The industry is filled with fun, purpose-driven toys for pets and they are available for any species – from educational bird toys to battery-operated cat toys and even puzzle feeders for dogs. Whether you call them “interactive toys” or “purpose-driven toys,” there are many benefits to keeping pets mentally and physically stimulated, including fewer behavior problems, easier weight management control and a happier pet.
“Interactive games and feeders, like the GREEN or Buster DogMaze lines, engage the pet mentally and physically because they simulate a hunter-gatherer type activity that’s equally challenging and fulfilling,” said Dr. Roger Mugford, pet psychologist and founder of The Company of Animals. “They can be used to support a healthy, active lifestyle and can help prevent boredom, especially when weather prevents extended outside activity. For eager eaters, interactive games and feeders can be used to serve the pet’s regular meal, which helps slow them down and prevent bloat.”
While shopping for food and treats can become mundane, shopping for pet toys comes with an air of excitement. Retailers should capitalize on this excitement by keeping their toy aisle fresh with new, innovative product. Stocking a wide variety of pet toys can also bring a much needed boost to end of year sales.
According to the 2015-16 American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners survey, over two-thirds of dog and cat owners purchased gifts for their pets last year. This is definitely the time of year to push pet toys.
Going to the Dogs
“Interactive dog toys continue to dominate growth in the dog toy category,” said Sarah Bell, director of marketing for Hyper Pet. “This is primarily driven by the inherent desire for pet owners to have creative opportunities and tools to bond with their pet.”
“Hyper Pet specializes in providing the ultimate experiences related to fetch,” said Bell. “We have a complete line of award-winning tennis ball launchers that not only enhance fetch, but also offer solutions for pet parents that might not otherwise be physically able to throw a tennis ball. The patented K-9 Kannon tennis ball launcher is a perfect example. It launches a tennis ball with ease for parents with shoulder issues or who simply have a dog that never tires of fetching a ball! Hyper Pet K-9 Kannon is available in two sizes suitable for all types of dog breeds.”
While it’s a well-known fact that tired pets have fewer behavioral issues, it’s often difficult to tire out a high-energy dog. That’s where technology comes in. GoGoDogPals is a remote control toy outfitted with an advanced system that allows for long range operation and advanced maneuvering. This lets owners take a rest while their dogs exercise.
In a similar vein is iFetch. This is an automatic ball launcher that allows dogs to keep themselves entertained once they are taught to use the product. The iFetch was originally designed to work with standard miniature tennis balls, but now it is available with standard size tennis balls.
Mental stimulation counts for at least as much as physical stimulation. Puzzle games and feeder toys are excellent to recommend. Some of the most well-known puzzles for pets come from the Nina Ottosson line of interactive toys. Ottosson’s range of durable interactive games were among the first to market years ago, and ongoing innovation has resulted in a collection of puzzles and interactive feeders that will keep even the smartest pets interested.
“Cycle Dog’s 3-Play interactive toys feature treat hiding belly, squeaking head and superfloat water toy,” said Lanette Fidrych, Cycle Dog president. “We have heard from many customers about how well the treat hiding aspect of our toys work with their dogs. When the belly is filled with kibble, dogs must figure out the best way to get to their treats. Some constantly flip the toy over, others squeeze the belly so the kibble crumbles, providing intellectual stimulation that dogs need.”
“Our 3-Play toys come in sizes for standard as well as smaller dogs,” said Fidrych. “Smaller dogs need the same intellectual stimulation as larger dogs. Cycle Dog 3-Play toys include Hippo, Turtle and Dino in both standard and mini sizes.”
“Dog trainers have been saying for years that mental exercise tires out your dog, sometimes more than physical activity,” said Amanda O’Brien, director of marketing for Planet Dog. “We have two very popular interactive toys, the Orbee-Tuff Mazee and Orbee-Tuff Snoop. Both toys can be filled with kibble or treats and provide hours of fun for your dog and for you!”
One of the more common features requested by consumers is that the toy be long-lasting and durable. Brands like Bionic and the Wubba line of toys from Kong are known for their ability to outlast even the toughest player.
Feline Fun Time
Almost all species can benefit from interactive toys and with the change in attitudes from consumers towards their cats, toys for our feline friends show some of the strongest market changes. Interactive toys can also help prevent obesity in pets. By stimulating instinctual responses, these toys can help get cats more active, thereby supporting weight loss.
“Based on our research, exercise is the number one attribute sought in a cat toy and scratching is the number one problem that prompts a cat toy purchase,” said Nicole Haefke, Coastal Pet Products. “Interactive toys provide exercise and stimulate the natural urge to scratch.”
Coastal offers two scratchers that give cats more than just a place to sharpen claws.
“The Turbo Scratcher is the number one selling cat toy,” said Haefke. “Cats love the interactive track ball, scratch pad and smell of catnip. The Mega Turbo offers two interactive sides for twice the fun and features a larger, 14-inch scratch pad. This collection also offers replacement pads for a repeat sale of two or three per month.”
Stores that understand why cats and other animals need toys will be better able to sell those items.
“Education is key,” said Aimee Diskin, director of innovation and product development for
“For cats, play often provides exercise, excitement, bonding and serves as a much needed outlet for their curiosity and instinctual behaviors,” said Diskin. “For example, our Petlinks Flitter Fly electronic cat toy satisfies a cat’s need for independence. It allows them to explore, stalk and satisfy their endless curiosity.”
Wand toys are also very popular in the cat market, and they are becoming more advanced each day. DaBird utilizes a specialty hook (similar to those used by fishermen) that helps the lure accurately mimic the flight of a bird. NekoFlies uses a sturdy, expandable rod and lifelike bug lures to help stimulate cats to action.
“Keeping pets active is very important,” said Ellen Tsuyaki, owner of Nekochan Enterprises. “Senior cats often need more encouragement to become active. But our BirBug toy can inspire even the most inactive cat to play because its movement triggers the primal response of hunting.”
Not only do wand toys encourage exercise, they stimulate the brain and improve human-pet relationships.
“Vee Enterprises began entertaining pets and pet owners alike under the philosophy that pets should be able to stimulate their mind and body while strengthening an emotional bond with their owners,” said Eric Merva, sales manager of Vee Enterprises. “In 1988, Lorie and Steve Viner found their cat Max constantly pawing for their attention and running amuck in their house with endless energy and destruction. Seeking a means to channel Max’s energy into a controlled and productive activity, Lorie and Steve created the Original PURRfect Cat Toy. Our Original PURRfect Cat Toy was designed to capture a cat’s attention and inspire exercise through play with their owner.”
Since most pets in multipet (or even multispecies) homes share their toys with other pets, it makes sense to stock a toy that is effective for more than one species.
“The Jack For Joy Pet Toy is an interactive toy constructed of a very durable SAN plastic,” said Samuel Zimmers, Animo Products. “Made to endure interactive play for many animals. Not only for the tumble play of puppies and adult dogs, rabbits enjoy pushing it over as do chinchillas. The shape intrigues them. Large birds can be found holding it with their claws and beaks. When the toy isn’t being played with, it doubles as a massage tool used to de-stress the animal.”
When evaluating toys to stock, look for innovative product lines that allow for mental and physical growth in pets. For example, the Nina Ottosson series comes in several sizes and levels of difficulty for both dogs and cats. Tiered puzzle or toy lines encourage consumers to come back and purchase more advanced toys as their pets mature and adapt to familiar toys.
For the Birds
No species is exempt from the benefits of physical and mental exercise and many stores are now stocking bird and small animal toys. Considering that 60 percent of bird and small animal owners (according to the 2015-2016 APPA National Pet Owners Survey) have bought toys for their pets this year, that can equate to a large return on investment for retailers.
“The Fun-Max Educational Toys made by Zoo-Max offer a variety of very stimulating and challenging puzzle toys,” said Mary Wyld, Founder, President & Owner, Wyld’s Wingdom. “They teach colors and shapes and provide mental exercise which is so important for these intelligent, gorgeous birds. Also, Caitec makes a number of interactive foraging puzzle toys in which food is placed to challenge the bird and help prevent boredom. Their items are part of the Creative Foraging System line.”
“When you ‘think bird’, ‘think child’! Their little brains develop to the intelligence of a two to five year old little human,” said Wyld. “If you incorporate that thinking when choosing toys for the birds, you will be doing them a great service. Always keep safety and appropriate size in mind as well.”
All species benefit from having interactive toys and the only limit to selection is a manufacturer’s imagination. Better quality toys made from recyclable materials in the U.S.A. seem to be the focus in the industry – and consumers are willing to pay for these items.