9 Toys That Invite Cats to Exercise

A bored cat is a mischievous cat. When my older cat doesn't get enough attention, he scratches walls. When my younger cat is bored, he chews on cardboard boxes, tearing them apart one (loud) bite at a time… usually in the middle of the night or when we want some quiet time.

When your cat can venture outdoors, entertainment and play comes easy. But for indoor cats, staving off boredom can require a bit of creativity on your part. Beyond exercise, constructive self-play and social play with other cats can even help reduce or eliminate aggressive or destructive behavior in cats, according to the ASPCA. Regular exercise is also important for the emotional and physical health of your pet.

Here are a few toys (both store-bought and cheap "upcycled" goods) that can help keep your cat interested and engaged--without knocking over houseplants, scratching walls or digging into the recycling bins.

Stick with Feathers
I would like to shake the hand of the person who invented the feather on a stick cat toy, because it is the most fun we have with our cats. They jump, sprint and chase the feather for a feline version of interval training. They have to be in the mood for this game, but judging from its intensity, I'm sure they’re getting good exercise. For best results, we shake the feather back and forth on the floor a few times, then shake it over their heads. This is our favorite "feline party trick," and their leaps never fail to impress and entertain visitors. 

Mylar Balls  
These make a crinkling sound and are fun to chase, providing multi-sensory stimulation for the cats. My guys go crazy when they hear one of these balls, and they've been known to play a soccer goalie type game and jump up to block the balls when I throw them.  

Laser Pet Toy and Exerciser
Laser pointers make for hours of fun in homes with plenty of wall space. Word to the wise: Do not use a laser pointer on a wall with breakables nearby. The cats will run, jump and chase the red dot without ever tiring of the game.

Dangle Mouse Cat Toy
We had a version of this cat-mouse toy that squeaked and hung over a door. The cats would sneak up on it, and the mouse would squeak and bounce up and down. This handheld version is just as fun, allowing the cats to jump high and low as they try to get the mouse.

Ball of Furry Fury Cat Toy
Any toy that squeaks is a hit in our house. This one is trapped inside a ball, making it doubly fun. Roll it back and forth across the floor and watch your cat chase it. (You might want to hide this one at night, lest they awaken you with it and you fear there's a real mouse on the loose!)

Scratching Post with Feathers  
Scratching posts are as useful to cats as they are to owners. Of course, they (are intended to) spare your furniture from being scratched, but they serve a greater purpose: They help your kitty stretch his front legs and torso and strengthen his back legs. We have two scratching posts with feathers attached, plus two flat scratchers filled with catnip that hang on doorknobs for our cats.

Stocking Full of Cat Toys
Inevitably either my mother or stepmother buys the cats a stocking full of toys each year. To keep them from getting bored with their toys, we bring out a couple at a time and the cats enjoy playing with these on their own. When they get broken or chewed to pieces, we have plenty to choose from. These toys are great for playing chase all year round. The catnip-filled ones are especially popular and promote self-play.
Cardboard Boxes, Raffia String, and Packing Paper
We shop online quite a bit in our house, and the resulting packaging becomes "upcycled" into cat toys. We turn the boxes over, cut holes in them, and let the cats play. Once, something arrived stuffed with brown wrapping about 3 feet long. That became the best cat toy for about a week: One cat would climb under the paper and slink around the room, feeling invisible. My favorite clothing company ships items wrapped in raffia ribbon, which starts to fall apart when cats chew on it (and therefore isn't a hazard). This becomes both "prey" to drag around and carry, and something to jump for, like the feather on a stick.

Random Household Items
Cats also like to play with cotton swabs, plastic rings from milk jugs, crumpled paper and corks. Experiment with all these "toys." When they get grungy, lost or broken, you're not out any money!

Items to Avoid Using as Toys
Rubber bands (and hair ties), twist ties, paper clips and plastic bags can all pose serious risks to a cat and should not be used as toys. My cat Charlie is great at finding all these items and helping me to cat-proof the house. Don't let your cats play with string, tinsel or yarn either, as they can also be dangerous if ingested.

ASPCA, "Cats Who Play Rough," www.aspca.org, accessed on June 12, 2013.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, "Ways to Cat-Proof Your Home," www.vet.cornell.edu, accessed on June 12, 2013.