Best Cat Toys of 2021
Our tester cats were readily enthused by the Kitty City Cat Tunnel Bed, and its multifaceted uses and durable build won us over. One cat was darting through the tunnels before assembly was finished, and both cats loved the hanging hearts provided in the two tunnel openings. The toy comes in three pieces; we zippered it all together in a matter of minutes and noticed how surprisingly soft the tunnel fabric was compared with nylon and other polyester material. The tunnels held up to sharp claws, pouncing, rolling, and sprinting, as well as other durability tests like shaking, pulling, and cleaning. During the testing period, several hours of naptime were also accounted for, whether in the tunnels or on the plush bed in the middle. Our cats could not keep their paws off this one.
One drawback is that assembly is required, which means extra time for the cat parent, ranging from 7-10 minutes, to zip it together and break it down. At first, we struggled a bit with the zippers, but we discovered that body position makes a huge difference in setup time. Working from the outside of the tunnels reaching inwards drastically reduced the time it took to zip the first tunnel to the second; this was really a game-changer for setup. Our fastest time to assemble was roughly four minutes. The Kitty City has a higher price tag, but we feel its versatility and enjoyment for our cats make it worth the splurge.
Our feline testers promptly claimed the Catify Cat-Shaped Cardboard Scratcher as their own special piece of furniture, digging their claws in the sturdy corrugated cardboard as soon as we unboxed it. We also sprinkled a bit of the included catnip on top, and one of our cats was in absolute heaven. The ball sections intrigued all of our cat testers, who loved to dig their paws in the bottom and top compartments, chasing the balls from side to side. The sleek design makes it easy to wipe away loose cardboard bits, and when leaning against the wall vertically or turned over, there is another 19.5" of cardboard ready to use. The unique lounger is a durable, claw-friendly investment for the pet parent and cat.
With many scratchers to choose from, the Catify is somewhat bulky, so if you are looking for a scratcher that you can tuck easily out of sight, check out the Bergan Turboscratcher. Some online reviews stated that the Catify toy tipped easily due to the curved base design when their kittens were playing; however, our nine-plus pound tester cats did not have an issue with this. Overall, we (and our cats!) loved the Cat-Shaped Cardboard Scratcher. If your cat loves to scratch furniture or is itching to get her claws on something, the contemporary and durable design of the Catify comes recommended.
The Cat Dancer Rainbow Charmer provides a fun and energetic way to interact with your cat. This wand toy elicits jumping, swatting, and pouncing from our tester cats, yielding moderate to extreme levels of cat engagement and play level. The 46" colorful rainbow soft fleece fabric waves around, making a target for our tester cats to pounce at floor level as well as soar high above--they were always ready to play with this toy. The Rainbow Charmer provides a meaningful connection between cat and human, along with the ability to showcase a cat's athleticism and adorable antics, making this toy a winner.
If you are already a wand toy aficionado, the Rainbow Charmer's ribbon may move a bit slow in comparison with other wand toy material types, which in turn may affect your cat's level of play and exercise. For example, one of our tester cats preferred pouncing on the fabric and rolling on the floor versus continuous chasing and jumping. We also wished that the 16" handle was a bit longer for improved ergonomic handling. Overall, our kitties were consistently engaged with the toy, and the wand proved highly durable. This wand toy could be an excellent bonding toy for you and your feline friend while providing an outlet for exercise and amusement.
Pet Craft Supply's Magic Mewnicorn Tunnel had our cat's full attention right out of the box. Within minutes she was confidently darting through the main tunnel; however, it took her some time to warm up to the smaller leg tunnels. Within a day or two, we found her enjoying poking her head out of the smaller tunnel openings, enjoying some independent and explorative play. The Mewnicorn's vibrant color pattern, hanging tail, and bold crinkly sound are some of the noted features that make it score high in the cat engagement level category. Its durable design, along with the ability to collapse and store away, makes it a go-to toy.
One drawback we discovered is the Mewnicorn is not the easiest tunnel to secure when storing away. We wish the strings were longer for this purpose. After gathering the tunnel, we either had another person hold it in the collapsed position or held it cinched between our legs to tie with moderate effort. We ended up adding a backup piece of twine to secure it while stored away. Despite this modification for storage purposes, we found no other issues as the Mewnicorn proved excellent in the durability category, surviving extreme play with good integrity. If you are looking for a tunnel, this is a sturdy and playful choice.
The Yeowww! Catnip Banana is a lightweight, bright yellow banana that packs a lot of punch for the cats around here, enticing them to engage in extreme levels of play due to the potent catnip, which gave a couple of our tester cats a case of the "crazies." This toy proved to be highly stimulating, giving our cats an excellent outlet for biting, clawing, and kicking. The Yeowww! can be likened to a bag of potato chips for humans — never enough!
Possibly due to the never-enough mentality, the durability of the cotton twill was an issue when facing extreme play levels and sharp canine teeth as one of our bananas started separating at its seam after three days of extreme play, and another tester banana showed its wear clearly with teeth marks and slobber. The first banana was reparable with a needle and thread, so one of our tester cats, Ted, got right back to playing with his new BFF. This toy is best suited for inviting bouts of intense playtime; it may be helpful for cats who are lethargic to promote an increased activity level or be provided as a boost to start a round of play.
The Cat Dancer 101 promotes some serious kitty play skills highlighting balance, tracking, and pawing, making this bare-bones toy a high scorer in the cat engagement category. We found that our tester cat loved the spring in the wire and the cardboard rolls held tough to her sharp canines. We appreciate the toy construction of wire and cardboard as they are recyclable materials. This toy would be good for a pet parent that enjoys hands-on playtime interaction to watch a feline's skills shine.
One shortcoming that we found with the Cat Dancer is that the wire may bend and not reshape exactly due to a cat's extreme play level or accidentally bent. This factor may also play into the life expectancy of the toy as well. Needless to say, if your cat enjoys wand toys, this might be the perfect pick to add to your collection.
The Earthtone Solutions Felt Wool Ball and Mouse are colorfully constructed and appear handmade, which they are, giving them a fun appeal for an environmentally-conscious consumer. They passed our durability testing with ease, even thrown in as dryer balls to tumble with some clothes. Our cat was easily engaged in ball play, batting a ball across the floor and chasing it through a tunnel; the mouse was made extra enticing when sprinkled with catnip as the wool readily grasped the catnip scent. These toys are easily stored away and taken out for playtime, making them a nice addition for cats who enjoy mousing around or ball play.
During testing, we discovered that our cat preferred smaller-sized mice; at 8" in length, our tester cat hesitantly pawed at the large wool creature, sensing it was not an itty-bitty field mouse; it was indeed the size of a city rat. However, when we rubbed catnip on the surface, she was more inclined to dig into the mouse with her teeth and claws, cradling and rolling around with it. Perhaps if you are looking to add some new mice toys to the family, this may be an eco-friendly choice.
The Petstages Tower of Tracks 3-Level is paws down an engaging and durable toy. Our tester cats were drawn to the high-contrast tracks, colorful balls, and the thrill of the chase around the sturdy tracks. It proved to be a highly durable product: the non-skid pads are solid, stay together when shaken or pulled apart, and easily wipe down with a cloth if needed. Its compact and lightweight design makes it easy for storage, and it tests out to have an excellent product lifespan.
Although the bright orange color is highly attractive, one downside is that some cats may not engage independently; their preference may be to freely bat and chase balls around a larger space. If this is the case, the toy will give you, the pet parent, a chance to interact and get down on the ground to show your cat how the toy works. Overall, the Tower of Tracks is an entertaining and safe choice for any cat.
The Bergan Turboscratcher is recognized as a reliable multi-use toy, making it a go-to for cats of all ages for scratching, stretching, napping, and swatting. We found it an effective toy for cat/pet parent interaction, as we found ourselves on the floor to initiate ball play multiple times. Our cats were steadily interested in this toy, whether tired and wanting to nap on it or tracking the ball and stopping it with a steady paw. Not only is the Bergan intriguing for cats, but it also proves human friendly too; easy to clean, conducive to swap out cardboard scratchers, and it easily stows away under surfaces or hangs in closets with a handy tab.
The Bergan did have a durability issue. The small, 1/4" width non-skid feet kept popping out, and we had lost three out of four of them after three days of use. Most of the play was on a carpeted surface, so it was not a significant concern. Overall, if you are looking for a reliable scratcher that endures a moderate play level very well, this could be your cat's new toy.
The Potaroma Flopping Fish is appreciated for its soft plush outer covering, making a comfy companion in your cat's bed, or for stressful times due to the handy zippered pouch to stow away a catnip sack discreetly when the motor is switched off. During hands-on testing, this fish did extremely well for durability. When vigorously flopping, it was thrown around the room to entice our tester cat with good integrity; it even came out of the wash looking new. The motor is easily removed out of the pouch, and it recharges within an hour. The varying rates of tail movement are welcomed as our cat preferred the mellower flop. If you are looking for a reliable kicker toy with versatility, this is your pick.
Unfortunately, some cats may fall into the "scaredy-cat" category when the tail is flopping around. We found this to be true with our cat. However, she did like to investigate when the motor was off, tentatively pawing at her likely un-flappable find. Due to our tester cat not using the fish as a kicker toy, we still found she was intrigued by it and prefer to use it as a catnip carrier and snooze sidekick. Overall, we think this is a reliable electric toy with sturdy qualities.
Our Pets Play-N-Squeak Catnip Bird toy has a realistic design, evoking our cat's most instinctual play patterns. Once the tab was pulled, the sound was initiated when tossed to the floor, which immediately turned our tester cat's head, provoking her to pounce, mouth, and paw at her indoor prey. We found this toy to be highly durable during our testing, easily passing the pull and shake test. The feathers remained steadily intact during playtime, as well as spot cleaning.
Due to its realistic features and small size, the Catnip Bird may tend to disappear when your cat's inner hunter has been released. Online reviews revealed that some users cited issues with the chirping sound--none at all, too much, or an electronic glitch--however, we did not have an issue with the chirping sound. The sound in our test unit even continued working when the toy was thrown around with force, even against the wall. Overall, we found this to be a great interactive toy that is highly durable and life-like.
The Youngever 24 Toys Assortment is a cat toy party in a bag; if our cat could talk, she would agree. From the neon-green tunnel to the shine of the crinkle balls, this toy assortment pack is a sure-fire way to get your kitty moving. Our cat loved batting the balls and mice all over the place, darting through the tunnel, and jumping to try and catch the leopard-print teaser wand. An exploratory type of play was seen with the different toy types, making it fun to see what our cat gravitated towards. This pack was highly entertaining for the cat as well as for observing and interacting humans.
We did see some durability issues with the Youngever; for example, the teaser wand fabric came detached, one mouse tail pulled off, and one of the hanging pom-poms in the tunnel detached from the string without noticeable force when it gave way after tugging. The wand was able to be reattached with a hot glue gun to resume play. The other toys were not able to be repaired; we just snipped away the loose string ends. With some vigilance on behalf of the pet parent by inspecting the toys and putting them through simple durability tests, this might be the toy pack you are looking for.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our lead tester Kate Irvin, along with others on the expert panel, have decades of combined experience caring for cats. Kate has experienced firsthand how a cat toy can positively affect a cat's behavior, attributing a small satchel of catnip to saving her previous cat's life after a stressful move across the country. Kate holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a master's in Occupational Therapy; she has spent several years working to help people develop, manage, and maintain routines for health and wellness promotion, including effective strategies for successful engagement in meaningful pet care activities. She spent over 20 hours testing toys with the help of her current cat, Pookah, a two-year-old playful striped tabby cat.
All of the cat toys have been rigorously tested by our experts, who diligently spent time with their cats, analyzing their behavior and play responses meticulously, which resulted in over 25 hours of toy testing. Toys were put to the test not only by our resident felines but along with other product testing techniques such as a toy shake test, a pull test, and toy cleaning to test for durability. The sturdiness of the toy was also considered, namely, if the toy had to be modified to enable safe and effective use. The engagement level of our cats was analyzed into mild, moderate, or extreme play levels, and the direct playtime percentage was noted. The setup and ease of storage were documented, along with the recognition of eco-friendly materials among toy types.
Analysis and Test Results
To test the cat toys, we used our felines as part of the expert critique process. We looked at five metrics — durability, cat engagement level, sturdiness, set-up/storage, and eco-friendly materials — to rate each toy and bring you the best reviews and recommendations to convey our hands-on experience with the products.
To test cat toy durability, we put the toy through hands-on testing as well as noting toy response during cat playtime to see how they each compared. We completed a shake test, pull test, and cleaning test while recording what level of play the cat engaged. Some top performers seen here were the Rainbow Charmer as it is highly resilient, along with the Kitty City Tunnel Bed and the Potaroma Flopping Fish.
All the toys were put through a two-minute vigorous shake test in a cardboard box that was slightly larger than the product to replicate rough and tumble play and product wear. The Catnip Bird, Yeowww!, and Earthtone Felt Wool Ball and Mouse all performed exemplary with this test.
The toys went through strategic pulls with moderate force, with five good pulls given. Where indicated, some toys were pushed across the floor, too. One of our top performers here was the Catnip Bird along with the Rainbow Charmer, taking a lot of force through its parts without detaching or losing integrity. The Catify, Tower of Tracks, and the Magic Mewnicorn performed well here, too.
Each toy was cleaned according to the manufacturer's instructions. We washed and dried the Kitty City's soft plush bed, and it turned out just as soft and ready to use out of the drier. Other top performers were the Bergan Turboscratcher and the Tower of Tracks due to the smooth plastic surface that easily wipes clean with a dampened cloth. Potaroma's Flopping Fish also proved machine washable, keeping its alluring softness that could easily be used as a comfort toy when the flopping tail mechanism is in the off position.
Cat Play Level
Each toy brought out different levels of play at different times; however, a few of the toys brought out extreme play levels more frequently, making them good testers of toy durability. The Rainbow Charmer wand toy did a great job of holding up to extreme play levels over an extended period (20 minutes) right along with the Cat Dancer 101. The Rainbow Charmer's polycarbonate wand has a reinforcement where the fabric attaches and can stand large amounts of force without losing integrity. The Kitty City Cat Tunnel Bed and Magic Mewnicorn tunnel also tolerate extreme levels of cat play with good resilience.
Cat Engagement Level
We analyzed our cat's engagement level during the designated play times for the toy. Some toys are multi-faceted, which lends itself to longer use, and others, such as catnip toys, produced a large amount of energy in a short time, which enabled play with other toys. We looked at the direct percentage of playtime and the level of play (mild, moderate, or extreme).
Percentage of Play Time
Analyzing 60 minutes of direct cat play with the toys over three days (for 20-minute sessions), we found that the top performers at 100% playtimes were the Youngever 24 Toys Assortment, Rainbow Charmer, Kitty City, Cat Dancer 101, and Magic Mewnicorn Tunnel. Our cat played with each toy for 20 min at a time, without a break. Some other top performers include the Catify (80%), Tower of Tracks (75%), and the Bergan Turboscratcher (75%).
Level of Play (Mild, Moderate or Extreme)
Each toy evoked different levels of play; some evoked all three at different times, depending on our cat's mood and energy level. We rated this category for each toy according to the level of play that was most frequently seen. Mild play examples are gentle swatting, lounging on, or guarding the toy. Moderate play is seen with biting and clawing the toy with some rolling and kicking. Extreme play examples would elicit multiple leaps, tumbling, sprinting, pouncing, and lots of kicking. Our top performers that resulted in an extreme level of play are the Rainbow Charmer, Youngever 24 Toys Assortment, and the Yeowww! Catnip Banana.
Many toys elicited moderate play levels, such as the Bergan Turboscratcher, Cat Dancer, Catify, and Magic Mewnicorn.
Sturdiness was measured by whether the toy had to be modified or not to allow safe and successful engagement in play. A few of the toys had to be modified, such as reattaching the Youngever's teaser wand fabric with a hot glue gun, which was successful; however, some toys proved strong from the get-go, like the Potaroma Electric Fish.
Here, a top performer is the Catify Cardboard Scratcher, along with the Tower of Tracks. What sets the Tower of Tracks apart compared to other roller track toys is the sturdy design, especially when inspecting the non-skid feet, which did not detach during testing. And the Catify's plentiful corrugated cardboard surface area makes for a sturdy cat furniture piece.
Setup and Storage
We thought it would be helpful to investigate the setup and storage of each toy. Most of the toys were ready to go right out of the package, like the smaller catnip toys, the Tower of Tracks, and the Catify; the Catnip Bird and Cat Dancer took seconds to set up, and the Bergan Turboscratcher's setup time was one minute. The Kitty City Tunnel Bed took, on average, five minutes to set up once we understood the zipper system, and the Magic Mewnicorn's set up and storage was speedy once we adjusted the ties to our liking.
Storage for many of the smaller toys means finding a cupboard or special compartment in the home for your cat's collection. We love how the Bergan has a tab to hang the toy if desired; it also easily slides under furniture, out of sight.
The packaging of the Youngever 24 Toys Assortment is much appreciated for clean-up and storage as well.
Perhaps sustainability is important to you when considering the best cat toy options. Here we look at material types and consider if they are environmentally friendly. The Catify, Cat Dancer 101, and Earthtone Solutions Felt Wool Ball and Mouse were top scorers in this category, either built from 100% recyclable materials or eco-friendly materials.
We also liked how the Yeowww! catnip toy has 100% organic catnip, and the banana is made from cotton twill, which is an eco-friendly material.
We've conducted an in-depth comparison of the best cat toys, detailing the outcome of our hands-on testing with a team of experts, some human and some feline. We hope this has helped you on your quest to find the toy that best suits you and your cat!
— Kate Irvin