Ask a UW Veterinarian: Safe Toys for Cats

cat with toy

When the Human’s Away, the Cat Will Play

The question below was featured in the Winter 2019-20 issue of On Call, the magazine for friends of the UW School of Veterinary Medicine. This expert response comes from Elizabeth Alvarez, clinical assistant professor of primary care, and Mel Bailey, certified veterinary technician.

Question: My cat loves to chew on things. I am at a loss as to what toys to allow her to play with on her own. Right now I only allow her to play under supervision, but she is very active at night and would benefit from having a toy to play with. This is my first time adopting a young cat so I just want her to be safe. –Ellen, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

Answer: Concerned and conscientious cat owners, especially of young, active kittens, have to balance the safety of their pets with their cat’s deep desire to hunt and play. Our cats’ ancestors had to excel at hunting and pouncing in order to survive. Indoor pets no longer need to hunt, but stalking and pouncing help keep them happy and active. To invoke this drive, most cats prefer their toys squeak, chirp, jitter, swing, or vibrate.

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Many traditional cat toys include feathers, strings, or sparkles, but cats who chew aggressively will ingest these items so they are best avoided. Intestinal obstruction can be serious and is very common in cats that chew on toys and other objects. Cats who like to chew may enjoy small stuffed toys (sometimes from the dog toy aisle) that are too big to eat but small enough to be carried around. In general, choose toys with sturdy construction that are manufactured (not just distributed) in the U.S. or Canada; ensure there are no loose decorations; cut off any loops or tags; and immediately remove any pieces that get chewed off.

Paper bags and boxes are among the safest cat toys around and are notoriously adored. Your cat might also like to swat and chase wads of paper (but don’t let them eat the paper) or ping-pong balls. Feline food puzzles and dispensers are also wonderful for encouraging kitties to “hunt” their daily allotment of food. Just don’t give too many treats!

Most cats are indeed active at night. Two good options for independent play are ball track toys, where your cat can swat the ball but the ball can’t get out, and interactive, battery-operated cat toys activated by a motion sensor or timer. Cats enjoy visual stimulation, too, so a window to look out, or a video of nature, can be stimulating as well.

Finally, consider rotating the toys available for your cat to prevent boredom and keep items exciting.

Enjoy your new friend! Cats are wonderful companions.

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