This is a great question and actually something I do discuss with owners in the exam room on a regular basis. Play time is an important aspect of a cat’s well being, much like good nutrition and regular health check-ups. Play time can reduce boredom, provide exercise and reduce unwanted bad behaviors. I will discuss what to look for and how you might utilize toys you may already have.
When thinking about “alone” play, you should try to find toys that will hone-in on your cat’s predatory nature. One of the best ways to do this is with toys that will appeal to several different senses such as sight, hearing and smell. Toys that emit high pitched or crinkling sounds and toys scented with catnip (or, their owner’s scent) are preferred by cats in most studies. Cats are also very tactile and enjoy toys they can easily grasp in their mouths and carry around. If your cat prefers to hunt at night, there is a new line of toys that light up as your cat plays with them. Toys that dispense food or a treat during play are great for cats that need to lose a few pounds. These toys provide exercise and a healthy alternative to over-eating/feeding. Make sure your cat (or other pet) does not play inappropriately with toys as injuries could occur. If a toy becomes damaged, replace it. Also, keep track of all toys in case one goes missing!
Does your cat have too many toys and still seems bored? Try this: Divide the toys into three groups. Hide two of the groups. Every two weeks or so, rotate the groups. Much like when you move the couch and your cat finds a long lost ball; the “newness” of the groups should help keep him a little more interested. While you can spend a lot of money on toys from the store, don’t forget about things around the house: Cats have been known to fancy boxes, paper sacks and hair scrunches. Add these items to your toy rotation and replace them as needed.
Don’t forget the importance of playing with your cats. Optimal play times are dusk and dawn, times that you will likely be home with your cat. Rotate the toys within the group during playtime. Take short breaks (about five minutes) between toys to keep your cats’ interest level high. Play with one toy for five to ten minutes and then take a five to ten minute break. After the break, move onto toy number two, and so on, and so on. Ideally you should rotate through three or four toys per day. You can even use different toys on successive days. Remember: Playtime is fun time so, have it!