Stereotypical images portray cats as lazy. But we know our feline family members like engaging in bouts of mischief and play. Kittens and senior cats alike enjoy pouncing on objects as simple as soda bottle tops (always a big hit in our house). And what self-respecting feline doesn’t go crazy when tempted with a dangling string? If you want to provide more engaging options for playtime, electronic cat toys offer various options.
The Importance of Play
Toys serve a lot of functions for cats. First, they interrupt stretches of potential boredom when you’re out of the house. For kitties with some extra weight, toys provide a means of exercise (disguised as fun, of course). And toys help keep kittens from going in search of trouble.
Electronic cat toys step those tasks up to the next level. Sound, light, and motion engage all of your cat’s senses, encouraging them to interact with their toys. Instead of relying on you to start a play session, your cat can investigate the toys independently. This is especially important if you work long hours away from the house.
Cats have natural predatory instincts. Even though your cat lives inside and prefers a comfy bed, a stealthy hunter resides in their heart. They instinctively know how to stalk, pounce, and attack. This natural behavior keeps those kitty brains sharp while releasing pent-up energy. (Crucial for kittens)
Indoor cats benefit from getting in touch with their hunter instincts. Catching prey (even simulated prey) releases dopamine in the feline brain. Dopamine is a neural transmitter that stimulates feelings of calm and accomplishment. Providing electronic cat toys that speak to those hunting behaviors helps your cat’s general well-being.
Choosing Electronic Cat Toys
With any cat toy, make sure you address your individual cat’s needs. Electronic cat toys should do the same. You want toys that engage the feline brain, encouraging entertainment. (If the toy isn’t fun, it’ll collect dust under the couch)
- Safety: First and foremost, make sure the electronic cat toys don’t pose a hazard to your cat. Check for small pieces that may end up swallowed. Make sure the materials are pet-friendly and able to hold up against active play.
- Durability: When you hit on a toy your cat loves, they’re going to play with it A LOT. You want the toy to last more than a couple of days. Remember, hunter instincts involve biting, scratching, bunny-kicking, and swatting. That toy needs to hold up to plenty of abuse.
- Age: Kittens need more mental stimulation to build up those brain cells. Tricky puzzles work best for them, engaging inquisitive minds. On the flip side, senior cats don’t need electronic cat toys that are quite so complex.
- Size: If you have a Maine Coon, they’ll want a toy that compliments their size. Find them a toy they can wrestle with. Smaller cats need a toy they can bat around, not a toy that dwarfs them.
- Behavior: Aim to engage that predatory behavior. You want to see butt wiggles and flattened ears. You don’t NEED electronic cat toys that resemble prey items, just toys that stimulate stalking and pouncing.
- Preference: All of that said, your cat’s an individual. Some small cats LIKE enormous toys. (I had a cat that dragged around stuffed animals three times her size) Aim to please your cat.
Best Ambush Electronic Cat Toys
Does your cat try to sneak up on you? Have your ankles fallen prey to attacks by furry feet from under the bed? Do you catch flashes of eyes spying on you from around the corner? Then your cat needs ambush electronic cat toys in their life. The unpredictability of where the toy will pop up or move next keeps those kitty brains engaged at all times. And it’ll save you from being a prey item (maybe).
SmartyKat designed its electronic cat toy with lights and motion. The base features flashing, moving lights, and a wand with feathers at the end. Soft, durable material forms a circle to cover the wand. The feathers flirt in and out from the cover, spinning in a circle. Your cat plays hide-and-seek with the feathers, their predatory instinct running wild. The three AA batteries last for an hour.
Downsides? The batteries aren’t included, of course. The cover can end up folded or bunched up. You can remove the cover, but you lose the hide-and-seek aspect of the toy. Also, the feathers come detached relatively easily. You CAN buy replacement wands, though.
PetFusion also employs lights and motion. The round base has six openings from which a colorful turkey feather randomly pops out. Lights flash to gain your cat’s attention, drawing them in. With no set pattern, your cat’s brain will go into overdrive, trying to pin down the elusive turkey feather. An automatic shut-off helps preserve the battery life in case your cat grows tired. PetFusion also backs the toy up with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty against operational defects.
The downsides? The rotor mechanism that powers the feather is LOUD. It may disturb some cats enough to dissuade them from using the toy. Also, if your cat’s strong or large, they can flip the toy over (which makes the rotor even louder).
CatIt uses lights while your cat provides the motion. The primary set contains eight sections of track with built-in dips that interlock. Openings along the track allow your cat to swat the light-up ball, which flashes every time it hits an obstacle (or paw). Want to present more of a challenge? You can purchase additional track lengths and rearrange the course into hundreds of patterns to keep the toy fresh. We have two track sets, and our cats adore the toy. Each time we set up a new design, it gets a fresh investigation. (Honestly, my husband has more fun inventing the patterns)
So what’s the downside? The ball is prone to malfunctions. You CAN open it to change the batteries, but it’s awkward. You can also purchase new balls if you want. We put a non-electronic ball on the track, and it’s still a favorite toy, so it’s up to you.
Best Laser Electronic Cat Toy
Very few animals DON’T like laser pointers. Even fish follow lasers around aquariums. No surprise, then, that laser electronic cat toys are so popular. Unfortunately, however, most involve your hand on the button (and fingers get tired). Good thing technology stepped in to give you a break!
PetSafe’s 8.5-inch electronic cat toy features two separate modes for the laser. You can set the mode to manual and participate in your cat’s chase antics. Or you can choose the automatic mode and let the random patterns take over. An automatic shut-off after 15 minutes keeps your cat from overdoing things. Want to change things up? Move the toy to a new spot or shift the mirrors up or down to provide a new laser light show. The low-level laser is safe for your cat, and it keeps them active and moving. Best of all, you get a one-year warranty!
Downsides? The four AA batteries aren’t included. Also, while cats like chasing lasers, they can’t catch or feel anything under their paws. This makes lasers a frustrating option. Limiting laser play is important for this reason. And the motor is a little louder than some people expected. Your cat might need time to adjust.
Best Prey Electronic Cat Toys
If you want to tap into the primitive part of your cat’s brain, you can’t go wrong with prey electronic cat toys. These toys resemble a cat’s natural prey items, mimicking the sounds, movements, and smells. (Okay, so they smell like catnip – but cats adore catnip) You’ll get a kick out of watching your cat or kitten tackle their new toys like a pro. They may even present their “kill” at your feet in triumph!
Do you have a senior cat? You still want to engage their play behavior, but rough and tumble electronic cat toys might be too much. Our Pets provides the perfect solution. This soft mouse toy emits a squeaking sound each time your cat bats at it, encouraging further play. In addition, the plush exterior feels similar to genuine mouse fur, further engaging your cat’s hunting instincts. Best of all, this electronic cat toy won’t break the bank.
Downsides? Some people found the squeak too quiet to entice their cats. Others fell on the opposite side of the spectrum: that high-pitched noise got annoying FAST. We have one of these (ironically, gifted to the cat that doesn’t hear 100%), and it’s obnoxious. Even a glancing touch sets the squeaker off, and even after SEVEN years, it’s still going strong.
If you want to provide a little more action with your electronic cat toys, HEXBUG has the answer. Two different modes allow young and old cats to enjoy the toy equally, engaging their hunt skills to the fullest. The soft fur houses a wiggling tail, floppy ears, random movements, and careful navigation around obstacles. You even get batteries included!
The downsides? The mouse is small, so supervise play to make sure your cat doesn’t lose their “prey” under inconvenient furniture. Also, the wheels don’t work well on carpets, so you’re confined to hard surfaces. Finally, there’s no automatic shut-off, so if you want to conserve battery life, you need to switch the electronic cat toy off when your cat takes a break.
Does your cat prefer tiny prey? HEXBUG came up with the perfect solution. The Nano option satisfies the most active insect-catcher. Vibration technology keeps the tiny “bug” moving in erratic patterns. It can even right itself and back out of corners – feats most electronic cat toys fail at! A trailing piece of fleece enhances the chase even more. The battery comes installed, ready for your cat to get started with play. I picked up one of these at a conference, and I was shocked at how big a hit it turned out to be. My cats love it! I have to rescue the poor thing to force them to take a break!
So what are the downsides? Again, this particular toy doesn’t work on carpets (in fact, it can’t move at all). Also, it’s on the small side, so you need to supervise play to prevent it from escaping under the washer, dryer, stove (the kitchen’s the only hard surface in our house – and all three happen regularly). And you do need to switch the toy off to preserve the battery.
Cats love to bunny-kick their prey. Leven capitalizes on this behavior with their flopping fish. Motion sensors activate when your cat approaches, selecting from three different “wiggle” patterns. Catnip infused into the material heightens your cat’s desire to play. In addition, the compact toy handles kitty teeth and claws, letting your cat engage in natural attack behavior. You can even wash the toy! Remove the motor, then pop it in the wash and hang it up to dry.
Downsides? Some people struggled to keep the motor charged. Others found the motor a little on the loud side. If you have a skittish cat, this may not be the best electronic cat toy choice.
Best String Electronic Cat Toys
String, yarn, ribbon, shoelaces; cats never tire of these familiar toys. So it’s no surprise that there are electronic cat toys that take advantage of this cat desire. As with other ribbons and yarns, though, these toys require strict supervision. The last thing you want is a linear foreign body. So if you want electronic cat toys you can leave for your cat while you’re away, maybe opt for one of the others on the list.
When Moody debuted at the Global Pet Expo, they took home Best in Show and Best New Cat Product. A silk cord resides on an elastic “conveyor belt” that continually rotates, flipping in and out to catch your cat’s attention. The electronic cat toy hangs on a doorknob, remaining sturdy. As soon as your cat grabs hold, the mechanism freezes, staring up when they let go. You can set two different speeds, depending on your cat’s abilities.
Downside? Smart cats CAN figure out how to get the cord loose and possibly ingest it. So only use this electronic cat toy when you can watch, and put it away the remainder of the time.
Yes, SmartyKat makes a second appearance on the list. While the Hot Pursuit mimics prey on the ground, the Loco! Motion mimics airborne prey. Feathers at the end of a string flip through the air, anchored on a base. The electronic cat toy is almost noiseless, regardless of which speed you set. The batteries last a long time, too, giving your cat plenty of playtime.
The downsides? Batteries not included, unhappily. Also, you need to make sure your cat doesn’t snap the string and swallow the feathers. You CAN purchase replacements if required. Finally, you may need to weigh down the base, depending on how exuberant your cat is. Some people found it tipped over easily.
Break Out the Toy Box!
Engaging your cat’s mind and senses is an essential part of their everyday health. Electronic cat toys accomplish the task better than static toys. They also provide stimulation and an escape from boredom when you can’t be home.
You don’t have to toss out the crinkle balls or catnip mice. Just consider adding some electronic cat toys to augment the cat toy box. Your cat will appreciate it, and you’ll love watching the extra activity!