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Piquing the Interest of Feline Gamers

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Psst. The cat is out of the bag. Feline enrichment may have started out as a buzz phrase touted by a handful of innovative cat toy designers to describe toys that replicate a cat’s natural instincts and hone inherent hunting skills, but it has become a fullblown trend and one that is definitely dominating the feline toy marketplace.

And now, manufacturers have revved up the action by producing a large variety of electronic and battery-operated cat toys that allow cats to engage in such play on their own.

There’s no question that while these popular companion pets may enjoy a wonderful domestic lifestyle, they are not supposed to be couch potatoes, curled up and sleeping 24/7.

“Cats need both mental and physical stimulation for their general health and well-being,” Marilyn Krieger, owner of The Cat Coach, LLC, and certified cat behavior consultant, said. “Enriching their environment with toys that keep them engaged helps lessen stress and combats boredom and obesity.”

Manufacturers are further helping to get this important message in to the retail sector by going to great lengths to describe the benefits of such toys on their packaging.

“Our Complete Needs System, which categorizes our toys [and other products], focuses on a pet’s physical, emotional and instinctual needs, and our packaging communicates the product’s offerings accordingly,” Lisa Davis-David, Worldwise Inc.’s assistant product manager for the cat toy division, said. “Our customers appreciate that we recognize that there are many ways for a cat to play, such as for  exercise, to let their independent streak thrive and also to meet their instinctual need to hunt. It’s helped us build brand loyalty.”

In particular, the electronic and battery-operated cat toy category has shown significant growth over the last several years. For example, two of Worldwise’s electronic toys are in the top five sellers in the company’s Petlinks line, which is designed for the pet specialty retail market.

“In all the research we’ve done, consumers continually tell us they are looking for motorized, moving toys, things that can be chased,” she said. “Consumers want durability and action. Both our Petlinks and SmartyKat brands are growing nicely in this category because we listened to consumer feedback.

“Further, cat owners are definitely willing to pay more for electronic or battery-operated toys.  The sales show it.  There is some price sensitivity but certainly not the same as with plush toys. When consumers purchase cat toys, they consider value, the cat’s entertainment, and specific product features to meet their cat’s preference. From their cat’s perspective, the most important considerations are specific to the product features, such as movement, catnip, and if it’s prey-like.”

Among the many new products Worldwise is launching at the Global Pet Expo this month is the Whip-it in the Petlinks line. Cats love attacking mysterious things that come out from tight spaces, and this electronic toy has a string that  ts underneath a door that whips back and forth like a tail. The FeatherWhirl in the SmartyKat line is a spinning motion ball with a feather attachment.  The feather wand swoops and whirls as it reacts to the erratic motion of the ball.

Automated Play

According to Mandie Sweetnam, product manager for Petsafe’s automated cat toy category, the FroliCat Bolt maintains the lead as their best-seller, with the Pounce and Flik steadily gaining on the Bolt in popularity.
Sweetnam attributes part of the success of their electronic toys to the fact that they are sleek and very stylish.

“The very modern, white shapes, make them look like sculptured ornaments, so it’s unnecessary to hide or put them away when guests stop by,” she said. “Pet parents are always in search of toys that provide both mental and physical stimulation for their pets, and further taking into account that many people have an on-the-go lifestyle. One of the most well-received features of the FroliCat toys has been the automated play and shut-off features. With one press of a button the toy entertains and exercises your cat, then will automatically power down after a 10-15 minute session.”

From the retailer standpoint, according to Chris Achord, owner of The Cat Shoppe and The Dog Store in Nashville, Tenn., customers understand the value in paying more for a toy that’s going to keep cats engaged and allow them to play on their own, or along with other cats in a multi-cat household.

“However, such toys need to be demonstrated or have their functionality explained to customers,” Achord said. “If it’s just sitting on the shelf, it becomes just another item. We have the Pounce on display so that customers can see how it works.”

One of the very first battery-operated toys to capture feline attention, the Mouse in the House, featuring a mouse on a track that rushes around a miniature living room, made its debut in 2008 and continues to pique both feline and consumer interest.

“It’s more than a toy; we consider it an electronic companion,” James Boelke, president and founder of Cat Dancer Products, said.

Either a human or a cat can activate the toy manually by pushing the red button. Or there’s a timer to activate the toy at set intervals. Upon activation, the toy emits small animal sounds to signal to the cat that the mouse is coming out. The mouse makes two revolutions of the track, and then announces he is done for now with a humorous cuckoo sound. This sequence can be set to occur at intervals from 1 minute to several hours.

“I believe its success is because the mouse can’t come off the track,” Boelke said. “So it will continue to frustrate and pique interest for feline gamers.”

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