cat enough to stalk it, pounce on it or toss it in the air is a worthwhile investment, especially if your kitty is overweight. Cat Dancer, described as a “cat action toy,” features a small piece of cardboard the size of a large insect. It dangles from a wire and so fascinates cats that they’ll stand on their hind feet to swipe at it. Made by Cat Dancer Products Inc., this toy requires you, the owner, to hold the wire and lure your cat into play by wiggling it.
- Make it fun for people A cat toy should give you hours of fun watching your cat play with it. If you don’t want to participate in your cat’s playtime, a small mouse-shaped toy stuffed with catnip might be right for you both. “Catnip has a harmless chemical in it that can produce a mild, short-lasting euphoria in cats,” says Dr. Cheng. It makes them want to sniff it and roll around in it, in highly entertaining displays of pleasure.
The best cat toy, of course, is the one your cat loves and will play with for hours on end. The choice could come down to your feline’s unique personality and tastes. You may need to bring home more than one toy, so that your cat can choose his or her own Best in Show winner.
Elizabeth Parker has written for The Boston Globe, Shape, Glamour, Viv and many other publications. She is co-author of Heeling Your Inner Dog: A Self-Whelp Book (Times Books) and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, cat and two rabbits.