Our cat needs better toys!
April 20, 2022 8:38 AM   Subscribe

We have a very smart cat. He needs toys.

This is Steve. Steve is two years old, well behaved (mostly - he is a kitten, after all), full of energy, and generally a fun little guy to have around. He is also, unquestionably, the smartest cat we have ever had. He figures out how to get into cabinets, drawers, and boxes pretty much whenever he encounters one.

We have bought Steve a ton of toys - things on strings so he can jump and play, these little hexbug things that he can chase and bat around, and any number of other plush/small/easily chaseable, get-your-energy-out kinds of toys. And he really likes them - for a day or two, and then he gets bored and goes back to trying to open drawers/cabinets etc. He'll occasionally dig out a hexbug from wherever he bopped it to, but he's generally a "if it's not in front of me, I forget it exists" kind of cat, as far as his toys go.

We're pretty sure he needs some more stimulating toys. Have you ever had a super smart cat who needed more than "normal" toys generally offer? What kinds of toys/activity sorts of things did your super smart cat like?
posted by pdb to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Toy rotation is important to my beastie. Put the toy away and trade it for another one very few days. Before toy A becomes boring, but even afterwards. It will be new again when it comes back.
posted by janell at 8:44 AM on April 20, 2022 [5 favorites]

Sorry if this is an obvious question, but how much are you actively playing with Steve? My youngest cat (who is a little older than Steve) is the most energetic cat I've ever had, and he really needs us to play with him several times a day in a high-energy way - using a teaser to get him to jump up on furniture, climb up and down the cat tree, etc. We need to run him ragged.

He can enjoy some self-play with bunny-kick toys, and these cheap springs were/are a big hit, as were these plastic balls with a bell in them. He also really likes running through this tunnel.

We have also found it helps to actively encourage play with toys. So with the bunny-kick toys, if he hasn't taken to one or if he's become bored with it, the next time he's a bit zoomy we will "attack" him with the toy or animate it in some way - this can reignite interest.

Finally, do you have some outdoor space? We go for daily "walks" now that the weather is nice enough, which really just means we put leashes on the cats, and watch them meander in the yard. The outdoors are very stimulating for cats.
posted by coffeecat at 8:50 AM on April 20, 2022 [8 favorites]

This thing!!! Cat Treat Dispenser Maze. Our too-smart-for-her-own-good cat loves it and has for a while. Sometimes we switch out the toys inside, or thread a shoelace through one of them. We actually used it to train her to come in from the fenced-in back yard - we give it a little kick (so the bells ring) and drop a couple treats in it and she comes running. Now we can just ring the bells and she comes in.
posted by nkknkk at 8:52 AM on April 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Our cat (**super smart, super motivated) loves to play, and two of her favorite toys have been a paper ball made up of crumpled brown paper. Yes. I know. You take the ball and throw it and she goes crazy. Way better than all the fancy cat balls we have bought over the years.

Another toy that she has never grown tired of is the IKEA cat tunnel. This requires participation from you. Our cat likes to play the "You wait at one end with your hand in front of the tunnel and I dash through and try to swat your hand". Then you go to the other end and repeat.

Another trick I just recently taught her was to tap my hand when I have a snack in it and then I release the snack. It was super easy to train her, just put the snack in my outreached fist near her front leg and tap it, and then say "paw, paw, paw!". She learned in less 5 minutes to tap my hand on her own.

**For what it is worth, all the cats I have had are super smart, and I think it is just because I have paid a lot of attention to them and spent time trying to figure out what they are saying and interacting accordingly.
posted by nanook at 8:53 AM on April 20, 2022 [5 favorites]

Also don't underestimate the endless hours of enjoyment from "Cat TV," aka a birdfeeder that attaches to the window.
posted by nkknkk at 9:02 AM on April 20, 2022 [6 favorites]

This isn't a toy, but he will LOVE it: Clicker Training for Cats.
posted by amtho at 9:07 AM on April 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best thing I ever bought for the cats - a collapsible tunnel. But cat friends sometimes help too! My boys keep each other busy.
posted by tiny frying pan at 9:13 AM on April 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Get some of those cheap balls with a bell inside. Tie one to a doorknob for batting around; change the length of the string/ height of the toy sometimes.

Smallish plastic objects, like caps from soda bottles, hair clips, anything that isn't a swallowing hazard, but is light and skittery are great cat toys. Occasionally harvest them from under a couch, chair, bed.

Boxes or large paper bags.

Get fabric mousies, spray with catnip spray, but not every day.

You can get cheap plastic drawers and put treats or toys in them, so Steve can open them. Use tape or wedge folded paper in a drawer to increase difficulty.

Definitely change out the toys. Old toys do not spark joy, toys that haven't been seen in 2 weeks are new toys. Also, Steve is a small lion, not a housecat, right?
posted by theora55 at 9:20 AM on April 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Our smartest guy is obsessed with these type things.

Also I understand that many cats love these flippy fish. I thought our cats would love it too, but they were mostly terrified of the dang thing.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:27 AM on April 20, 2022

I have Steve's intellectual twin . We do toy rotation. He turns up his kitty nose at balls and catnip. He will, sometimes, chase the feather on a stick. But he will knock over a linebacker to get to a treat puzzle.

We have several but our latest greatest hit is this treat/food maze . It's very easy to load and he loves it. Also you can change the configuration to make it harder/easier/just different.

It's very difficult to keep a smartie entertained. You have my sympathies!
posted by susandennis at 9:32 AM on April 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Our youngest, smart, cat is highly play-motivated, especially with my partner, whom she has decided is Her Person. We have a couple of puzzle feeders for her, cat trees next to most windows that look out on trees where birds land, and out on a window where there's 2 bird feeders.

We also periodically leave the TV on YouTube to a couple of cat video channels: Paul Dinning's videos of birds at feeding stations and Cat Games (her favorites are the gecko and the tadpole).

However, we've got the most mileage out of (1) a kitchen infrared thermometer used as a laser pointer toy (batteries last FAR longer than a normal laser pointer), because a human can idly use it while engaged in reading or another activity, and (2) by spending time with her, which is what she really wants, working on teaching her to communicate using buttons she can press. Right now, she knows LASER, STICK and PETS, and we're teaching her ALL DONE, though as that's rather abstract I'm sure it will take longer.
posted by telophase at 10:24 AM on April 20, 2022 [6 favorites]

Hello Steve the smarty cat! We have a cabinet opening student of physics who is also a cat. Here are my main suggestions.

1. Food puzzles help cut down on the looking for trouble, Nina Ottosson brand is excellent and I've recommended this specific puzzle on the green before, some of the other ones were too easy for our cat.

2. Flying toys (not attached to wand toys). I play fetch with our cat, using hair ties. This must be supervised as he at some points decides to just chew on it but it is delightful when he dashes across the living room in hot pursuit, paws around until he finds it, and then trots back with it dangling from his mouth.

3. Rummage/seek-and-find. Some cats just like to rummage around, here's what I wrote:
I also rumple up the area rug (hallway runner size) to create small tunnels and toss toys into the tunnel and the cats will totally rummage around underneath the rug with gusto for toys they are otherwise not that interested in chasing. A flat strawberry box, the kind with holes, is also a huge hit. I just turn it upside down and then play whackamole with the cats. It's less obvious that I'm responsible for the straw or whatever poking out, disappearing and then reappearing at a different hole. The ripple mats suggested in earlier comments are too shallow for extended play, but I will hide pieces of kibble in there.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:54 AM on April 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh! And I have found simply wrapping coated wire around a feather makes an excellent diy toy. Our cat likes animal product based toys (real feathers, rabbit fur, etc). If the Etsy strike is over, I suggest using "recycled" or "upcycled" + "cat toy" as search terms to find some great options.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:57 AM on April 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Er last comment, I think.

I assume Steve is also observant like our cat, as in he pays attention to how you open things*, where you put things, etc. I once made the mistake of assuming I could put a bag of dry food in the broiler compartment of the oven while our cat observed and he immediately began trying to open the relatively heavy pull drawer and was successful after a few minutes. I sometimes tell him that he needs to get better hobbies but you know, figuring out how the world works is actually an excellent hobby.

You might want to dedicate one drawer and one cabinet to storing things that won't be harmed if Steve gets into them. I have accepted that I can't fully prevent the behavior, so I might as well reduce my stress and need to go deter him in the moment.

*I'm moving soon and pray that we have old school door knobs because those lever door handles, while totally better in every way, are going to lead to a cat waltzing into closed rooms whenever he wants.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:04 AM on April 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

Our last cat love, love, loved those plastic rings from milk jug caps. He especially loved playing fetch with them.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:49 AM on April 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Great question, thanks. Those flippy fish are an Amazon lightning deal for the next few hours!
posted by cyndigo at 11:56 AM on April 20, 2022

Be careful with any "cat TV" content, because that is exactly what caused our cat to investigate behind the TV, knock it over, and give us an excuse to buy a new TV.
posted by wakannai at 1:26 PM on April 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

I was just taking care of some kittens who loved a crinkly tunnel like this, although I have also known cats that found a paper bag as amusing.
posted by pinochiette at 2:41 PM on April 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

These toys are magical! Especially if Steve likes catnip. I got a big MadRat and some mew mice.
posted by mermaidcafe at 10:41 PM on April 20, 2022

Seconding that Steve seems like an excellent candidate to learn a bunch of tricks! The book linked above is the one to get. My cats love interacting with me, and really enjoy the interaction of doing a round of tricks - sit, sit up, high five, wave, kiss, turnaround, that kind of stuff, since they're lazy types. Since Steve is young and active, the sky's the limit on the fun you could have with him. One cat likes an evening game of "chase the treat" too, which I can do while watching tv.
posted by bluesky78987 at 7:52 AM on April 21, 2022

We just got the Ripple Rug and it's a big hit with our more energetic kitty. I make the wand toy hide in the holes and sometimes I hide other toys in the holes for her to find. Also I've found the GO Cat toys to be really engaging for our kitties--particularly the Purrpellar and Da Mouse. They look pretty realistic and you can switch out the toy on the wand very easily, which is fantastic for rotating toys. Last suggestion, Mr. Wiggler is the current favourite toy in our house and goes nicely on a GO cat wand. It is...very lifelike, apart from the bright colours.
posted by kittensyay at 1:46 PM on April 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

also, pipe cleaners.
posted by theora55 at 8:18 AM on April 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

We just adopted a pair of one-year-old cats and are re-learning about the need for stimulating cat toys (although their most stimulating toys are each other--does Steve possibly need a friend?). I had had a Cat Dancer for a previous kitty and bought a new one for my little ones. Cheap-ass, ridiculous thing, and it's a huge hit. It's good for interactive play with us, plus my spouse rigged up a way to suspend it in a door frame so they can play by themselves (and they do). One of them seems clearly smarter than the other, and that one has figured out how to hop up on the kitchen counter and pull at it from the suspended end.

Also seconding theora55 about the pipe cleaners. Those have always been our elderkitty's favorite.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:05 AM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

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