Cats are perverse creatures. Most cat lovers have had the experience of taking great care selecting just the right cat toy, and buying something that's supposed to make their felines ecstatic - only for their cat to turn its nose up at it, and go and play with a bit of crinkly paper instead. In fact, the definition of a cat toy could be 'something you don't want the cat to play with.'
That makes this review a particularly difficult one for us to write. We've given even greater weight to user reviews than usual, because the test of a good cat toy is, quite simply, whether a cat or kitten will play with it. All the toys we selected had a large number of happy feline users, whether adult cats or kittens. But equally, most show a minority of cats who are decidedly unimpressed - usually below ten percent, but that's not going to be very helpful if your cat is one of the minority.
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We also made safety an important criterion. Some toys were ruled out because they have pieces of metal inside that a cat could rip out and get hurt by, or because they pose choke hazards. Other toys are safe to use with your cat as long as she's under supervision, such as feather teasers - lock them away when you're not there, as a cat can easily get tangled up in the string.
With that in mind, here are five great cat toys that we’re sure your feline friends will love:
B Bascolor's Catnip fish look good enough to eat. They're made of robust cotton, and full of catnip - non-toxic and with no chemicals used in the manufacture of the toy. They're realistic fish - a koi carp, gras carp, and salmon - in bright, vibrant colours, each a slightly different shape.
These fish are big enough for a cat to fight, wrestle, or even use as a pillow, and way too big to present a choke hazard at 5-6 inches long. Some cats will even carry these interactive toy fish around the house. The stitching is strong and the fabric will withstand a cat trying to rip them apart with their back claws.
Catnip does lose its aroma after a while. Because the stitching on these fish is tough, refilling them isn't really an option - but you can just buy a catnip spray and give the fish a quick blast to restore the effects. Sometimes, just putting the toy in sunlight will also refresh the odour.
At around $10 for three big fish, this is a great package. Even better, some cats go mad for them before their poor humans even manage to open the packaging!
Of course, cats being cats, just a few purchasers reported their felines displayed absolutely no interest at all.
The Trixie 5-in-1 activity center looks more like a piece of modern art than a cat toy, with its rippling forms and knobbly textures. Made in solid white plastic, it's robust, and has rubber feet to stop it sliding about on a tile or wooden floor. It's a toy that exercises cats mentally as well as giving them physical stimulation - you load the toy with kibble, which they have to then find and retrieve.
Some kibble can be hidden in the 'mouse hole', or between the rippling ridges, and they'll have to push it out with their paws; the transparent plastic jars are too deep for them to stick their noses in, so they'll have to find a way to scoop out the food.
Some cat owners have also found that the activity centre is a great way to deal with fat cats - make them work for their food! Because they have to grab the kibble one piece at a time, they can't guzzle it down.
There are a couple of downsides. Cats with really big paws might find it frustrating. And one or two very intelligent felines have worked out that if they take a running jump, they can turn it over, and all the food falls out. But at around $25, this cat toy should provide plenty of fun for most cats.
The Easyology Amazing Cat Roller Toy takes a pretty basic idea - balls that run in tracks - and builds on it with a few extra twists. There are three levels of track, in a cone, providing triple fun - and the balls have little peas in so that they rattle as they roll, further stimulating the cat's interest.
It's a safe toy, with non-skid pads in the bottom, made in ABS plastic that can withstand tough treatment. The levels snap together, and are pretty difficult for a cat to get apart, and the balls are tough, too. While the game is probably best for kittens, older cats also enjoy it, and apparently it's one of those rare cat toys where the novelty doesn't wear off after a few days.
Of course, about 5% of cats can't see what the fuss is about. But at $15 or so, you're not taking a huge financial risk if you buy this for your lucky feline.
Instead of buying three fish, you could lay out around $10 on a catnip-stuffed Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump. (Both Clintons and Bernie Sanders are also available, but tend to be less popular options.) We wondered if this was a toy that was really made for the owners to stick pins into rather than the cat to play with - but in fact, cats just love chewing on these guys.
Vladimir should last a while - he's made in triple-stitched cotton with fiberfill and catnip inside. Cats really rip into him - while they just love Trump's hair! We wondered whether the furry hair could be pulled off, but no cat seems to have managed it yet. Intriguingly, dogs seem to prefer Putin while cats go for Donald. (By the way, the dolls come in cat and dog versions - the dog version has a squeak, but the cat version has catnip, which is clearly superior.)
There are a few quality issues with the toy, but most of these appear to involve the squeakers; 90% of reviews give these dolls five stars, and that includes buyers of all political persuasions, felines, and dogs.
As with the B Bascolor fish, if the catnip starts to fade after a while, you can refresh it with a catnip spray.
If you want to enjoy some quality playtime with your fur baby, a feather or fur cat tease is a great investment. It's just like going fishing - you use the rod to jerk around the bait at the end of your line, but you're aiming to amuse a cat rather than catch a pike.
However, you need to be careful when you're buying this kind of toy, since the quality of the toys on the market is very variable. Some poles are fragile, and some feather toys contain dangerous sharp metal parts or can be destroyed within a couple of minutes. That's why we looked for the best quality rather than the cheapest in this category.
The Da Bird cat and kitten toy gets better reviews than most, and at under $30 comes with two extra feather refills in case your cat makes short work of the first one. In addition to the feathers, which should be irresistible to most cats anyway, the Da Bird toy includes an extra special feature; if you move it fast enough it makes a whooshing noise as it flies through the air that drives your little critters mad.
The one-piece pole is durable, and the feather baits seem to last reasonably long with most cats. (Some cats will destroy anything.) The pole and string are long enough that you can happily use this toy with several cats - even in a busy rescue cat shelter!
However, you may need to hide this toy, and hide it well. It's been reported that some cats will even try to break into a cupboard to get it out again.
And the winner is .... B Bascolor's catnip fish. Three toys for the price of one can't be bad. If one gets buried down the back of the sofa, you've still got two for your cat to chase or wrestle. The cat can play with them alone whether you're in the house or out at work, and you can also play games with your cat by throwing the fish for her to chase or playing tug-of-war with it.
But variety is the spice of life, and that's particularly true when it comes to cat toys. Giving your cat only a single toy qualifies as feline deprivation! So you should definitely consider getting at least a couple of different types of toy to give your cat plenty of playful joy.
Besides, sometimes a cat will get bored with a toy. Just give it another one, and put the other one in the cupboard for a few weeks. By the time you bring it out again, your cat will have forgotten it was bored, and it can have a whole new adventure rediscovering the toy's attractions.