The challenge of keeping pets entertained inside the home, especially while pet owners are out of the house, is a dilemma that most pet owners have experienced or continue to face. Cat and dog owners alike face the issue of keeping pets occupied and happy while they are away, and the problem may be exacerbated by owners’ increased desire to spend time outside of the home during summer months.
For cat owners, the problem goes even further, as it is often plausible to take dogs along for walks or even vacations, granting that more and more lodging options are also pet friendly. However, cats are traditionally less willing to go along on day trips or for walks on leashes. For these reasons, cat toys play an integral role in keeping animals happy and healthy—mentally and physically—while living indoors.
According to the educational staff at Drs. Foster & Smith, play time is essential for feline friends for a number of reasons. Because cats spend as much as 16 hours per day asleep, daily physical and mental stimulation is necessary for good health. In the wild, large cats like lions and tigers spend most of their waking hours hunting prey or teaching their offspring to do so. Therefore, it is natural that many cat toys seek to imitate these practices. Whether or not owners are present to participate in playtime—and it is recommended that owners interact with pets as much as possible—it is important for cats to have outlets.
“Fortunately, cats are great at entertaining themselves when their pet parent is away,” said Leslie Yellin, speaking on behalf of Multipet. “However, there are some toys that are more interactive than others.”
According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), cats are typically the most eager to play with toys that can be batted, chased or flicked. Add catnip—a member of the mint family—to the mix, and some cats become even more engaged. For this reason, many toys combine optimal play features with catnip.
“This year, Multipet launched Kitty Sprinkles, a large ball that twists open,” Yellin said. “Once open, the consumer places a catnip cup (very similar to a K-cup) inside and twists close. This action punctures the cup. As the cat plays with the ball, it dispenses small amounts of catnip for cats to enjoy. The catnip is from North America, which is also very important to the consumer since catnip is considered a consumable product.”
Yellin pointed out that owners can also place their cat’s favorite treat inside the Kitty Sprinkle Ball, which was launched at Global Pet Expo in March, converting the toy to a treat dispenser.
Multipet also produces Katz Kuddlerz, which also contain catnip, make a crinkle noise and have feathers to enhance the play experience. Cats grab hold of the toys, which are sometimes bigger than the cat itself, and kick from their back legs.
“Kitty Sprinkles help alleviate boredom while initiating activity,” Yellin said. “With so many pet parents working, this is a great toy to bring exercise and fun to their pet. With pet obesity on the rise, it brings great comfort knowing that we can get cats moving while having fun, which is what Multipet is all about—pet fun ‘multi’-plied!”
Another option is the Jackson Galaxy Refillable Twisted Kicker. It has a sisal midsection and now features an opening with a removable Velcro pouch. Owners can add Jackson Galaxy Organic Catnip to the pouch whenever the toy’s scent diminishes. Like many cat toys, the Twisted Kicker stimulates cats’ instinct to stalk and attack prey.
For owners who must leave their cats to their own devices for parts of the day, it is important to provide energy outlets and long-lasting entertainment to aid cats’ active imaginations.
The Spin About Electronic Laser Cat Toy and Treat Dispenser has a spontaneously spinning feather wand that will tease cats for hours as the ball spins erratically. A laser beam blinks on and off as the ball spins and dispenses treats as a reward each time a cat plays. The toy also features an automatic power-off setting to save battery life when cats come and go between play time, and it is designed to provide entertainment and treats to cats that are home alone.
The Categories Zany Cat Ball is an electronic cat toy that twists, turns, rocks and rolls with blinking lights and feathers that entice cats’ hunter instincts. To conserve battery power, the toy is motion-activated.
“Categories serves as a helpful partner in assisting cat parents with understanding their cats’ behaviors by providing innovative cat toys that target these specific feline instincts,” said Nancy Waters, marketing manager for R2P Pet. “With indoor-only cats needing more stimulation than indoor/outdoor cats, Categories cat toys provide cats with a fun and exciting playtime environment. Categories automatic cat toys assure cat parents that their cats will be engaged in interactive fun for those times they might not be able to participate.”
The company’s Rollaround Mouse electronic cat toy is touch-activated into sporadic spins and rolls, with colorful feathers for cats to bat and pounce. The Flutter Flyer is a 2-in-1 electronic wand toy for stationary or hand-held use. The toy’s spinning and fluttering action mimics a butterfly’s flight for hours of entertainment.
Kitty in the City
According to a study conducted by Euromonitor, pet ownership follows certain patterns determined by location—that is, the nature of pet ownership differs as population density varies. An article by Roberto A. Feldman and Christopher Ingraham for The Washington Post suggests that, though more households in the U.S. own dogs than cats, pet owners with felines tend to house more than one.
“One simple explanation is that cats are more compact,” the article stated. “You can fit more cats in a house than you can, say, golden retrievers.”
Cat toy manufacturers seem to have taken this information into account. For example, The Jackson Galaxy Spiral has a durable melamine design with a corrugate scratch pad insert. This toy, based on hide and seek play action, has an LED ball activated by play that can also turn off automatically—great for multiple-cat households.
“The Jackson Galaxy Collection by Petmate fuses product insights from Jackson’s 20-plus year experience as a trusted expert cat behaviorist with Petmate’s 50-plus years of leadership in the pet industry,” said Brittany Green, product manager at Petmate. “Cats who play are naturally more confident in their territorial ownership, meaning they will be happier and better behaved.”
The educational team at Drs. Foster & Smith cites cat toys as important agents of bonding between multiple-cat and even multiple-animal households. Toys that encourage interactivity with humans as well as other animals foster healthy play.
Perhaps the vast majority of cat toys are designed with the purpose of satisfying cats’ instinct to hunt prey. The domestication of cats has made the expression of predatory instincts a bit more complicated, requiring deliberate encouragement from owners.
’ Catty Whack is a hide and seek action game with a fast-moving feather wand that changes direction randomly. Its patented electronic RealMouse sound stimulates cats’ natural instincts to stalk and hunt prey. It is specifically designed to encourage independent play for cats of all ages and comes with an automatic shut-off feature. The toy also comes equipped with a carpeted scratching area where cats can groom their claws. The company’s Whirling Wiggler mimics butterflies’ flying movement to stimulate cats’ natural instincts, spinning and chasing on a wire slider. Built with the option of changing the dual butterflies’ flight modes, this toy was designed to help keep cats occupied or provide them with an opportunity for extra exercise. The Chase flight mode means that one butterfly is flying freely, while the other is chasing closely behind. Play flight mode lets the butterflies fly in sync as they playfully flutter around the base of the toy.
Whether feline, canine or any other species, the importance of mental and physical interaction and stimulation to a pet’s health remains the same. Retailers have an opportunity to provide pet owners with ways to initiate exercise, relieve boredom and prevent anxiety in their most beloved companions.