The reason why domestic cats stop playing with toys quickly

I feel that commercially manufactured cat toys tend to prove to be a failure too often. Cats are just not interested enough in them or they lose interest quite quickly. They can end up being a waste of money. Why is this?

f2 savannah kitten with toy

f2 savannah kitten with plush toy. Underfoot! Photo by Michael taken at A1 Savannahs in Ponca City, Oklahoma, USA.

The main reason why cats stop playing with toys quickly is because the toy does not disintegrate. If it does not disintegrate the cat believes that his ‘prey’ (the toy) is difficult to kill and that his efforts are not producing the required objective: to provide food.

If the prey ‘item’ cannot provide food the cat becomes frustrated and disillusioned and stops. In essence, normally, cat toys don’t behave like genuine prey; certainly if they are made of plastic.

It seems that the better toys are those that fall to bits when bitten and clawed vigorously. It is said that laser pointers ultimately frustrate cats because they cannot be caught. Some people think that laser pointers are cruel.

Another factor is a lack of hunger. If the cat is not hungry he is less likely to try and ‘kill’ the toy.

Cat sleeping with toys

Cat sleeping with toys. No longer interested.

A third factor is that domestic cats see large toys as large prey items and are more careful when attacking them for fear of retaliation. This is similar to domestic cats being confident when they attack a mouse (a small prey animal) but more circumspect when hunting a rat because rats can harm a domestic cat.

Domestic cats can be genuinely frightened of toys (it’s the same thing as banana skins scaring cats). The manufacturers often don’t understand this. The kind of toys which frighten my cat are ones that make weird noises and are brightly coloured and large. He just runs away from them. That’s the last thing you want.

The fourth trigger for a cat to become interested in a cat toy is if it smells, feels and looks like genuine prey. I am referring to fur or feathers and legs.

These factors are not set in concrete it seems. I know that a colleague of mine, Elisa, reports success with large plastic toys. However, I believe these are toys which mimic mice in runs and such like. She’ll correct me if I am wrong.

Ragdoll cat and toy mouse - looks interesting

Ragdoll cat and toy mouse – looks interesting

I’d have thought that of all the above factors which affect a cat’s interest in toys, the most important is whether it can be ‘killed’ and whether the cat sees the destruction of the toy as a sign of success and that he will get some food out of the hunt.

P.S. We know that manufacturers sometimes impregnate cat toys with catnip to stimulate the cat to play with it. I wonder whether this is an artificial form of cat play because when cats are stimulated by catnip they aren’t attacking and trying to kill prey, they are just a little high on a drug. Homemade cat toys are normally as good as any commercial product.

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About Michael Broad

Michael is retired! He retired at age 57 and at Aug 2018 is approaching 70. He worked in many jobs. The last job he did was as a solicitor practicing general law. He loves animals and is passionate about animal welfare. He also loves photography and nature. He hates animal abuse. He has owned and managed this site since 2007. There are around 13k pages so please use the custom search facility!


The reason why domestic cats stop playing with toys quickly — 5 Comments

  1. My cats have tested my pocketbook and just about every toy on the market. Right now all of their tunnels ,huts and a few boxes and their turbo track are piled in my kitchen with a huge plastic table cloth over the whole shebang. They go for this every night when it set it up and play for hours. Half of the turbo track must be under a throw rug , I don’t know why but it must. I can toss hair ties on top while their lurking and see the table cloth getting punched from underneath.

  2. There are two toy-type playthings all of my cats can’t resist most of the time. For the outdoors on grass, a tree shoot similar to a fishing pole, flexible at the far “chasing” end. A good length is about 5 or 6 feet. For indoors a nice fat shoe string with some consistency to it, like a small rope. That’s about it. Everything else just isn’t good enough to hold their interest, probably for the reasons Michael stated. There’s a toy that employs both of these items that they like a little, but the stick part is usually only a couple feet long with a string-like piece of felt. I think the felt is too light weight. They like that visceral feeling of pulling on and tearing something apart, like toilet paper rolls or cardboard. Kind of gross but true.

    • The best thing about the twig is that they can pounce and lay on it, then if you wiggle it a little they like that. It’s the feeling of struggling prey.

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