Be a smarter pet parent
Next time, skip the web. Get health tips and wellness advice for your pet straight to your inbox.
Updated February 1, 2023
While cats can make a toy out of anything, the best cat toys challenge your cat’s instincts, encourage them to problem solve, and overall enrich their environment. We scoured the web for the best cat toys, put them in front of our panel of board-certified veterinarians, and then tested them with our four-legged experts. From our felines to yours, here are the eight toys we found to be a perfect addition to any cat lover’s home.
There’s something lovably old school about the SmartyKat Hot Pursuit. Unlike many other electronic toys, it relies on three AA batteries instead of a cord for recharging, keeping a wand steadily moving in a circular motion under the removable cloth cover. The feather at the end of the wand is just enough out of reach to keep a cat’s interest.
“This was our sleeper toy,” said tester Allison Williams. “At first, my cat seemed unnerved by the automatic, electronic motion, but when I walked back into the room a bit later, I found him watching and pouncing.”
|✓ Little human interaction needed, perfect for WFH cat parents||✗ Wand could be a smidge longer|
|✓ Folds up easily||✗ A little noisy|
|✓ Lights up!||✗ Might chew through batteries if left on for long periods|
This surprisingly-realistic fish flopped as if pulled straight from the water and onto the dock, but Zuko, our Russian blue tester, ran a little hot and cold when playing with it.
“Sometimes, he pounced and sent it flying across the floor,” Allison said. “He even dragged it up the stairs and under the bed, his favorite hiding place for treasures. Other times, he seemed to forget what it did and was uninterested, even when we gave the fish a tap on the belly to get it moving.”
When Zuko was interested, he sent it flopping without any human assistance — which you could hear across the house — and when he wasn’t, the fish waited patiently without running down a battery or charge.
“Even if it’s not our cat’s favorite,” Allison said, “the toy is a keeper because it does not require human interaction.”
|✓ No setup: toy works right out of the package||✗ Breakable. It's unclear if the mechanism is up for the long haul.|
|✓ No batteries; it comes with a USB charging cable|
|✓ Can be shut off to prevent the charge from running down|
Often overlooked for more impressive toys, a simple laser pointer goes a long way toward honing your cat’s hunter instinct. One big problem with laser pointers, though, is replacing batteries or buying a whole new one. This one is rechargeable, making it more convenient in a few different ways.
“Simple and easy to use, the cat loved chasing the little red dot all over the room,” said our tester, Davis Upton. “When it ran out of juice, I didn’t have to fumble for watch batteries — I could just plug it in and let my cat relax!”
|✓ Rechargeable and convenient||✗ Ran out of power after 30 minutes of constant use.|
|✓ Easy to use|
Infants and toddlers stand back, there’s a play mat for fur babies, too, and it stole the show for our tester, Allison. “My favorite toy tested so far,” she said. “I might have enjoyed it even more than my cat, cracking up every time he stuck a paw through one of the many different-shaped holes cut out in the top layer.”
Let us explain. The Ripple Rug is two rugs in one toy: a bottom layer spread across your floor and a top layer with cut-out holes and velcro fasteners called touch-points. When your cat tires of one configuration, move the touch-points to create a new design.
“Unlike other toys that I worried about being broken, chewed, or stepped on by humans or other pets, anyone can tramp over the Ripple Rug, and I’d just give it a good vacuum or wash,” Allison said.
👉 Check out the Ripple Rug website for tips on care instructions!
|✓ Endless configurations||✗ Space hog. It’s roughly the size of an office whiteboard.|
|✓ Durable. This cat play mat is made of two washable pieces of carpet.||✗ Needs accessories — throw a few toys under the rug for maximum play|
|✓ Fun for humans, too||✗ Pricier than other cat toys|
|✓ Folds away|
For any pet parent frustrated that their cat seems more intrigued by the cardboard box that the new toy arrived in than the toy itself, you know that there are times when simple is best. Unlike a motorized toy, these colorful springs aren’t at all scary, so cats are more likely to engage with them quickly. Our testers seemed to enjoy springing them into the air and losing them all over the house. We highly recommend these bouncy toys — our cats were entertained and so were we!
|✓ Simple — no setup||✗ Expect to lose these under furniture and other nooks and crannies|
|✓ Easy for the cats to bat around|
|✓ Several came in the package|
At about $16, the Frisco Plush, Teaser, Ball & Tri-Tunnel Toy delivers good value in our book. It comes with three tunnels, 20 toys, and a teaser wand. It’s an even better value if you buy it as part of a bundle with Arm & Hammer’s Clump & Seal Multi-Cat Scented Clumping Clay Cat Litter (28 pounds) as we did.
We liked the fact that the pack of toys could be used elsewhere, not just for the tri-tunnel. (We tossed a few under the Ripple Rug, above.) Tunnels often take a beating, but unlike the single tunnels we’ve tested, it would be much more difficult for most cats to wrestle and claw the tri-tunnel because of its three-way design. Owners of chunky cats have commented that these tunnels were a bit too narrow for their heftier kitties.
|✓ Tunnel and toy pack make for a good value||✗ Sags in the middle joint between the tunnels. Not a dealbreaker, but we’d like to see a design change in the future.|
|✓ Folds away|
Like a robot vacuum, the PetDroid Robotic Cat Feather Toy is “smart” enough to avoid obstacles as it rolls around the house, keeping cats entertained thanks to the attached wand and toy. While it took our testers a little while to get used to, it kept them engaged, especially Petra — she enjoyed watching it and learning its patterns. We’d recommend this toy, especially for younger cats.
|✓ Unpredictably switches directions and spins||✗ Some customers have complained that the wand is breakable, thereby rendering this toy less interesting|
|✓ Wheels accommodate uneven/different terrain (i.e. switching from floor to carpet)|
|✓ Lights up!|
If electronic toys aren’t your jam — you don’t want to fuss with batteries or one more charging cord — this three-track tower is old-fashioned fun.
“This was a great, inexpensive cat toy,” said our tester, Davis. “She liked pushing the balls around the three tracks and fishing in the toy to stop them from rolling around. While sometimes she ignored the toy, when she engaged with it, she really liked it.”
|✓ Inexpensive||✗ Cats may lose interest after long-term exposure|
|✓ Hones hunting skills|
|✓ Easy to clean and durable|
With so many cat toys to choose from, it can be hard for pet parents to decide what’s worth the money. Before you shop, take a minute to match the many options with your cat’s unique needs and personality.
Just like us, cats like variety in their activities. Select toys that are colorful and engage various skills for your cat. From hunting to jumping, physical exercise will help your cat be happier and more content with their environment. Puzzle games, even simple ones with treats in a toilet paper roll and newspaper blocking either side, can keep your cat’s interest and attention, and provide enrichment.
Because of a genetic predisposition or history, some cats may be averse to certain types of toys such as motorized, fast-moving toys or those that have a wand. Read more about Midnight, a feline member of the betterpet family, for a great example of this.
One of the chief complaints that new cat owners have is how their furniture can become ruined by cat claws. Second is the need to “cat-proof” the home by removing breakables or finding creative ways to display different items. While providing an enriching environment may not fix those issues every time or all the time, it can certainly help!
A great way to entertain your cats (and yourself) is to set up an obstacle course like the one in this video. Cats will enjoy figuring out increasingly difficult challenges, and you’ll probably enjoy watching them do it.
Here are two quick, sure-fire ways to create a positive place for cats.
One of the benefits of a multi-cat household is that they can keep each other entertained. For single-cat households or ones where one cat is more interested in snoozing than playing, toys that make noise or stay in motion safely are great. The Petstages Tower of Tracks we reviewed above is a great example of this and a good way to help prevent depression.
Cats can sometimes develop cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Any change in your cat’s behavior warrants a vet visit, but if your cat is diagnosed with this age-related condition, mental stimulation can help slow the progression of this dementia-like illness.
CDS aside, cats that experience stress also benefit from regular playtime and an environment that provides a lot of stress-relieving places to hide and perch.
The writers, editors, and staff of betterpet are pet parents, and we know the value of accurate, trustworthy information. Because of this, the products we review are first approved by our vets. We tested each cat toy so that when we say a cat toy is best, it comes from firsthand experience.
The betterpet lab developed a set of criteria and then put them to the test in real-world situations. Those factors included:
I found Midnight as a stray, and it was at least six months before I could pet him, let alone play with him. He’s a black cat with gorgeous green eyes and today, he loves to sleep in the bed with me, hoard catnip, and make biscuits on my face. It’s a drastic difference from the first time he finally let me look squarely at him years ago. Despite this, I still can’t use certain toys when we play.
Anything stick-like, including a broom while sweeping, or a simple cat toy with a feather at the end, causes Midnight fear and anxiety, even after years of being indoors, safe, and loved. He doesn’t always flee the room now, but this type of play isn’t good for him. So we stick with laser pointers, springs, and stuffed toy mice.
While a stray cat’s history can never be fully known, when it comes to black cats like Midnight—and oftentimes any cat that’s spent significant measures of time outdoors— there’s always the risk of abuse. This is something cat owners need to keep in mind and approach their new, formerly stray family members with patience, grace, and understanding.
It depends! A bottle cap may be more enticing than an actual cat toy for some cats, while others may only become engaged with light-up, interactive cat toys. It’s a matter of trial and error with each cat, but use the tips above for matching your cat with the best fit.
Keeping your indoor cat entertained and healthy starts with an enriching environment. The right toys, perches, hiding holes, and obstacles will keep them stimulated, out of trouble, and entertained when you’re home or away. Dedicate time for one-on-one playtime as well.
Cats need toys to stay stimulated and entertained just like people do. Toys will help them ward off stress, anxiety, and illness, stay out of trouble and be more content in their environment overall.
Generally, yes. For your sleep routine and your cat’s play routine, it’s best to pick up noisy toys at night. For cats that play quietly, this may be less of an issue. Cats are most active at dawn and dusk, so consider picking up toys after they’ve lost interest in the evening and putting them back down before breakfast.