There are two types of cats: those that need to play and those that need to play. Whether a cat finds enjoyment in playing and stimulating their natural hunting skills or they need encouragement to play in order to shed a few pounds, all cats require interactive engagement in their lives.
Of course, interactive play doesn’t only benefit a cat’s mental and physical health, but also the relationship between owner and pet—and interactive cat toys are the perfect gateway for this engagement.
“I think the interaction for cats is important because it’s part of the bonding experience that you have as a cat/owner,” said Ellen Tsuyuki, founder and owner of interactive cat toy company Nekochan. “So, from my own personal experience, just throwing some paper on the floor and letting them play with that isn’t as enriching as having something that you can interact with and play with and build the trust and bond with your cat.”
Long gone are the days when pieces of paper and cardboard boxes were the standard of play. There are all types of interactive toys and monitoring products to ensure cats are getting the mental and physical stimulation they need.
One Fit Kitty
According to Banfield Pet Hospital’s State of Pet Health report, there has been a 169 percent increase in overweight cats over the past 10 years, with about a third of today’s cats being considered overweight.
Tsuyuki says the biggest benefit of Nekochan wand toys and tunnels are their exercise component.
“We have a high degree of obesity problems with cats in North America, and in that indoor environment, if they don’t have enough stimuli to get them to exercise and move around like they normally would in the wild, it makes for them to have an obesity problem,” she said.
To encourage cats to play, Nekochan taps into their natural hunting instincts. The company’s line of wand toys, Neko Flies, have critters on the end that resemble and move like cat’s real-life prey, with their dangly legs, iridescent wings, feathers and colors. For example, the largest Neko Flies attachment, the Birbug, was made with the thought of what a flying bug would look like from a cat’s perspective from the ground.
“My idea was that cats never get tired of chasing the spider across the carpet or the fly that comes into the house. My thought was if you make a toy that resembles and moves like those kinds of critters, the cats should not get tired of playing with them, as opposed to if you have a ball, they get tired,” Tsuyuki said. “If you can produce critters like that, the cat’s interest in play-ing should be maintained easier than other toys that don’t have a more distinct shape of a critter.”
The wands can also be used to en-courage cats to romp around in the Neko Pawdz U, J, I Interlocking Tunnel System. With three different shapes, owners can get right in on the play and come up with more than 20 different combinations for the tunnel setup. The tunnels also have holes strategically placed in them.
“You can come up with an obstacle course or put [the tunnels] around the scratch pole and then utilize the wand toy to engage your cat to go in the tunnel, pop up out of the top of the tunnel and different things like that,” Tsuyuki explained.
In addition to their health and mental benefits, Tsuyuki has also found her inter-active toys can help introverted cats come out of their shell because their “hunting instinct overrides their shyness.” This can especially be helpful for owners who recently adopted a cat and has helped cats in shelters be seen as more adoptable.
Styles of Play
OurPets also roots its cat toys in fulfilling a cat’s natural hunter instinct through play, according to the company’s director of marketing, Rachelle Rabasi. The company offers a wide variety of toys, from wands and plush animals to larger electronic toys, to account for the different types of play cats enjoy.
“Toys like the MouseHunter look, feel and sound just like prey that cats would hunt in the wild. Electronic toys like Bird in a Cage look, feel and sound real, but they also move like real prey too,” Rabasi said. “By having a wide variety of toys, pet parents are able to find out which toy best suits their little hunter.
When designing its interactive cat toys, what will appeal to cats is on the top of the OurPets team’s mind, and they consider specific characteristics that will get a cat’s senses going, whether that be through sight, sound, smell, or movement. The OurPets Catty Whack and the Pounce House are two toys the company has that mimic prey through their random movements and that are OurPets’ best-sellers.
And Rabasi predicts that electronic toys are what will be driving the cat toy category in the coming years.
“Cat toys used to be very simple—a plush toy with maybe a bell on it, for ex-ample. Since then we have seen toys that squeak, different uses of catnip in toys, etc.,” she said. “But now electronic inter-active cat toys are taking over and are the future. This is because electronic toys can add movement into play, not just sight and sounds. The toys that perform the best for cats are the ones that can truly mimic real prey, appealing to their hunter instinct.”
Tsuyuki says to not rule out non-electronic toys anytime soon, though.
“I think the wand toys give you more choices of how you can play and how you can engage with your cat. The remote control kind of toys are very good, but you’re kind of limited as to how you can use them, whereas wand toys, you can use them in different kinds of play settings to engage your cat,” she said. “For instance, you can run the toy up the scratch pole to make your cat go up vertically, you can do hide-and-seek, you can make them jump. A lot of different ways you can play with [wands] to engage [cats]. I think that’s why people like wand toys. There’s more flexi-bility in their usage and how to play.”
R2P Pet also has a wide range of cat toys, separating them into five play types: catnip, chase, electronic, interactive and solo.
“We like to make it simple for cat owners—especially first time cat owners—to find the right toys for their cat,” said Allie Hackett, product development manager for cats at R2P Pet. “Cats are picky. A lot of times you get a toy for your cat, they’ll totally ignore it. By breaking it into play types, it makes it easier for customers to be able to pick the right toy for their cat.”
According to Hackett, the biggest-selling cat toys are plush and catnip toys. But every cat is different—especially when it comes to life stages—and so will respond to different toys. A kitten will play with anything, even things that are not toys, Hackett points out. As cats age, they might need some more encouragement with a sensory-heavy toy.
“A lot of [older cats] aren’t as interest-ed in a toy that doesn’t do something, so that’s maybe where an interactive toy, like a wand or an electronic toy that moves on its own or has a light feature, something to really intrigue them [might be good] because sometimes the plush toy just isn’t going to do it,” she said. “Cats are very individual; some cats like to play more than others and some of them need a little more of a boost to really catch their attention.”
Something R2P Pet has found interests cats of all ages is the crinkle aspect of the new Wild Instincts line. Inspired by nature, the realistic toys come as moths, bees, butterflies, beetles and dragonflies and are filled with 100 percent catnip.
For felines that might not be fully affected by catnip, R2P Pet also has its new Mad Cat line, which is filled with a 50-50 combo of premium catnip and silvervine for top potency. According to Hackett, the line was made to be whimsical, with the toys like Strawpurry Ice Cream, Tab-by Taco and Magic Meowshroom, and to capture the attention of not just the cats, but also their younger owners.
Meowijuana and DuckyWorld are two companies that base their entire catalog of products around catnip and the euphoric feeling it gives cats. Meowijuana gets its organic catnip from Southern California and Washington State. It is then put into marijuana-inspired packaging or into plush toys like the Catnip Blunt and Cat-nip Spliff.
Meanwhile, DuckyWorld’s Yeowww! Catnip toys, which are handmade in the United States, are completely filled with premium, organically grown catnip that the company works with private farmers to grow, manage and harvest. The toys come in fun shapes and styles, like a rain-bow, a Jackson Pollock-inspired pollock fish, banana and cigar.
Pet Qwerks infuses its IncrediBUBBLES with catnip to entice cats to play. The bubbles can be caught, stacked and rolled; don’t pop when they touch the ground; and are a way to get children to play with their cats.
Of course, cat owners cannot be home 24/7 to engage their cat. That’s where PetChatz comes in.
The system gives cats “a full day of entertainment, connection and interaction with two-way video chats, treats, games, aromatherapy and DOGTV,” according to the company’s site. So even when an owner is at work or traveling, they can check in on their cat, keeping the feline engaged throughout that day.
According to Joe Meyers, the director of Marketing and Customer Experience for PetChatz’s parent company, Anser Innovation, the cats that use PetChatz seem to be most interested in the call feature. A pet can either be trained to call their own-er, and the owner will receive a push notification on their phone, or the owner can call in to the pet.
“Cats are very observational; they observe very quickly, so they’re really able to see their owner, which is really cool to explore that and enjoy that,” he said.The ability for owners and their pets to connect with PetChatz has also shown to help with behavioral problems.
“We have a lot of cases of pet owners whose cats have high anxiety and whose cats will scratch at their furniture or will scratch at their clothing, will kind of be destructive,” Meyers explained. “And a lot of this is actually done… because the cat is feeling lonely or lost and wanting human companionship and doesn’t get that, is not getting that, so they act out like a child would. So for the cat, they get this sense of connection, this sense of love. The cat is able to see and hear their owner. They’re able to see, connect.
“We do have some cats that play our brain games that are included in PawCall, plus the call function, which helps with brain health and keeps them active during the day,” he continued. “But mostly it’s to help with that cat that’s lazy all day.”
Engaging with pets through PetChatz can allow owners to get back some of the time they spend away from their pets, growing that human-animal bond. Owners also use it to provide themselves with some peace of mind, to know that their cat has not wandered out of the house and is safe.
“A lot of cat owners will put [the PetChatz monitor] in a place where their cat will be mostly, but also where they get into the most trouble, so facing the garbage can,” Meyers said. “It really gives them this opportunity to really engage and, say ‘Wow, I know what’s happening in my pet’s life, I can give them some entertainment during the day so they don’t get bored.’”
Even when owners are home, they might be too busy to play with their felines, so manufacturers, like OurPets, are producing toys that will keep cats stimulated even in the hours their humans are busy cooking, cleaning or doing any of the other daily tasks of life.
“The idea of independent play means that cats are able to play by themselves, or with little human engagement,” Rabasi said. “Our electronic toys just need to be turned on by the pet parent and then the toy will move, engaging the cat in play. Some of our toys feature an auto-shut off after 10 minutes of play to preserve battery life, but some cats have been reported to learn how to turn them back on—incredibly smart animals!”
Health and Safety
To make sure they are getting enough exercise each day, owners can monitor their cats’ activity with a smart product. The Pod is worn around the pet’s neck and can track a pet’s health and fitness. Owners can check on that activity data daily to see if the pet should be more engaged. With Pod, owners can also record video of their cats’ happenings.
The PetPace smart collar continuously collects pets’ vital signs and behavior pat-terns in 2-, 15- or 30-minute intervals. It “uses non-invasive sensors to track temperature, activity, pulse, respiration, positions, calories consumed and burned and heart-rate variations—all the elements underlining your pet’s overall health,” according to the company’s site.
And no matter what type of entertaining cat product is being used, safety is par-amount.
“Our goal is to be as pet safe as possible,” Meyers said about PetChatz. “It’s pet-safe. It’s mounted on your wall. Or there’s an optional stand, but there’s no way for the cats to knock it over. It’s sturdy and well-made. So if you’re worried about your cat jumping up and knocking it down to get all the treats, all the treats are locked behind the front of it, and it’s very helpful for cat owners and pets.”
R2P Pet keeps safety a main priority when making its toys.
“When we’re designing the toys, we re-ally like to think, ‘Is this going to be safe for the cat? Is there going to be a choking hazard? Is there something that can get wrapped around them?’” Hackett said. “I think that’s something all pet product developers think of.”
Hackett says the R2P Pet team takes it a step further when designing its toys and creates them from a parent-child standpoint. Because more owners see their pets as children, R2P Pet considers how a parent would perceive a toy’s quality and safety for their child.
That owners know how to properly use the toy ensures not only safety, but also maximum fun.
Tsuyuki says she encourages owners to get educated and understand how to use her toys. So that retailers can help educate their customers, Nekochan offers their partners different marketing tools like videos, retail displays, demo rods and toys. And, she noted, some stores that have a store cat have a real advantage to making the sale because people can use the demo toys to try out on a store cat. Oftentimes, she will give customers suggestions as to how to best utilize the wand toys.
“Every cat is different, every owner is different in how they play,” she said. “If you have a Bengal or an Abyssinian, you can put a toy out there and the cats will play with it right away. If you have another type of cat, maybe a domestic that’s more finicky, then you have to come up with other ways to engage them when you play. I think the education component is quite important.”