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Tips from a Behaviorist: How to Choose Gifts for Cats

Here's what to keep in mind when searching for gifts that will please cat and human alike.

 |  Dec 13th 2013  |   2 Contributions


Cat lovers need no excuse to buy their cats presents. Every day works when something catches the eye that they think will rock their kitty’s socks. Just the same, the holiday season is special. Holidays are the perfect time to buy presents without feeling guilty about budgets. More enticing, cool cat toys and furniture are available for a song -- prices are reduced.

As the popularity of cats increase, more designer products aimed at cat lovers and their feline companions are on the market. Many of these toys, scratchers, and furniture are eye candy for people. Cat furniture and shelves are available that fit perfectly with living room décors. Brightly colored toys and furniture in appealing shapes call out to the buyer. It is common for cat parents to buy their cats stuff because they like how the products look. But who do the products appeal to, the cat or the cat parent? Often cat lovers are surprised and dismayed when their kitties turn a shoulder to a toy or refuse to explore a sculptural cat condo.

Presents that excite felines can also appeal to cat parents’ aesthetics. Here are tips to consider when searching for that special gift that rocks everyone’s socks.

A cat with a gift by Shutterstock.

1. Make safety the priority

Because cats and dogs do not benefit from the federal toy safety standards enacted by Congress in 2008, scrutinize toys, choosing those that are nontoxic, safe, and durable. Avoid toys that have eyes, tails, and other appendages that cats can chew off and ingest. Toys need to be able to withstand sharp teeth without falling apart, exposing stuffing that might be munched down. Check the size of the toys as well. Cats should be able to comfortably pick them up in their mouths and carry them. At the same time, play objects need to be big enough that they cannot be swallowed. Feel toys, checking for sharp edges and points. Some plastic and crinkly toys have abrasive surfaces and rough edges that can cut delicate mouths. They may look colorful and cool, but they can injure cats.

Although wand, ribbon, and string toys are great for mental and physical stimulation, use them cautiously. Place them out of reach of your cats when no one is around to supervise. Strings can wrap around necks, and metal can cut.

2. Tips on specific gifts

Toys: Every cat is unique. Each has his or her own toy preference. Some enjoy chasing toys that rattle and roll, while others like to carry them around in their mouths. Cats can be as excited about ping-pong balls as they are about wool knots. Felines who are zealous about playing will enjoy batting and mauling durable Hyendry toys. An added bonus is that these toys do not have buttons, bells, or strings attached to them.

Although about one-third of all cats could not care less about catnip, many will revel in rolling on potent catnip toys. Catnip toys are not created equal. Some manufacturers use a poor quality product or cut the ‘nip with sawdust, while others rely on high-grade pure catnip. Cats who love catnip usually go gaga for the Yeowww Banana Catnip Toy

The author's cats, checks out the toys

Ball and track toys: These can be instant hits with felines. The best ones have tracks that are completely opened from the top, allowing kitties to catch and feel the ball under their little paws. Ball and track toys with partial or fully covered tracks frustrate cats because they can only touch and push the balls. They do not have the satisfaction of catching the prey. The Bergan Turbo Scratcher has an open track; enterprising felines have been observed flipping balls out of the toy. It also does double duty as a scratcher.

Having fun with the Turbo Scratcher

Puzzle toys: These encourage little predators to work for their meals and treats. In addition to mentally stimulating cats, people are entertained watching their companions work the puzzles for food prizes. Nina Ottosson designed a number of these toys specifically for dogs, but cats love them too! The Dog Tornado and Dog Brick are perfect for cats.

Maulee, 20 years old, enjoyed the Dog Tornado

Teaser wand/pole toys: Many cats enjoy chasing after stuffed toys dangling from strings and wands. Some of these toys are sturdier then others, withstanding captures and maulings. In addition to lasting longer than most, the Neko Flies Kragonfly is fairly realistic, fluttering in a way that excites most felines. When cats tire of the Kragonfly, rotate it with the interchangeable Kittenator, a toy that resembles a mouse.

There are a variety of little toys designed to attach to poles and wands. Check them out for safety before buying. Avoid buying ones with segmented pieces, tied together with filament and other materials. Strong cats can bite through the ties and swallow the segments.

Pole, wand, ribbon, and string toys should only be available to cats when there is someone around to supervise. All other times, put them in places the cats cannot access.

Scratching posts and horizontal scratchers: Although scratchers are not considered toys, they can be perfect gifts for those cats who have everything. An added bonus is that they help save furniture and carpets.  Scratchers do not have to be ugly to be functional. Those from Karma Products along with the Refined Feline’s Calypso Cat Scratcher appeal to cats and their people. They look more like sculptural art forms than cat scratchers. Other scratchers that are functional and eye-candy are the wall-mounted scratchers from Square Cat Habitat. These work best when they are securely attached where cats can fully stretch up to reach and scratch them.

When choosing the perfect scratcher, look for a material that you know your cat loves to scratch. A tip: Do not buy scratching posts and horizontal scratchers made from the same materials as your furniture and carpets.

Jinniyha, the author's cat, scratches a floor scratcher

3. Cat-centric items for humans

Do not overlook the cat lovers in your life! They may love to have portraits drawn or painted of their special animal companions by Maneki Neko Markings, or wear pendants, rings, or bracelets featuring their favorite cat and dog breeds designed and created by Fazio’s Cat Jewelry.

Another gift for those who want to learn more about cat behavior and clicker training cats is my book Naughty No More!, available in book and e-formats. This book focuses on changing cat behaviors through force-free methods, which include clicker training, environmental changes, and other positive reinforcement techniques.

For more articles and feline facts, follow Marilyn on Facebook!

Got a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Ask our behaviorist in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. If you suspect a behavioral problem, always rule out any possible medical issues that may be causing the behavior by first having your cat examined by a veterinarian. Marilyn can also help you resolve cat behavior challenges through a consultation.

Marilyn, a certified cat behavior consultant, owner of The Cat Coach, LLC, solves cat behavior problems nationally and internationally through on site, Skype and phone consultations. She uses force free methods that include environmental changes, management, clicker training and other behavior modification techniques.

Her award-winning book, Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior problems through clicker training and other force-free methods. Marilyn is big on education—she feels it is important for cat parents to know the reasons behind their cat’s behaviors. She is a frequent guest on television and radio, answering cat behavior questions and helping people understand their cats. 

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