Suggestions for toys and games for enrichment-loving kitties
May 7, 2021 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Asking this on behalf of Hildy and Starling, do your kitties have any fun toys and games they enjoy?

Hildy likes to play all day long while her sister prefers to nap and reappear if there's anything interesting going on. They're both very smart and enjoy teaching me how they want to play.

Some particulars:
- This is their favorite right now and Hildy taught me how to carry it around so she can chase after it while I'm making coffee etc.
- That animatronic fish that flops around, they were not into that because they couldn't get it to stop, so it seemed pointless to them.
- The floors are carpet so things that crawl around on little wheels don't work well, like the robotic snake guy. But if you have something that does crawl around on carpet that would be awesome.
- They already have pretty much every toy you can get at the pet store and dismiss most of them, so I don't really know why they're asking this, but it seemed important.
posted by bleep to Pets & Animals (33 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I recently bought a Smartycat Hot Pursuit (thanks to the recommendation of Metafilter's own xingcat) and my cat Iris loves it. She has to be in the mood for it, otherwise she just kind of stares at it, but when she's up for it she goes crazy.

It's a random-orbital mouse under a blanket.
posted by bondcliff at 12:42 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

So there is one toy, it costs $2.99, it is a wire with four tiny pieces of cardboard, that I have seen EVERY. SINGLE. CAT. go nuts for.

Absolutely nuts.

It is the Cat Dancer. It also comes in with the cutest catimonials so please do read them when you get it. High or low energy, the Cat Dancer does it all. Be prepared to see your cat flop like a fish through the air and land not so gracefully back on Earth.

I cannot stress enough that the only thing I am sure of in life is that cats love this stupid toy that again is a WIRE and FOUR TINY PIECES of cardboard.

note: this is a way different toy than those dumb string ones. The bobbing motion of the Cat Dancer (I pay it respect and capitalize it like a loon) is what must set it apart. I have never found a toy like this in any pet store.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:55 PM on May 7, 2021 [11 favorites]

da bird is the word according to my cats.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:58 PM on May 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I concur with OnTheLastCastle. My cats love a toy that is very similar, the key is the wire that makes it bob around. Mine is about 18" of wire with a plastic handle on one end and feathers on the other end. They literally lose their minds. I bought it years ago at the dollar store, and can't find the same one, but when it died I made a yarn bobble for it and they love that too.
posted by dazedandconfused at 1:02 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

My cat goes so insane for Da Bird that at first I was afraid for his mental health when he played with it. Even his sister, who’s generally indifferent to toys, will come in and have a whack at it for a few minutes.
posted by holborne at 1:07 PM on May 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

about 18" of wire with a plastic handle on one end and feathers on the other end

We have one of these. It used to have bright pink feathers sticking out of a bright pink fluff ball; now it only has the fluff ball. Luna (pretty in pink) will pick up its various remains in the dead of night and carry them around the house yowling in ecstasy about having caught them. You have been warned.
posted by flabdablet at 1:18 PM on May 7, 2021

My cats have always loved play tunnels more than anything. why your feline needs a cat tunnel (from Medium)
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 1:21 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

My cat, Junipurr, never cared for the cat dancer, and it ended up permanently in a closet. He liked the Hot Pursuit toy for a while, but recently he will act like he wants it turned on, by batting it repeatedly and looking at me, but when I come over and turn it on he just leaves the area. I think the fun has become in manipulating me.

Like your cats, he has All The Toys. But his favorite thing to play with on earth is crinkle balls, made from discarded tinfoil wrappers. We haven't had almond Rocha in ages. But we still have balls made of their wrappers lying around. I will sometimes find a squished one, and roll it in my hands to make it into a ball again. He will always come running when he hears that sound. They do seem more fun to bat on hardwood floors, but non-shag carpet is OK too.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 1:21 PM on May 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

My cat enjoys a toy that is a stick with feathers at the end (feather wand?). Her favorite toy by far, though, is a sad little pom pom that I think fell off of one of my daughter's dolls. I bought some fresh new pom poms but she is less interested in those.



Cats are weird...
posted by medeine at 1:22 PM on May 7, 2021

Luna is also a bit obsessed with all the imaginary creatures that populate our kitchen. Having learned early on that the laser spot would occasionally come back out from under the fridge if she just waited long enough after chasing it in there, she's recently taken to stalking the drips that escape down the sink drain.

And yes, cat tunnels are a big hit at our place, as are cardboard boxes with assorted doors and windows cut in them.
posted by flabdablet at 1:28 PM on May 7, 2021

My wife brought her cat, Mouse, and this toy to our marriage. Mouse lived to be over 18 and she played with this thing almost every day.

We still have it; current personnel seems to enjoy it, although she plays with it differently than Mouse did. Her version involves body-slamming it or riding it across the room like a surfboard, which is super amusing for everyone concerned.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:36 PM on May 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Rabbit fur cat toys.

A small chicken feather attached to a 2-ft long piece of craft wire. I got a small bag of chicken feathers off of Etsy. The cats had loved Da Bird so much one of them ate half of it immediately. I figured it was the feathers that did the trick and I was right! This is more economical and ecologically sustainable.

Spring toys.

A carpet runner or packing paper rumpled up to make small tunnels or caves and then tossing toys into the tunnel/cave. Both cats cannot resist a disappearing toy. Even if they had been uninterested before, they have to pounce when a toy vanishes from view.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:53 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

My cats really, really love this dodo bird. Every day I see one or the other carrying it around like a trophy and it looks surprisingly real when they have it in their mouth. They even leave it on my bed sometimes as a "murder present."

This ribbit-ing frog was a big hit for a couple of weeks after I brought it home. They still play with it once in a while but they really enjoyed the novelty of it for a little while.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:55 PM on May 7, 2021

These caterpillar kicker toys. One of our cats will carry it around while meowing, the other will pin it down and gnaw at it while growling.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:55 PM on May 7, 2021

Regarding the Cat Dancer, at first you will say, “I paid $3.99 for this?” Then, after your cats lose their shit playing with it, you’ll say, “This is the best $3.99 I ever spent!” I say exactly this when urging everyone to buy it.

All that aside, I’ll pass on some handy tips Mefites have shared over the years. First, cats do and will get bored with any given toy. Solution: put away the toy for a while. A few months go by, you bring it out again, cat is delighted with “new” toy. You can keep numerous toys in rotation this way. (Pro tip: store extra toys inside something that once contained catnip!) Second, even the most unexciting toy can be salvaged by putting it in a shoe. (Or better still, a boot.) Finally, someone once cited an electronic measurement gizmo, used in construction or something, that has not one but two laser dots. Sorry I can’t recall the actual name.
posted by scratch at 2:16 PM on May 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Cat taste in toys seems highly individual. Neither of my current cats liked the Cat Dancer after the first time they tried biting the wire.

Maggie is fond of what we call string dancing, and it actually seems better for her when there is nothing at the end of the string, maybe just a knot tied for a bit of weight. The two best materials are rattail and plastic strapping like what gets wrapped around a box for shipping. She will arrange a stick-and-string toy in the hallway at night so when we wake up we can step on it and feel shamed that we were sleeping when she wanted to play. She spends several hours a day in her cat tunnel and can launch out of it like a cannonball (usually onto Rufus).

Rufus' favorites are in reverse order of preference: a) small stuffed toys he can grab and kick and strangle and b) feathers and c) Maggie's ears and d) any of the previous when placed underneath a sheet of wrapping paper or fabric. (Maggie tries to avoid letting him have c but goes along with c+d).

When Maggie was a kitten (9 years ago) we got her a toy that had feathers glued into a little plastic cap, which was fused to the end of heavy fishing line. Before we even took the toy off the cardboard backing, she chewed the cap-and-feather bit off of the fishing line, and carried it around the house for weeks. Then she chewed all the feathers off, leaving the plastic cap, about as long as a ballpoint pen cap but twice as wide; it's still full of epoxy with short bits of the feather quills sticking out. Stepping on it is as bad as lego. It's name is The Best! Toy! Evar! Currently it is under the couch, which gives us a rest from listening to her rattle it around on the kitchen tiles, or in her cat tunnel, or in the bathtub, or wherever else it makes the most noise. We will probably move the couch and give it back eventually, though it is kind of fun to watch her trying to squeeze her head under the couch.
posted by buildmyworld at 2:30 PM on May 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have a foster kitten who is not quite a year old and is obsessed with play. For most of her life she's been super wary of humans (and other cats, and almost everything else), and playing with her was the only way to positively socialize her. Then about a month ago a switch flipped in her brain and now she loves me, which is nice, but also means she's now even more insistent about playing all the time. The Cat Dancer is the only way I manage to get any peace at all, as I can dangle it with one hand with almost no effort while paying attention to other things and she'll eventually wear herself out (for a little while at least). Yes, it's just a bit of wire with some trash stuck on the end, but the wire has just the right elasticity and just the right curve in it to produce a perfect sort of chaotic motion with a few different oscillatory modes that you can easily (and mindlessly) switch between by twitching your fingers and wrist at different rates, and switching up the movement pattern does a fantastic job of keeping the cat engaged, and not attacking your feet or whatever.

A++, can't recommend highly enough.
posted by biogeo at 2:50 PM on May 7, 2021

Somebody dropped a pool noodle in our yard and my big cat, Baby Goat, REALLY liked to bite it. So we cut off sections about 1-2 inches thick and toss them at him. He goes nuts, bites them, then swats them around the rooms and chases them. Sometimes they roll and sometimes they yeet, the unpredictable movement entices him. He also likes the little circular plastic thingies that you tear off a milk or juice bottle when unsealing. They are small and there are probably 35-50 wild thingies under the furniture.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 3:00 PM on May 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

We are struggling with cat toys and have determined the fishing rod with a thick enough felt fish works but a too-thin chenille worm doesn't. Supervised string dangling with specifically rick-rack trim is his favored. I don't know if the zig zag pattern is somehow more stimulating or what.

$3 version of a treat puzzle. Lay it down on a carpeted area so it doesn't slide, put a few treats in it, and discover if cat prefers just sticking his damn fool head in or will actually try to use his paw to scoop them out.
posted by cobaltnine at 3:28 PM on May 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have many cats and they have many individual preferences:

100% like cardboard boxes, especially boxes with a single sheet of tissue paper draped over the top. It's a toy, it's a fort, it's a bed, and it's the least expensive thing on this list.

90% go bonkers over the Cat Dancer and Da'Bird. Both toys have to be kept stashed in on a high shelf in a difficult to open cupboard otherwise they will be torn to pieces overnight. The Cat Dancer holds up longer than Da'Bird does, plus the replacement Da'Bird lures are expensive and the pole needs periodic inspection because fiberglass splinters are not fun for anyone.

85% love these things on a stick. The cats that fetch will bring them to people to play. People like them because they are interactive yet keep cat claws a foot away. If you have a Daiso near you, you can get 2 for $1.50. Combine them with a sheet of tissue paper and a box for highest play value.

50% love the cat cannon. This closely correlates to cats who like it because they can shoot out one end and ambush another cat vs. cats who do not like it because another cat shot out of one end and ambushed them.

30% like captive ball track toys. We have 4 tracks, a figure 8, a small round one and 2 big round ones. No one plays with the small one once they are past kitten stage. The figure 8 has always been completely ignored and is kept around only because hope springs eternal that some day someone will play with it. But the big round ones are perennial favorites, I think because the inside part is just the right size for a cat to curl up inside and keep the ball always within reach. The big rings are popular enough that they are put away at bedtime because they are very noisy at 4 am.

25% like plastic springs. Thankfully they are cheap, I crush one into bits at least weekly via foot or vacuum.

15% play with miscellaneous mice and/or small prey-shaped toys, faux and real fur. One of the cats eats the covers off any real fur toys so she can yack it back up several hours later so any real fur toys left in the house are purely due to being deep under a major appliance. The faux fur brand linked is especially popular with the crew, something about the little knot on the end of the tail makes it more attractive than mice without a knot on the end of the tail.

10% like this automated laser. The smarter ones got bored quickly because the dot moves in a predictable pattern.

Things the cats love but I won't buy anymore: these pom poms. The fur eater ate one of these, which got stuck halfway through and incurred $1800 worth of vet expenses to get back out. Da'Bird will not be replaced because of the wand splinter issue.
posted by jamaro at 5:12 PM on May 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Several yards of tulle wadded up and dropped on the floor. Not labeled as a cat toy, but identified as such by our late Mingus during a sewing project. Wildly popular among cats we have had for running and sliding into or hiding in and pouncing on each other.
posted by jocelmeow at 5:25 PM on May 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

In order of preference of my not-super-playful senior cat:

Window + crow - not a toy, but if there's a place you can put peanuts out or if you can make your yard more bird-friendly, it's a winner

Lunch-sized paper bags - other toys are also more fun in combination with a paper bag. Crinkle a side of the opening so it stays open.

Da Bird - I bought knockoff refills and they were okay but not as good

"roller bee" - this is a fancy-pet-store toy, it is king of the small toys to bat around

Cat tunnel - must be wedged under furniture so cat can tear ass around the house and not have tunnel rolling around slowing them down. Poke the occupied tunnel with a wand toy to make cat writhe hilariously.

Cheerble ball - I got this after a friend's cat ignored it, but it's good in a small paper bag because of the added crinkly noise + less scary movement

Cat Dancer - was a favorite, dethroned by Da Bird
posted by momus_window at 6:06 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Nerf darts. If you throw them in an arc in the air your cat will make the most beautiful athletic jumps you have ever seen to pluck them out of the air and then carry them off somewhere mysterious. I recommend getting a refill pack because eventually they will be sacrificed to unknown corners and the vacuum god.
posted by edbles at 6:42 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

One of my cats loves this Tower Tracks Toy and the other loves those plastic spirals (only yellow ones though).

For the last half hour one of my cats has been playing with a piece of penne rigate.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:07 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've made a few different "fishing poles" for my cat. The original that she imprinted on as a kitten was from the store and quickly became unusable in pole form. The rod portion that would snap onto the fuzzy wiggly string part stopped snapping. I tied one of her little cloth mouse toys to it with some Christmas ribbon and while we don't play with it with her much these days per se, she will drag it out periodically, start yeowling, and try to very pointedly step on it. This seems to be the end goal.
I have created additional fishing poles from old radio antennae (they would up for easy storage!) and window blind rods. Something sturdy and something ribbony.

Also, bubble solution. There are cat nip scented ones, but regular bubbles were just as entertaining (check the toxicity though)

She's getting up there (11) but evidently still has attachment for her other toys from kitten hood. Every now and then I'll pull one out from storage.

However, the most successful new addition has been a small green rubber mouse. We moved into a house with no carpet and that mouse was in a Kleenex box the sellers had left (??? Don't question grandparents getting divorced, I guess). It is very agile on the tile and laminate flooring. I got some video of her batting it around today. It warms the cockles
posted by rubah at 9:14 PM on May 7, 2021

My Lena loves her ball, her bird, her snake and her mouse, but her perennial favorite is the plastic ring off the top of a plastic milk bottle. She will go nuts for them, playing fetch, carrying them around and just knocking them around so she can chase them.

Also this ottoman, which as soon as it entered the house became the BEST CAT SCRATCHER TOY EVER! Honestly, look at it - I don't know what else I was expecting!
posted by platinum at 9:47 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Cat Dancer is the one toy our lot will take from room to room to play with. Da Bird (especially the ones with real feathers, not plastic) is another winner, as is the triple cat tunnel.

But. Last year, none of those were as popular as a drawstring from a pair of knit pants with a few knots tied on the ends. String on a stick was the only toy that mattered for way longer than you'd think.
posted by Vervain at 12:20 AM on May 8, 2021

I also have a Hildy! Her favorite things to do are:

- da bird

- wand toy with mice made with deer hair - perhaps the smell or texture reminds her of Real Animals!

- chasing after plastic soda bottle caps (they bounce around in an alluring way, I think?)

- her squirrel that can be refilled with catnip

- assorted catnip mice - with the caveat that she likes the toys that can be refilled with fresh catnip MUCH better.

Hildy doesn't play fetch, exactly, but when she wants to play her favorite thing is chasing after things I throw for her; she'll chase after them and then want me to throw them again, or she'll chase after them, kill them, and want me to throw them again.
posted by Jeanne at 8:08 AM on May 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

My cats love many of the toys suggested above. They also like:
A long piece of hemmed burlap. They can hide under it, put toys under it, wrestle on it
Costco boxes are very sturdy, and they have holes of various sizes for hiding and playing kitty whack a mole. You can also wedge toys in the holes for the cats to pry out
A small, cheap drone
A ripple rug
These feather balls, which are still fun after they become sprout balls and then bald balls.
posted by TrarNoir at 8:49 AM on May 8, 2021

Hair ties are far and away Twinkle's most favorite toy. She steals them wherever she finds them and bats them around on our laminate floors until they disappear under the couch or fridge. Every time she jumps in my lap while I'm sitting in the recliner she immediately checks the cup holder to see if I've left a hair tie in there. Last time I moved the couch I found about 20 of them, so I tossed a few into the cup holder to make her day.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:41 AM on May 8, 2021

>A small, cheap drone

Oh man, I forgot about this. I bought one of these and it immediately attracted the intense and focused attention of the entire pride. However, the drone's inaugural flight lasted for just under 2 minutes because our least athletic cat shocked everyone by leaping 5' straight up, snatching it out of mid-air and scuttling off with it. It's been 2-3 years since and the drone still hasn't turned back up.
posted by jamaro at 11:25 AM on May 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

My kitty has been indifferent to most of the toys mentioned above (with the exception of the faux fur mice jamaro linked), but she strongly recommends a pair of pipe cleaners, twisted around each other with the ends tucked in so they're not pointy. Bonus points if that whole apparatus is coiled into a spiral like a big spring. Kind of like this but without the face.

She also likes her hexbug nano but those don't work on carpet.
posted by bunnysquirrel at 12:15 AM on May 10, 2021

You guys are LUCKY - my Dinah has literally grown bored of every squeak, fur, wire and string you could imagine. I've had to get her PUZZLE FEEDERS to get her to leave me tf alone when I'm trying to work.

We began with Melon Madness which she figured out in half a sniff

Then Leveled up to Buggin Out Puzzle Feeder - which slowed her down - whew

Finally after mastering these two, I bought this ADVANCED TOY FOR DOGS which is the toughest one for her.... and yet she's figured out how to slide all the squares to eat the treats beneath. Nothing if not persistent.

Siamese approved.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 4:23 AM on May 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

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