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Safe and Sound Toys for Your Cat

By: Judith A. Stock

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As any cat owner knows, it is nearly impossible to guess what toy is going to make your kitty sit up and take notice. However, when choosing toys that will provide stimulating play for your cat and keep him engaged, you must also consider the safety factor. So, just which safe toy will engage frisky kitties when the clock strikes playtime?

The Safety Factor

When considering toys for your kitty, keep this in mind: If it can be swallowed, it is dangerous. The backward-pointing barbs on a cat's tongue make it difficult for him to remove items from his mouth.

It is important to stay away from toys that have string or shiny bits of metal that cats might swallow. When choosing a toy for your cats avoid any that may be a choking hazard. Stay away from toys with small parts or toys that have pieces that may become dislodged during a playful cat romp. The same is true for small balls, yarn, ribbon, tassels, rubber bands and bells. Check toys for glued-on decorations or trim. Also, make sure they are not made of a toxic substance. All of these can cause severe injury to your curious pet.

Purposeful Play

The search for the perfect cat toy may last a lifetime, but it is a worthy journey. No matter what age, from kitten to senior, cats naturally love to play. Play stimulates intellectual growth, develops coordination and balance and teaches cats proper interaction with humans and other cats (socialization). During playtime cats get needed exercise to hone their skills of pouncing and hopping as an outlet for their boundless energy.

"Play is important for cats," says Mark Cousins, DVM, and ABVP, specialist in feline practice, the Cat Practice, New Orleans, Louisiana. "Play teaches cats hunting and stalking maneuvers that are essential in the wild in order to survive."

According to Cousins, play should be directed toward inanimate objects, not people. Cats should never be allowed to scratch humans. "I tell my clients to get cat toys, because the cats are biting the clients."

Playful Cat Tales

"We have three cats: Simoom, a 7-year-old black female; Oscar, a 4-year-old gray and brown tabby, and Snowball, an 18-month-old, all white cat," says Mary Lou Jay, Timonium, Maryland. "As kittens they all loved the circular plastic ring that had a ball inside and the squeaking mouse. It drove us crazy but the cats loved it."

"Oscar loves anything with feathers, big feathers, small feathers, he's not particular," says Jay. "He used to drag around a feather boa that one of my daughters had for dress-up. Snowball loved a toy mouse that squeaked every time there was movement. It was on a pole, on the end of a string, and he played with it for hours."

Cat toys are beneficial because they keep cats from being destructive by engaging their attention and giving them an outlet for their more aggressive instincts, says Matthew J. Ehrenberg, DVM and ABVP, certified in feline practice, Cats Only Veterinarian House Calls, Woodland Hills, California. "Most playing is pretend killing so possibly it keeps them from directing that normal tendency into less acceptable pathways."

It's tough to predict what will seize a cat's fancy. Nine-year-old Spike likes the "Byte Bill®" catnip doll whose face looks surprisingly like Microsoft's Bill Gates. "Spike mostly just drags Bill around the house in his mouth and occasionally he'll pause long enough to give Bill a good kicking with his hind legs," says Kim Knox, Avon, Conn. "Spike has always liked just about anything laced with catnip."

Then there's 6-year-old Serena who loved her wind-up frog. "She played with the frog while I was soaking in the tub. The frog swam laps along the side of the tub and Serena would sit on the edge, and dunk the frog under with her paw," says Hilda J. Brucker, Atlanta, Ga. "She eventually carried it off and beheaded the frog and that was the end of that game."

Cat Toy Suggestions

Picking cat toys off the shelves at any pet center or website can be an adventure. Here are some suggestions that might help you overcome the cat toy maze.

Recommendations:

  • Da Bird looks like a fishing rod with attachable feathers on the end that can be replaced when worn. The package bills this toy as the #1 cat toy on the market and says it is recommended by veterinarians as an interactive exercise toy. Alert: "Hide this toy when not in use or cats will love them to pieces."

  • Cat Dancer is an interesting toy made from a looped wire with rolled cardboard pieces about 1/2 inch attached at the end of the wire. The package says "Hold Cat Dancer lightly between your thumb and forefinger and play with your cat." Look for the stand that goes with this product so kitty can play when you're not at home.

  • A-Door-Able Bouncing Mouse is a furry catnip filled mouse attached at the end of an elastic cord that hangs over any size door frame that will jump and bounce as the cat swats the mouse.

  • Kitty Glow Balls has two balls to a bag. The balls glow in the dark making for nocturnal amusement for your cat. Most cat owners will sleep through this one. Each ball has multi-colored yarn that sticks out from inside the ball making it more interesting for the cat. Beware: Make sure the yarn is only two inches long, in case it becomes detached from ball. String or fibers can be swallowed and become wrapped in your cat's intestines.

  • Kitty Roller is a colorful plastic cylinder with geometric shaped cutouts that kitty can roll and bat around the floor. There is a ball inside the cylinder and a bell inside the ball.

  • Crazy Circle is two pieces of plastic that look like a tire shape with a medium- sized ball inside so when kitty bats the circle the ball inside runs around the large tire shape.

  • Diz Wiz is a bright colored plastic bowl with a 10-inch plastic stick that attaches inside the bowl. At the other end of the 10-inch stick is a swivel-jointed stick that has a string with feathers attached to the end. This toy looks like a spinning top when the bowl wobbles and spins around. Beware: Care should be taken to make sure the spring doesn't become dislodged from plastic.

    "Cats seem to get bored with the same old toys and like a little novelty," says Ehrenberg. "They like high shelves, climbing trees and posts. Some cats like to chase those laser pointer toys, too."

    Toys Found Around the House

    Toys don't have to be expensive for a cat to have fun. Sometimes cardboard boxes or large paper bags will do or something as unceremonious as a wadded up piece of paper will keep kitties amused for hours. A preference for play toys is very individual according to each cat's likes and dislikes.

    Now if we could just find the secret to teaching our favorite felines to pick up their toys when they are done playing, then everybody would be happy.

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