How to Pick the Best Cat Toys for the Holidays

Shopping and safety guidelines for the feline your life

We know your holiday shopping list would not be complete without a present for your feline family member. You can find aisles full of cute toys for cats (not to mention toys for dogs, birds, rabbits, and other critters) at pet stores, kids’ toy stores, discount stores like Target and Walmart, and on shopping websites. Many toys are safe and give your cat something to chew on and scratch besides your couch. But some can cause injuries so you need to be careful about what you buy.

In addition to safety, think about buying the right mix of toys for your kitty. Our goodies are broken down into three categories: Play-with-me, keep-me-busy, and calm-me-down toys, plus we have some shopping and safety tips.

Cats will play with just about anything, so you don’t need many toys to make them happy. A couple from each category will do. Even a paper bag (with the handles cut off for safety) or a small cardboard box can provide hours of fun. Also, rotate your cat toys every few days just to keep things new.

A word of caution: Always inspect each pet toy. If it's worn or torn, replace it before your cat tries to eat it. Ribbons, feathers, string, or elastic on toys should be carefully monitored, trimmed away, or avoided.

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Play With Me Toys

Do get toys you’ll want to play with, too. “Playing with your cat for, say, 15 minutes twice a day gives cats the exercise they need and bonds you together,” says Nancy Peterson, the former Cat Program Manager at The Humane Society of the United States.

Some cats will play fetch with small balls. Cat dancers—usually sticks or mitts with things that dangle—are tantalizing and provide great jumping exercise. Toys that dangle from doorknobs are also fine as long as any elastic is well enclosed and there is no risk that the cat will eat the string.

Don’t leave toys with strings, feathers, ribbons, or other objects that can be swallowed lying around; that can cause choking or intestinal blockages. When play time is over it's a good idea to put away balls with small bells in them for the same reason, and replace them if they crack or show signs of wear.

Don't forget your pooch. Find out how to pick the best dog toys for the holidays.

Keep Me Busy Toys

Do try catnip toys. They encourage play when you’re not around, which can keep cats away from stuff you don’t want destroyed. Snip off bits on toys that might be chewed off as cats play with them while you're gone, like feathers, strings, or bells.

You may find catnip doesn't have much effect on little kitties and older cats. If the opposite turns out to be true, and you find catnip makes your cat extremely aggressive, you can donate those toys to a local shelter.

Don’t forget cats, like dogs, enjoy treats. Toys like Kongs that slowly dispense dental snacks and other goodies can keep them occupied.

Check Consumer Reports' 2015 Holiday Guide for our picks of the best gifts, details on the latest deals, time-saving tips, and much more. And see our countdown calendar for top gift ideas for everyone on your list.

Calm Me Down Toys

Do see if your cat likes carrying around a stuffed toy he can cuddle with and bite. Or your cat might prefer fabric toys that make a nice crunch, like a chew ring or fish.

Don’t hesitate to trim anything that can be swallowed if you want to let your cat have access anytime to these toys.

Watch out!

Here's why you shouldn't leave stringy stuff out: Rough cat tongues have tiny sharp barbs on them, called filiform papillae, that look like little spines that hook backward (here's a good image from Tumblr). Those papillae can pull things that get on their tongue down their throat, which can choke them or cause an intestinal blockage. For more safety tips, watch the video below.