9539 Liberty Road, Frederick, MD 21701
Phone: 301-898-4009 ~ Fax: 240-668-3664
Gentle, complete veterinary care for the felines in your family
Link map for Frederick Cat Vet for directions, hours, bio of the veterinarian and staff, veterinary services offered and a tour of the veterinary practice

What is a good cat toy?

Browsing through the super mega pet store in your neighborhood can reveal an overwhelming selection of cat toys. So many brightly colored doodads, bells and whistles (literally!) and cartoon-cat guarantees that your little ones will be forever happy if you buy this thing. And, maybe they will get some enjoyment out of it. For a couple days at least, before it is lost under the couch and something new is needed.

The number one reason cats like a toy is the novelty aspect of it. Cats are in many ways like a 3-year-old child. Isn't your cat constantly screaming, "I want that!" Then seeing something new? Whatever it is you're opening -a parcel, tonight's frozen dinner or the newspaper, who is there trying to help you open it? They want in on what has you occupied at the moment because it is new and different and must be exciting.

For a great toy, add to that two things -it must be safe, and it must be something they can interact with. As for safety, let's compare our cats to toddlers again. Anything that is a potential choking hazard for small children is a no-no for cats. Choking with cats is rare but the same small objects, like marbles or buttons, commonly cause an obstruction somewhere in a cat's stomach or intestinal tract and surgical removal is often required in these cases. Bits of string, dental floss, wire bread ties and other similar items can be swallowed and cause quite a bit of damage.

Plastic items that come apart when chewed on and can be swallowed, like plastic bags should never be left around. Laser pointers are not ideal toys. There have been documented reports of pets, most commonly dogs, developing an obsessive-compulsive reaction to all moving lights, e.g. passing car headlights on a dark interior wall, after learning to play with a laser spot. Most laser pointer use won't cause retinal damage but there is a small risk, and it is more rewarding for your cat to be able to catch something at least part of the time. There are so many safe toys that cats can have, that if you're unsure about a particular item, it is best to keep it out of reach.

Here then, is a list, in no particular order and certainly not all-inclusive, of toys that most cats love:

-Brown paper bags: Hide in it, ambush other cats, tear holes in the sides of it! Cats love both the texture and smell of paper products. Why ask why?

-Tops from plastic bottles: They roll across the floor in odd directions, and can be batted all over. There may be quite a few under your couch.

-Socks: Immortalized in the wonderful strip, Mutts ©, Mooch dozes off in a dreamy stupor after playing and playing with a "little pink sock." Even better fresh out of the dryer, who can resist dragging away this treasure? And, if he's really enjoying himself, he will let out low, primeval meows with the sock clenched between the teeth!

-Cardboard box: It is a paper product and a fort! Corrugated cardboard is the substrate of choice for some cats to shred into oblivion and tearing away at an inside corner of the box is great fun.

-The Cat Dancer: This is a simple store-bought toy consisting of a sturdy flexible wire and rigid pieces of cardboard knotted on the end. It is more popular than other wand-type toys because it moves erratically like a moth as you hold the base of it.

- A rolled up piece of paper: Pounce on it, bat it, chase it down. Repeat. That wonderful crinkly sound will always roust her from a nap on the next level.

-Bugs: Yes, to many people it is quite disgusting, "I don't want my cat eating bugs!" The simple fact is that most cats enjoy playing with and devouring insects on occasion. Most adult cats know enough to avoid the ones that sting and their instinct tells them this is a high-protein snack. You don't need to encourage this behavior but there is no cause for concern if she just swallowed that cricket-it's actually much better for her than those artificially colored and flavored fish-shaped treats in the foil pouch.

-Homemade gifts from the heart are always appreciated! Click here for a list of 101 ideas for your cat's next DIY toy.

What about catnip-filled mice? Catnip seems to have psychopharmacologic properties, yes a "high", but no harmful health effects have been demonstrated. It is best avoided for those that become aggressive after interacting with it but it can be very helpful for that overweight cat who needs encouragement to play. And as for mice, who doesn't have a big bin of toys, half of them mice and half them plastic balls with bells inside? They are fine toys, but quite frankly, your cats are tired of them. Keep them out of sight for a while, rotate in and out just a few ones, and they'll be "new" all over again. Like a three-year-old child's toy chest, the same old toys have lost their fun. But, a long-lost rediscovered one can fill an afternoon!

-Mike Karg, DVM