As most people who live with them have discovered, cats either go crazy for a cat toy or couldn’t care less. But interactive cat toys, those that respond in some way when played with, can get even the laziest kitty moving for a more active and healthy lifestyle.
“The benefits of interactive toys for cats, especially indoor ones, are enrichment when they otherwise may not have an enriching environment," explains Dr. Crista Coppola, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist at The University of Arizona. "Indoor life can be a bit mundane for a cat that is a natural born hunter that would normally spend its day in the wild stalking and catching prey,” she says. “Interactive toys specifically satisfy the categories of mental, physical, and social enrichment.”
Interactive cat toys are particularly valuable in households with just one cat. “While cats are not socially obligate like our dogs, they most definitely enjoy social interactions with social partners,” adds Dr. Coppola. “Interactive toys help strengthen the human animal bond and can also help relieve stress for a cat that is experiencing stress in its environment.” In addition to making sure interactive toys engage your cat's mind and body, you'll also want to choose toys that are safe and made from durable materials.
Below are just a few of the best interactive cat toys available today.
Best Overall: Kong Puzzlements Pockets Cat Toy
No batteries or charging needed
Hours of entertainment
Simple and affordable
Only one color scheme
Some of the best cat toys are the simplest. The Kong Puzzlements Pocket Cat Toy stimulates your kitty’s natural curiosity. This nine-pocket play mat has lots of hiding places your feline friend will love exploring. In addition to the attached ball of yarn toy that rattles, it comes with a catnip mouse and a supply of extra catnip. The mat itself crinkles for added auditory excitement during play.
To keep it fun, you can hide bits of dry food or cat treats in the pockets to stimulate the parts of a cat’s brain dedicated to hunting and foraging. Or you can hide everyday items inside that your cat loves to bat around, such as pens, wads of paper, or their other cat toys.
They’ll delight in “catching” and playing with their toys and food. The cute design means it can blend with your home décor. You can spot clean it as needed, hand wash, or machine wash on the gentle cycle and hang dry. It also folds compactly for travel and makes a great, affordable gift.
Best Budget: Pet Zone Play-N-Squeak MouseHunter Cat Toy with Catnip
Stimulates natural hunting instincts
A toy mouse may be the most common and popular cat toy, but that also helps make it the most affordable. Although there are tons to choose from, the Pet Zone Play N’ Squeak Mouse Hunter Cat Toy with Catnip takes “toy mouse” to the next level. This fuzzy, catnip-filled mouse makes mouse-like electronic squeak noises that stimulate your cat’s hunting instincts.
Your cat will enjoy stalking and pouncing on this plush mouse that’s realistic in size, shape, and color. They’re widely available and, depending on where you buy them, can be had very inexpensively. This cat toy also encourages exercise, keeping cats agile, healthy, and alert. Owners report that their cats love this mouse. You may want to buy one for every room of the house.
Best Laser: FroliCat BOLT Laser Pet Toy
Timer auto-off setting preserves battery life
Random movement could accidentally flash in eyes
Batteries instead of rechargeable or plug-in
Everyone knows that cats love laser pointers. The hands-free PetSafe Bolt Laser pointer can be used like any laser pointer in manual mode, but it can also be placed on a flat surface for hands-free entertainment. When set in automatic mode, the laser shines in random patterns that will keep your cat guessing and engaged.
It comes with an adjustable mirror so you can have some control of its range. Powered on four AA batteries, the Bolt includes a timer that turns off automatically after 15 minutes. It takes some minor adjustments to get it set just right at first. But once you find the sweet spot, cats will enjoy regular sessions that will keep their reflexes and mind sharp while also helping obese cats burn a few extra calories.
Best Food Puzzle: Trixie 5-in-1 Cat Activity Center
Safe to use while you’re away
Made of plastic
A little more expensive than some competitors
Cats evolved as hunters, meant to spend their days outdoors on the search for prey. Domestication means they no long need to hunt for survival, but that doesn’t mean they can’t hunt for fun and mental stimulation. Food puzzles have become very popular ways to give them indoor activities to keep their minds and reflexes sharp.
The Trixie 5-in-1 Cat Activity Center is a food and toy puzzle that incorporates five different types of entertainment and challenge for your cat. Sprinkle their dry food meal, treats or small toys over the activity center and watch your cat get sucked into trying to figure out how to catch, eat and play. Their digging instinct is awakened by the clear globes while the pegs, alleyways and indents encourage your cat to seek out the treats or small toys you sprinkle around.
The non-slip rubber feet help keep it in place, so it should stay upright even when your cat gets really excited. The simple white design should blend inconspicuously into your home. This activity center has value every day if you vary the food, treats and toys you use. Our tester also found it safe and easy to clean.
Best for Chasing: BENTOPAL Automatic Cat Toy
Makes a great gift
Built-in obstacle avoidance system
Battery needs to be charged
Chasing may be a cat’s favorite natural activity—after sleep of course. The BENTOPAL Automatic Cat Toy features a hanging feather attached to two large wheels that swivel, turn, and rotate so the toy will move in unpredictable ways that delightfully trigger your cat’s natural predatory instincts including stalking, chasing, and pouncing.
Two operating modes (fast and slow) allow you to adjust play to match your cat’s mood and activity level while also keeping it fresh and unpredictable. The wheels are large and sturdy enough to run on any type of floor, including most carpets.
There’s also a convenient automatic mode that can be used when you’re away for the day. The toy will run for 10 minutes, then turn off for 90 minutes, and then turn back on for another 10 minutes and so on for eight total hours. The built-in rechargeable battery will recharge via USB in less than three hours and should last up to eight hours in default mode. You may notice this same toy or a very similar toy sold under multiple brand names including BurgeonNest, Sefon and CSHope, but the BENTOPAL brand has the highest customer satisfaction ratings of the bunch.
Best String Toy: Moody Pet Fling-Ama-String Cat Toy
No assembly required
Even the laziest of cats love it
Some cats need time to adjust to the noise of the motor
Some cats may become so obsessed that you need to put it away between uses
We have all likely witnessed how excited cats can get when playing with a simple piece of yarn or string. Moody Pet’s Fling-Ama-String Cat Toy’s clever design has a proven track record of making cats happily berserk.
Designed to hook on any household door knob, this automatic string toy will get even the laziest of cats moving. One end of a long, brightly-colored, silky string is sewn onto a flat, elastic conveyer belt that rotates. When switched on, the string flings in and out enthralling your cat who will want to bite, paw, claw, and hopefully stop the string. But as soon as they let go, the string automatically starts to rotate again enticing them to play for long periods of time.
Made in the United States, Fling-Ama-String has two speeds to offer variety and to prevent boredom. Appropriate for any age, this toy requires three AA batteries that can be standard or rechargeable. This toy has been around since at least 2009 and has a long track record of satisfied kitty customers. For safety, the manufacturers recommend wrapping the string around the door knob when not in use to prevent your cat from unsupervised play that could get the string wrapped around a paw or their neck.
Best for Multiple Cats: Petstages Tower of Tracks Cat Toy
Easy to clean
Available in fun colors
Made of plastic
When you have multiple cats at home, you need a sturdy toy that more than one cat can play with at once. If you’re lucky, two cats will enjoy playing with the toy together for even more entertainment. One excellent option are track ball cat toys. There are a wide variety of track ball cat toys on the market to choose from.
Petstages Tower of Tracks Cat Toy is an affordable option, and widely available and well-liked by our editors. The Spruce Pets has also tested a similar—but less widely available—product, Easyology’s Amazing Roller Cat Toy. These two options, and many others, are made from plastic. For a more eco-friendly option, consider a track ball cat toy made from wood (view on Cute Cat Store) or the more sustainably-sourced bamboo (view on TheseCool).
Petstages Tower of Tracks is irresistible to cats because even though your cat will want to pull the three brightly colored balls from their tracks, their efforts only make the balls roll out of sight in their tracks. When cats are really excited, they may have all three balls spinning and rolling at once. Safe to play with even when you’re not at home, this stacked play station is built to last. You’ll appreciate that it includes non-skid pads on the bottom so it won’t move around or tip too easily.
Best Splurge: FurHaven Double Decker Playground
Cats love it
Easy to assemble
Can be wobbly if you have large cats who play at the top
Cats instinctively love to climb. Cat trees with interactive play elements are excellent option if you have room in your home for cat furniture. FurHaven Double Decker Playground is especially great for indoor only cats who don’t get to climb trees. Its multi-level platforms and variety of features inspire natural play and frequent exercise.
They’ll love scratching the sisal fiber posts, batting at the plush ball toys, biting and kicking the hanging rope, and jumping and climbing from platform to platform. This is large enough for multiple cats, including two separate cat condo hideouts for a game of hide and seek or quiet, cozy naps. It's available in cream and silver gray.
We like the Kong Puzzlements Pocket Cat Toy (view at Chewy) because it’s portable, washable, and stimulates your cat’s natural curiosity and hunting instinct. If you have the space and want to give your kitty an entire playground of stimulation, check out the FurHaven Double Decker Playground (view at Amazon) for an all-in-one playing, climbing and napping experience they’ll appreciate every day.
What to Look for in Interactive Cat Toys
“The best interactive toys for cats allow them to engage in their natural hunting behaviors—simulated of course. These include toys that allow for the stalk-chase-pounce-catch and shake hunting sequence,” notes Dr. Coppola. “The toys that should be avoided are those that encourage and inadvertently reinforce the cat pouncing and catching human hands (or other body parts). This type of toy can teach a cat to grab, bite and shake at humans which is not only painful but can cause physical injury.” You might need to try more than one to determine which types excite your cats most.
Physical and Mental Stimulation
Interactive cat toys should ideally get your kitty moving while also being unpredictable. Enticing them to jump, pounce, roll, and bat will provide mild aerobic exercise that they might have obtained while they were hunting for prey in the wild. But it also provides mental challenge and excitement that will keep them from boredom and the potentially negative behaviors that accompany it.
The right interactive toys can help your cat still feel like a kitten long into their later years, keeping their mood light, healthy, and happy.
Materials and Safety
Your cat will likely bite, chew, kick, and lick their toys, so you want to be sure they’re made durably from materials that are safe and non-toxic. Because they generally have higher health and safety standards for pet products in the United State and the United Kingdom, when possible look for toys manufactured in these countries rather than other places.
When you can, opt for toys made from plant-based materials like hemp, wood, bamboo, and cotton. You might also consider certified organic materials where available and if you can afford any premium on the price.
A product can be offered very cheaply and on a global scale, but that convenience sometimes comes at the expense and/or exploitation of a company’s workers. Whenever possible, spend your hard earned dollars with companies that pay their workers a living wage, provide a safe working environment and give back to the communities that help them grow and succeed. The term “fair trade” often encompasses these ideals.
Some third party organizations independently verify and certify fair trade practices so look for mention and/or seals on company packaging and websites, such as Fair for Life. However, be aware that some organizations have limitations while others simply issue certifications in exchange for membership fees so it’s important to do your research if you really want to shop fair trade.
Check out the “About” section of a company’s website for clues to their environmental and social responsibility. That’s where they’ll often list fair trade practices and any third party certifications as well as charitable programs in which they participate such as 1% for the Planet. Many pet supply manufacturers donate some of their products or financial support to animal shelters and hospitals. Whenever possible, choose companies and manufacturers that mirror your own environmental and social ethics.
What interactive cat toys are best for when you are away?
“The best toys are ones that are mentally engaging and unpredictable,” explains Dr. Coppola. “The unpredictability variable helps maintain your cat's attention. I especially like suncatchers that throw prisms of light for the cat to 'pounce and catch,' bird watching is also great for mental stimulation.”
Be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendations for potential safety hazards and related warnings. “A toy should not be left with a cat unsupervised if there are any potential hazards like ingestion, choking or strangulation,” adds Dr. Coppola.
How do you prevent cats from getting bored with their toys?
Dr. Coppola believes rotation and toy novelty are key to preventing boredom. “Cats will get bored with the same toys day in and day out. Limit their access so that the toy maintains its high value for the cat. When you only have access to something some of the time, its rewarding value is maintained (like dessert for humans).”
Try alternating toys on a daily or weekly basis to keep their interest and excitement fresh and exhilarating.
Why Trust The Spruce Pets?
This piece was written by Lorraine Wilde who has had at least two cat companions in her home for the past 35 years including some special needs kitties. Two of her cats lived happily and healthily into their early 20s.
When researching each product and brand, Lorraine evaluated the type and quality of each product, customer satisfaction, the company’s research and their business ethics.
Lorraine also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in environmental science. She is a firm believer that consumers can make healthy, informed and environmentally-conscious choices to protect their pets and our planet.
Dr. Crista Coppola is a Ph.D. Board Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) that specializes in the treatment of behavior problems in dogs and cats. Dr. Coppola graduated with a Ph.D. in Animal Sciences from Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, CO, with a concentration in Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Practice at the University of Arizona, teaching courses on Companion Animal Behavior, and a writer for SeniorTailWaggers.com. Dr. Coppola owns a dog (Guster), three cats (Tia, Jack, and Olive), and a horse (Two Socks).