Image via iStock.com/CasarsaGuru
By Monica Weymouth
Is your cat obsessed with birds? Does he routinely attack your electrical cords while ignoring his gigantic pile of cat toys? Sounds about right.
Although it can be easy to forget when they’re curled up and purring in our laps, cats remain wild animals at heart. And animals are driven to hunt prey.
“The important thing to remember is that all cats are born hunters, whether they act it or not,” says Dr. Shelby Neely, director of clinical operations for WhiskerDocs. “To stimulate them, toys and activities need to mimic what they would be doing in the wild.”
Hunting is a dangerous game, so it’s important to provide your pet with cat toys that can safely satisfy his wild side. Here are five expert-approved alternatives to some of your cat’s favorite yet hazardous household “prey” items.
String and Yarn
Similar to the tail of a mouse or a snake—both of which cats hunt in the wild—an unraveling ball of yarn has a bewitching effect on curious kitties.
“The old standby that cats cannot seem to resist is a string pulled along the floor,” says Susan Bulanda, a certified feline behavior consultant.
Unfortunately, a cat playing with yarn is not a safe activity. If ingested, yarn, string and ribbon can become wrapped around the intestine, causing life-threatening complications.
Instead, offer kitty-safe alternatives that satisfy her yarn cravings, such as the Moody Pet Fling-Ama-String cat toy. This battery-operated cat interactive toy features a brightly colored cord that flings about in a way that’s similar to how a prey would move.
“Many cats enjoy interactive toys, especially if they are introduced while the cat is younger,” says Bulanda. “The key is to try different things. Cats, just like people, have likes and dislikes. It’s up to the cat’s person to find what they like.”
Electrical cords are fascinating to cats for two reasons. For one, similar to string, they can appear prey-like when they move. Additionally, their rubbery texture is fun to chew, especially for nibble-happy kittens.
Unfortunately, electrical cords are also dangerous—cats chewing wires are at risk of choking and electrocution.
If you have a wire hunter on your hands, it is recommended that pet parents unplug their appliances when they’re not in use, as to avoid electrocution. When the item is in use, you can cover the wire so your cat cannot reach it.
For best results, be prepared to break a sweat yourself—the more you make the “prey” dance about, the more fun your cat will have pursuing it.
“Interactive play sessions are mentally and physically satisfying for a cat, create a bond with the owner, and allow the cat to act out the natural cycle of hunt, kill, eat and groom,” says Suzanne Denk, an animal enrichment specialist at Pittsburgh-based rescue Animal Friends.
To discourage cord chewing, try offering a kitty-specific chew toy, such as the Petstages Dental Health Chews cat toy. Trimmed with streamers and filled with catnip, these durable dental toys both massage gums and clean teeth as cats chew.
Cats make excellent exterminators. Although eating the occasional fly isn’t a cause for concern, some bugs do carry parasites that can infect cats, says Dr. Jennifer Coates, a Colorado-based veterinarian.
According to Dr. Coates, although rare, physaloptera, a type of stomach worm, can be transmitted to cats through the ingestion of some insects, including beetles, crickets and cockroaches.
Cats generally respond to bee stings and spider bites the same way that humans do, says Dr. Coates. While most cause mild pain, irritation and itchiness, serious allergic reactions can occur.
“The bites of some spiders, such as black widows or brown recluses, can cause serious tissue damage, so if your cat is in discomfort or you observe tissue discoloration, swelling, drainage or any other worrisome symptoms, call your veterinarian,” advises Dr. Coates.
Fortunately, there are plenty of toy bugs for cats, such as the Hexbug Nano Robotic cat toy. This cat electronic toy is specially designed to scamper about like a real insect and can even navigate around household objects while trying to escape your cat’s ferocious paws.
Lifelike movement is important in keeping your cat’s interest. “A basket of cat toys looks fun, but from the cat’s point of view, the basket is full of dead prey,” says Denk.
They don’t call it a “cat-and-mouse game” for nothing. Even the most low-key cats are hardwired to chase mice; but just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe.
“Hunting mice is a natural behavior for cats, but it is not without risk,” says Dr. Coates. “Cats may be injured when a mouse fights back, be exposed to poisons if the mouse has ingested a rodenticide, or come down with a number of parasites or infections including tapeworms, plague and toxoplasmosis.”
Luckily, there are plenty of cat toys that mimic mice so well, your kitty might renounce his rodent ways.
Electronic cat toy mice, such as the SmartyKat Hot Pursuit electronic concealed motion cat toy, come pre-programmed with prey-like movements to keep kitty entertained.
Low-tech options offer plenty of fun, as well. The SmartyKat Skitter Critters catnip cat toy is stuffed with catnip for a bonus buzz, while the Pet Zone Play-N-Squeak MouseHunter cat toy squeaks like a real mouse.
If you opt for a non-electronic version, remember to do your part and make the toy seem “mousey” by batting it around and moving it quickly across the floor.
“It's not enough to throw a catnip mouse on the floor and expect your cat to get enough stimulation and exercise,” says Dr. Neely. “You have to get involved.”
If you’re a cat, you’d do pretty much anything to spend just 5 minutes under the bird feeder. Even having a view of the bird feeder through the window can make for an entertaining afternoon.
But just as eating mice and bugs is unhealthy, ingesting a bird can cause a number of problems.
“A bird’s beak and claws can cause injury, and digestive upset is possible if the cat eats their kill,” says Dr. Coates.
Additionally, cats can come down with a condition known as songbird fever, warns Dr. Coates. This infection occurs when cats eat birds that have been weakened by a large number of Salmonella bacteria, which tend to be plentiful around bird feeders and other areas contaminated with bird feces.
The second best thing to batting a real bird around is playing with cat toys with feathers. With a lifelike chirp and flashy red plumes, the OurPets Play-N-Squeak Real Bird Fly Over cat toy is designed to grab your little hunter’s attention.
Or consider the Pet Zone Caged Canary interactive cat toy, which wobbles back and forth while the bird flutters and chirps to keep your kitty on his toes.
For a bonding experience, engage your pet in a game of kitty catch with the Kong Active feather teaser cat toy. This wand toy is adorned with bright feathers and an irresistible crinkle sound.