It’s in their nature. Your cat needs to stalk, chase, and pounce.
When cats live indoors without the stimulation of the outdoor hunt, it’s important to enrich their environment with species-appropriate play. If you don’t provide healthy outlets for their predatory instincts, your cat might have to engage them in other ways – like climbing the curtains, attacking your houseplants, and swiping at your feet.
In addition to discouraging bad behavior, regular play helps keep your cat stimulated throughout life, helping to prevent cognitive and physical decay as they age.
Quick Look at Our Top Picks:
Want a quick look at the products reviewed in this article? In the comparison table below, we’ve highlighted some of the most important features of each product. You’ll find more detailed information about each product later in the article.
- Encourages cats to pounce and jump
- Realistic feather toy looks like a bird
- Pull-apart rod for easy storage
Top Picks Explained
Why Should You Trust Us?
At Cats.com, we’re committed to helping you buy great products that both you and your cat will love. We’ve independently purchased and tested hundreds of cat products, including accessories, gadgets, and toys. All of our reviews are based on in-depth research, hands-on testing, and the advice of vets, behaviorists, and other cat experts.
How We Tested
To select the recommendations here, I spent hours researching the cat toy market, reading numerous roundups, customer reviews, and other resources, including expert recommendations from leading behaviorists. Based on this research, I identified several top options and purchased 5 of them for hands-on testing. I presented the toys to my cats, evaluating their cat appeal and how well they stood up to use. Based on this research and testing, I’ve selected the following as the best cat toys you can buy.
Other Cat Toys We Loved
In testing some of the top cat toys on the market, we found several more worth mentioning in addition to our top five picks reviewed above.
Here are five more cat toys we recommend:
Choosing the Best Cat Toy
Whether homemade, store-bought, or provided by nature, good cat toys do the same thing – they tap into your cat’s natural instincts to stalk, chase, leap, and capture.
Types of Cat Toys
You merely have to walk down the cat aisle at your local pet store to see just how many types of cat toys are out there. While cat toys may be a dime a dozen, they tend to fall into certain categories.
Here are some of the top categories for cat toys:
- Interactive Cat Toys: These are toys that require human involvement. Fishing pole toys and laser pointers fall into this category.
- Cat Toys for Independent Play: Old-fashioned mice and electronic gadgets, along with most other products on the market fall into this category. While they can’t move with the kind of intelligence that interactive toys do, these can be highly entertaining and keep your cat busy.
- Soft Toys: These toys are like small dolls for your cat. Often stuffed with catnip, these toys feel a bit like a small animal, making them fun to kick, bite, and bat around.
- Battables: Springs, balls, and some mouse toys fall into this category. They’re a good choice for cats who like to bat around stray bottle caps and paper clips.
- Feeder Toys: For cats who eat too quickly or too much at once, these toys make mealtime an adventurous challenge.
Every cat has their own unique preferences when it comes to toys.
Some cats love to bat around a small object while others prefer to chase a toy that moves on its own. When you first bring your cat home, you should have an assortment of toys on hand and dedicate some time to playing with your cat until you learn their preferences.
In addition to learning about your cat’s preferences for toys, it may help to keep a few toys on hand for certain situations.
When you want to wear your cat out or give him a little exercise, interactive toys are a great option. You may want a different type of toy, however, for times when your cat is left home alone.
Let’s explore the different types of cat toys for different situations.
Interactive Cat Toys
For cats, playing with toys is fundamentally a predatory game – it mimics the predator-prey chase in almost every way.
Choosing an interactive toy taps into this hunting instinct and, by putting yourself on the other end of the toy, you create a responsive experience. You can make the toy run from your cat, hide behind furniture, leap away, and eventually, you can allow the toy to tire out and succumb to capture.
Toys for Cats Home Alone
As much as you may wish you could spend all day everyday playing with your cat, you have your own life to live and sometimes that life takes you out of the house.
Rather than leaving your cat to his own devices when you’re not around, provide a few toys to give him a healthy outlet for his predatory energy.
Without human interaction, your cat’s toys are essential dead prey – they require the flick of a paw to start moving. If your cat has a lot of pent-up energy and loves batting and chasing toys around, standard toys like mice, balls, and springs may keep them entertained.
If your cat prefers more lifelike toys, an electronic toy or a laser pointer toy might be a better option.
Electronic Cat Toys
While interactive cat toys require human interaction, electronic cat toys can move on their own. This makes them the next-best thing to an interactive toy and a great option for cats home alone.
Electronic cat toys take many different forms from robotic mice to small objects that race around a track. They all have one thing in common, however – the inspire your cat’s instincts to hunt and pounce.
The right electronic toy can keep your cat busy and active all afternoon.
Speaking of keeping your cat active, some cat toys are specifically designed to encourage exercise.
Toys for Exercise
Playtime doesn’t just keep your cat busy so they’re less likely to tear up the carpet or shred your sofa – it helps your cat burn calories and strengthen their muscles as well.
The best cat toys for exercise are toys that get your cat excited. The more excited your cat gets about playtime with their favorite toy, the more they’ll start jumping, lunging, and pouncing. Toy mice and other basic cat toys can be fun, but your cat may lose interest if the toy isn’t interactive.
That’s why fishing pole toys and others that mimic the slight of a bird or the scurrying of a mouse are a great choice. These toys engage your cat’s muscles and force them to move in a way they otherwise wouldn’t on their own.
Cats love the stimulation and exercise of play and they also appreciate the ability to stretch out and remove the sheaths from their claws. That’s why toys that incorporate a claw scratcher are so fun and satisfying.
Scratcher toys are particularly useful for cats with behavioral issues. They allow you to solve two problems at once by providing a toy that targets your cat’s need to scratch and their desire to play at the same time.
Remember that even if you give your cat a scratcher toy, however, it’s still a good idea to provide an additional scratching post.
Laser Pointer Cat Toys
If you’ve never tested your cat’s reaction to a laser pointer, you’re missing out. The elusive red dot sends cats scrambling up walls and skidding across the floor.
But laser pointer cat toys aren’t perfect. What makes laser pointers so exciting for cats also makes them frustrating – they’re impossible to catch.
Cats crave the satisfaction of catching their prey. When your cat finally slams their paws down on that little red bug, they want to feel something they can potentially sink their teeth into. They don’t want it to slip straight through their paws and take off again across the room.
After several unsatisfying play sessions, the laser pointer loses its value. Discouraged by the fact that they’ll never capture the elusive dot, your cat will move on to something with satisfaction potential.
Cat Feeder Toys
For cats who crave a reward for catching their prey, feeder toys are a great option. Feeder toys also help to modulate the amount of food your cat eats by making them work for their meals.
It also may be psychologically beneficial for cats to play before their meals.
In an article about the hunting behavior of cats, International Cat Care explains that playing with their prey is a natural behavior for cats. Experts consider “toying” with prey a displacement behavior brought on by the conflict of cats needing to kill their prey and the fear of being potentially injured by it.
Studies have shown that cats tend to show more intense and prolonged play behavior with toys that closely resemble actual prey. The hungrier your cat is at the time of play may also influence the intensity and length of the play session.
No list of cat toys would be complete without mentioning catnip toys.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a member of the mint family native to southern and eastern Europe as well as the Middle East, Central Asia, and parts of China. It has also become naturalized throughout North America, New Zealand, and northern Europe.
While only 67% to 80% of the adult feline population is sensitive to catnip, those who are fly into a frenzy at the mere smell of this common herb.
Sensitive cats will react to catnip by rolling around, rubbing their heads and bodies in the catnip, and running around the room. Some start to drool and others become agitated or even violent, but the effects typically wear off fairly quickly.
The best catnip toys are made with fresh, potent catnip that will drive your cat wild.
Homemade Cat Toys
Store-bought cat toys are fantastic, but they’re not your only option. In fact, many cats have an annoying tendency to turn up their noses at the things their parents buy for them in favor of everyday objects like bottle caps and rubber bands.
Alternatives to formal toys include:
- Balls of crushed aluminum foil
- Shower rings
- Empty cardboard rolls
- Paper bags
- Cardboard boxes
- Training golf balls with airflow holes
If you’re creatively inclined, you might even try sewing your own fabric toys and stuffing them with fresh catnip. If sewing isn’t in your wheelhouse, stuffing a small sock with padding and catnip might work.
Playing with your cat provides a great opportunity for bonding and it gives your cat some much-needed mental stimulation and physical exercise.
Make the most out of your cat toys by following these playtime tips:
- Mornings and evenings are the best time of day for play. This is when cats are naturally most active. Playing with your cat before you leave the house in the morning will increase your bond and help them to feel calm during the day. A play session before bed is a good replacement for those sleep-breaking midnight crazies.
- Give your cat the satisfaction of a successful hunt. Provide a meaty treat after each play session so your cat feels like they’ve successfully killed their prey.
- Never allow your cat to play with your hands. Kittens often don’t know to avoid scratching and biting your hands during play. If you don’t train them to avoid this behavior, it could become more destructive as they age. If your cat does hurt you during playtime, immediately stop playing to show your cat that the fun ends when they let their claws and jaws get out of control.
At the end of the day, there’s no wrong or right way to play.
As long as you and your cat are both safe and having fun, you’re free to play however you like. Stock up on cat toys like the ones reviewed above to make your play sessions more fun!