5 Most Engaging Cat Toys for the Finicky Cat

Kirk, my three-year-old orange tabby, will play with just about anything.

Not only does this make playtime for both of us more fun but it helps keep him moving more, too, which is good for him. Activity will help keep him strong and healthy. Plus, since feline obesity is a very real problem for pet cats today, keeping him active is important to keep him at a healthy weight.

However, Scottie, one of my semi-feral cats, is altogether another story. Rescued from a feral cat colony at five months old, he didn’t learn as a kitten how to play with toys, and for his first year with me, he was too timid to play. I’ve had a challenge in finding toys he is interested in.

To find out what other cat owners have discovered, I conducted a social media poll: “What types of toys does your finicky feline enjoy?” Roughly fifty cat owners shared their thoughts and discoveries with me. Read their answers below, ranked in order of their appeal.

1. Flirt poles

Cat with Feather Toy

Overwhelmingly, even cats who are finicky about their toys seem to like flirt poles. Flirt poles are fishing pole toys, and they usually feature a feather, a toy, or a ball on the end of the string. A couple of large feathers attached to the string seem to attract more cats than anything else.

Cat owners also said that flirt poles are their favorite toys also because this was a toy that needs owner participation. All of the cat owners said they enjoyed playing with their cat and watching their cat run, leap, stalk, and catch the toy.

However, there was one common complaint about these toys (attention pet toy makers!): many flirt poles made for cats have very short handles, sticks, some as short as 12 inches long. Cat owners would like to see 24-30 inch long poles, as this would give them more reach to play. One cat owner said that the short pole often meant that her athletic cat ended up in her lap as he chased the toy and that she would prefer she had more reach with the toy to prevent this.

2. Track Balls 

Track ball toys came in as the second favorite type of toy. These toys are found in a variety of configurations, from a single track with one ball to a multi-layer track with multiple balls. Some are donut shaped with nothing in the middle of the circle, while others have cardboard in the middle for scratching.

These toys do not require owner participation—track balls are a toy your cat can play whenever he wants. If he’s hesitant, some catnip dropped into the cardboard center will surely get him excited.

3. Cat Trees

Cat in a cat tree

The most expensive toy on this list may be the most important. Cat trees provide something for your cat to run up and down, hide in, and nap on. More importantly, the cat tree can also give your cat a spot where he can stretch and scratch to his heart’s content. When he uses his cat tree, he won’t feel the need to scratch on your furniture!

Cat owners said the best cat trees were sturdy, solid, and didn’t wobble or tilt when the cat ran up and down it. Also, cats seem to prefer the cat trees that had at least one leg of it covered with rope. Cats seem to enjoy scratching the rope legs more often than the carpet-covered legs.

4. Balls with Bells

This very simple toy came in third. Apparently, those small plastic balls with bells in the center are the favorite of many cats. They are fun for the cat to bat around and chase on their own. They typically come in inexpensive packs of three.

Unfortunately, these are as bad as those plastic brick children’s toys if you step on them in the middle of the night. And, because the cat bats them around all over the house, you will find many of them under the furniture when you move it to vacuum. (Don’t ask how I know these things.)

Even with those minor drawbacks, though, these inexpensive toys will keep your cat running and playing, which is your goal in the long run.

5. The Cheapest Toy on Our List

Cat with cardboard box

You knew cardboard boxes were going to be on our list, right? Many of the cat owners who responded mentioned cardboard boxes as a favorite toy. Even the pickiest cats just love boxes.

The size of the box doesn’t seem to matter. Boxes can be made more interesting by cutting cat-sized holes in the sides, closing the tops, dropping balls inside, or sprinkling the box with catnip. When a package arrives with the objects inside wrapped in brown paper, crumple the paper, put it back in the box, and give it to your cat. He might just pretend to like you for a few minutes.

Other Toys

The cat toy aisle at my local pet supply store is growing. This wider selection of toys includes some stuffed toys, more catnip toys, more balls, and more noise makers. Cat-sized tunnels appeal to some cats but are more appealing to kittens. There are more scratching toys now, too, especially the cardboard ones. Remote control toys are becoming more popular.

When introducing a new toy, especially a new type of toy, give your cat time to get used to it. While my Kirk will boldly check out new toys, my Scottie is much more cautious and will rarely play the first time he sees a new toy. After he’s had time to watch it, though, and get used to it he’ll be more apt to try it. So be patient. Also keep in mind that, just like most kids, cats have a preference for the type of toy they like: take note of what your cat likes, and buy him what he enjoys so that he stays playful, active, and healthy.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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