The best interactive cat toys

  • Interactive toys provide cats with essential mental and physical stimulation.
  • For peak cat happiness, rotate your toys, use food-dispensing puzzles for feeding, and play together at least 30 minutes per day.
  • After testing 42 toys and consulting with cat behavior experts, we've selected the best interactive cat toys among 10 categories

Whether it's because they sleep for up to 16 hours a day or because they live independent lives in which humans are most valuable for their ability to open cans, we tend to provide our cats with far less daily stimulation than their canine counterparts. But just like dogs, a bored cat can be a troublemaker.

Play can go a long way toward helping a cat to "channel their brain power and instincts into productive outlets," veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Sueda of VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital told Insider Reviews.

To give your cat the mental and physical stimulation they need, we recommend bringing some interactive cat toys into your home. Over the last six months, my cats Ostio and Phoebe have been the lucky testers of 42 different toys, most of which were provided as editorial review samples by their manufacturers. While most of the products we tested were good, if not great, only a handful could be crowned the best.

As my cats played, I also consulted with experts to understand why cats play the way they do and the types of toys that help them thrive. In addition to Sueda, I spoke with cat behavior consultant Daniel "DQ" Quagliozzi, owner of Go Cat Go! in San Francisco, and Dr. Heidi Cooley, a veterinarian at Banfield Pet Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Here are our top picks for the best interactive cat toys:

  • Best puzzle board: Nina Ottosson Buggin' Out Puzzle & Play
  • Best overall food-dispensing toy: Catit Senses 2.0 Food Tree
  • Best rolling food-dispensing toy: Petsafe Egg-Cersizer
  • Best multilevel rollerball toy: Petstages Chase Meowtain Toy
  • Best rollerball-scratcher combo toy: Bergan Turbo Star Chaser
  • Best floor scratcher: K&H Scratch, Ramp, and Track Cardboard Toy
  • Best scratching post: On2Pets Skyline Scratching Post
  • Best play tunnel: Catit Vesper Cat Tunnel
  • Best catnip kicker: Hartz Cattatraction Unicorn Kicker
  • Best catnip mice: Hartz Just for Cats Kitty Frenzy Cat Toy

Prices and links are current as of 9/25/20. Added new categories and picks based on testing and included additional slides at end of article about why it's important to play with your cat and how to encourage them to engage with toys.

The best puzzle board

With hidden compartments, sliding knobs, and swiveling leaves, Nina Ottosson Buggin' Out Puzzle & Play encourages cats to bat, hunt, and forage for food.

Mealtimes provide an excellent opportunity for mental stimulation. When a cat eats from a standard dish or bowl, they are on autopilot — they are not challenged to acquire or consume their food. Eating from a food-dispensing puzzle toy, on the other hand, taps into a cat's natural instincts to hunt and forage. "Cats are extremely intelligent and would normally spend time roaming and hunting for food if they were not indoors," said Sueda. 

Nina Ottosson's puzzle boards are among the toys that Sueda recommends. Of the three puzzles in the line, the clear favorite with my cats was the Buggin' Out Puzzle, which has 14 compartments for holding up to 1/4 cup of food. Ladybug and leaf-shaped knobs and caps slide and swivel to conceal the meal, encouraging a cat to bat, dig, and pounce to capture their kibble. The puzzle board is made of eco-friendly, washable materials and is free of BPA, PVC, and phthalates.

Read our review of Nina Ottosson's Puzzle & Play toys.

The best overall food-dispensing toy

The Catit Senses 2.0 Food Tree challenges your cat's mind by stimulating problem-solving and advanced foraging skills. 

For cats that enjoy problem-solving and love a good challenge, Quagliozzi likes the food foraging toys in Catit's Senses 2.0 Collection. Ideally, you want a toy that taps into the skill set of your particular cat. "I look for something that presents a challenge but is also intriguing enough to [prevent] boredom," Quagliozzi said.

We tested several of the food-dispensing toys in Catit's collection and found that the Food Tree best suited Osito's skill set. The exterior of the uniquely designed three-level tree has horizontal openings for pawing and batting at food distributed throughout the interior. For the greatest challenge, deposit kibble or treats at the crown so a cat can bat them through small holes at each level, ultimately working them through to the bottom. This stimulates a cat to continue to engage with each piece of kibble until it eventually lands in the no-spill dish at the base. The BPA-free plastic toy comes apart for hand-washing.

Read our review of the Catit Senses 2.0 Collection.

The best rolling food-dispensing toy

The easy-to-fill, easy-to-clean Petsafe Egg-Cersizer keeps your cat fit and healthy as they chase and hunt for treats or kibble.

A food-dispensing puzzle board challenges a cat's mind. But a food-dispensing ball which requires a cat to roll and chase their kibble? That works the body, too. Of the three food-dispensing balls we tested, our preference aligned with Sueda's recommendation: Petsafe's Egg-Cersizer.

The Funkitty Egg-Cersizer, which holds 1/4 to 1/2 cup of food, has three dispensing holes which can be adjusted in number and size to increase or decrease the challenge depending on your cat's needs. Chasing the ball helps your cat burn off both mental and physical energy and, because it is oblong and egg-shaped, it's less predictable than spherical versions and less likely to cut a path straight to hard-to-reach spots under furniture. The dishwasher-safe Egg-Cersizer unscrews into two halves for easy filling and cleaning.

The best multilevel rollerball toy

With four levels of ball-rolling fun, the Petstages Chase Meowtain entices kittens and lower-energy cats to play.

Rollerball toys like Petstages Chase Meowtain have two ideal audiences: excitable kittens and lower-energy adult and senior cats that prefer toys that require minimal effort. Because rollerball toys — toys with one or more balls that roll around a circular track — are predictable, higher-energy adults may quickly become bored with them, according to Quagliozzi.

Both of my cats, one a low-energy adult and one a high-energy senior, were ideal candidates for rollerball toys, and of the 10 separate products we tested, the Chase Meowtain was the clear multilevel favorite. This pyramid-shaped toy has four looped tiers, each containing a lightweight ball. As they are batted around, they circle the pyramid and come back to intrigue kitty again and again. The toy itself was sturdy, but despite a nonslip base, it did travel around a bit on the hardwood floor as my cats played. 

The best rollerball-scratcher combo

The Bergan Turbo Star Chaser combines a rollerball track, a light-up ball, and a cardboard scratcher for versatile stimulation and fun.

Some of the best toys are those with multiple, distinct elements to provide outlets for a wide variety of natural instincts. Though extremely simple in its design, Bergan's Turbo Star Chaser not only encourages a cat to bat and chase a light-up ball around its circular track, the corrugated cardboard scratcher at its center satisfies a cat's desire to condition their claws, spread their paw pad pheromones, and stretch their muscles.

Of the 42 interactive toys we tested over the last six months, this was one of the few to help my shy cat Phoebe forget her anxieties and play with abandon. She was particularly attracted to the motion-activated ball that, like a laser pointer, lights up bright red as it rolls but, unlike a laser pointer, can actually be caught. While the cardboard scratcher at the center of the toy has held up thus far, it can be replaced with a new scratcher insert as needed.

Read our review of the Bergan Turbo Star Chaser.

The best floor scratcher

The sturdy K&H Scratch, Ramp, and Track Cardboard Toy will hold up to vigorous horizontal clawing from any angle.

Scratching is a natural instinct that keeps a cat's claws healthy and stretches their muscles while also giving them the opportunity to Instinctually communicate via the spreading of pheromones with their paws. It's both a physical need and a more primal behavior that, according to Quagliozzi, allows cats to stake their claim on their belongings. And in the home, everything is fair game.

While scratchable places needed to be throughout the home, it's also essential to identify a cat's preference. "Some cats prefer horizontal scratching, some prefer vertical," Quagliozzi said. "You have to mimic that preference all over the house." Raised up from the floor at an angle, the sturdy corrugated cardboard Scratch, Ramp & Track allows a cat to get more leverage than a flat scratch pad while still satisfying horizontal scratching preferences. At the base of the toy, two battable ping pong balls are embedded in a horizontal track for additional stimulation.

The best scratching post

The On2Pets Skyline Scratching Post encourages both vertical and horizontal scratching with three sisal towers and a wide base covered in artificial turf.

An irresistible scratching post can deter cats from carrying out their natural instinct to dig their claws into your favorite furniture, according to Quagliozzi. Because your cat rises up on their hind legs to scratch, the ideal post is double their height.

"If a cat is scratching up high, I'd go for a very high post," Quagliozzi said. "They're not scratching just because it's territorial, but also because they are stretching. You want leverage — you don't want something hanging off a doorknob."

Out of the four scratching posts we tested, the On2Pets Skyline Scratching Post was the only one to offer both a vertical surface tall enough to allow my cats to stretch and a horizontal scratching surface at its base. Reminiscent of a city skyline, this whimsical scratcher has three separate sisal-covered posts at three different heights — 30.5 inches, 22 inches, and 16.5 inches. The wide, sturdy base is covered in artificial grass, which my cats have both taken to digging into and simply hanging out. The scratching post is made in the US and is easy to assemble. 

The best play tunnel

The curved Catit Vesper Cat Tunnel and its detachable outer sleeping cushion are designed for optimal hiding, seeking, and snoozing.

Cats need "a comfortable and quiet place to escape to when they need alone time," said Cooley. Enclosed and dim on the inside, a play tunnel can help to relieve stress in cats that are overwhelmed by household activity. But a tunnel isn't just for relaxing. "Playful cats can't resist going in and out of a tunnel," said Quagliozzi. In a play tunnel, games of hide-and-seek are turbo-charged.

While each of the six play tunnels we tested had elements my cats enjoyed, their favorite was the Vesper Cat Tunnel. This tunnel is made of a high-quality polyester that pops out accordion-style into a curved semicircle. A faux fur-lined window at the center and dangling plush ball are perfectly placed for peeking and playing. On the concave side, a detachable soft cushion fastens to the tunnel. The cushion is included but another accessory, the Catit Vesper Rocket — a pop-up, two-level rocket-shaped tent that attaches to one end of the tunnel — can be purchased separately. Although this is the most expensive tunnel we tested, its durability and versatility are worth the cost.

The best catnip kicker

The adorable, durable Hartz Cattatraction Unicorn Kicker is perfectly shaped for rabbit-kicking, wrestling, and snuggling.

"It's not the taste that cats react to in catnip, but rather the smell that comes from the plant in fresh or dry form," said Cooley. And while the most intense reactions when the oil in the leaves is released through biting, chewing, and rolling in the nip, it can also be enticing when stuffed inside a plush toy.

Catnip toys — some of which are refillable — come in all forms and sizes. But among the most desirable is the kicker, a long, robust stuffie that is just the right shape for grasping with the front paws while rabbit-kicking with the back ones, not to mention full-body wrestling and snuggling.

Of the three catnip kickers we tested, the 14-inch-long Hartz Cattatraction Unicorn toy isn't just the cutest. It is also the most interesting, with a feather tail, crinkle lining, and a belly full of catnip and silver vine, which is a cat attractant that works similarly to catnip, including on the approximately 1/3 of cats who do not have the catnip-loving gene. Made of sturdy canvas and costing less than $6, you can't go wrong with this toy from Hartz.

Best catnip mice

Hartz Just for Cats Kitty Frenzy mice are the soft, fuzzy prey your cat will never get sick of hunting.

"Cats are extremely intelligent," said Sueda. They "would normally spend their time roaming and hunting for food if they were not indoors." But in the home, too, cats look for ways to practice their stalking, chasing, and pouncing skills. Enter tiny, catnip-filled mice that make an ideal "prey."

The Kitty Frenzy toy wasn't just the one my cats preferred out of the three  types of catnip mice we tested, it was one of their favorite toys overall. The multicolored mice come in a 12-pack and each is covered with soft fake fur and has a ribbon tail. My favorite thing about these mice is that, though they are lightweight enough for my cats to toss around, they have enough weight to them that they can be thrown or slid long distances across a room, upping the thrill of the chase. With so many mice per package at a cost of just $5, if one disappears there are several more to take its place.

What else we considered

  • Catit Senses 2.0 Digger Toy ($15): This unique slow-feeder/puzzle toy encourages cats of all confidence levels to play with their food without requiring high-level mental gymnastics. Read more in our review of the Catit Senses 2.0 collection.
  • Trixie Mad Scientist Turn Around Toy ($17): This bottle-flipping toy entices smarty-pants cats to problem-solve and provides an outlet for natural hunting instincts.
  • Kong Kickeroo Cuddler ($7): The multitextured, catnip-filled Kickeroo is the perfect size for rabbit-kicking, wrestling, and snuggling.
  • Frisco 35-inch Foldable Crinkle Play Tunnel ($12): Easy to fold and store, this play tunnel is made of soft, sueded polyester and lined with crinkle material that adds a satisfying soundtrack to hide-and-seek.
  • Litterbox.com Catnip Box ($40): This all-in-one box contains three catnip toys (two of which are refillable) and four types of high-quality, organic catnip. Read more in our review of Litterbox.com's Catnip Box. 
  • Petstages Fold Away Cat Tunnel ($16): I like this tunnel's cardboard scratcher exterior but the tunnel was too small for even the smaller of my two cats (9 pounds) to comfortably fit inside. 
  • Frisco Plush Kicker Cat Toy ($3): This adorable fox was too small and narrow for solid wrestling and rabbit kicking.
  • Catit Senses 2.0 Scratcher ($30): Of the three cats I tested this product with, not one showed any interest in using this stacked corrugated-cardboard post as a scratcher. Read more in our review of the Catit Senses 2.0 collection.
  • Kong Active Nylon Tunnel ($24): For the price, this ultra-basic nylon tunnel doesn't pack much punch.
  • Catit Treat Ball Toy ($4): Of the three treat balls we tested, this one was the most challenging but also the hardest to fill and clean.

What we're looking forward to

Only two of the more than 40 toys we tested for this guide were electronic, an insufficient number for identifying the best, considering the fact that there are dozens, if not hundreds, on the market. For the next version of this guide, we will be taking a closer look at battery-operated, electronic, and laser toys for cats.

We also discovered a handful of toys when speaking to our experts for this story. Their recommended favorites will be among those we review next time around. We are most looking forward to evaluating the following toys:

  • Cat Amazing Interactive Treat Maze & Puzzle Toy ($16): Sueda recommends this style of cardboard puzzle, which can be baited with treats, toys and/or catnip.
  • Dezi & Roo Hide and Sneak Collapsible Paper Tunnel ($11): Quagliozzi likes this cardboard-and-paper-bag tunnel, which cats can customize for themselves through scratching and play.
  • SmartyKat Hot Pursuit Electronic Toy ($17): This motorized toy erratically spins a feather wand under a circular mat, encouraging cats to stalk and pounce.
  • Hexbug Nano Robotic Cat Toy ($7): This small electronic toy moves like an insect to entice cats into play.
  • SmartyKat Chitter Critter Squirrel Toy ($5): This long, soft kicker squeaks and chitters like prey as your cat swats and wrestles.

Why it's important to play with your cat

Playing with your cat is important because of the mental and physical stimulation it provides and the behavior problems it helps to circumvent. A bored cat can become unruly, resorting to behaviors like frequent vocalization, play biting, or chasing other pets, but a cat with plenty of enrichment in their environment is more likely to expend their energy appropriately, attacking stuffed toys instead of your feet.

With cats, it's not enough just to purchase a toy and leave it sitting out. Cats are likely to be most interested in play when they have a playmate. After all, a catnip mouse isn't really a mouse until a human makes it wiggle and slide.

Although cats love choices and novelty, there's no need to spend excessive amounts of money on toys. "The great thing about cats is that they can be easily entertained with household items," said Cooley. "Things as simple as a cardboard box or ping pong ball can keep a cat entertained for hours at a time."

With cats, the most important part of the play equation is simply having someone to play with. Your cat could care less whether that's with a crumpled piece of paper or a $20 toy.

How to play with a cat

"Play style is very unique to every cat," said Quagliozzi. While some cats need no coaxing to chase a toy or paw at a puzzle board, those that are shy are less likely to have the confidence to engage. 

Since cats are hunters and hunters often watch their prey before they pounce, Quagliozzi recommends beginning with a small lure — the feathers on the end of a cat wand or catnip mice, for example — at a distance of at least 6 feet from your cat. Begin to move the lure slowly in their peripheral vision. "Be that bug, do what a bug would do," he said. "What a cat wants is for the toy to get their attention, but then to give them the promise of leaving. Once the toy is just out of sight, that's when their eyes begin to dilate." To trigger their play instincts, you'll have to be patient.

For less confident cats, the path to play is paved with tasty treats. Quagliozzi suggests placing treats around the toy or scratcher to draw a cat to it. "Put toys in spaces they feel comfortable and pick your battles," he said. "If they don't take to [a toy] on their own, encouragement isn't always appropriate. With a fearful cat, it takes time and a little bit of negotiation based on trust."

For a toy to be truly enriching, it must also be novel to a cat. Leaving a basket full of toys out in plain sight isn't doing anyone any favors. "It's just like leaving a graveyard out," said Quagliozzi. Instead, rotate your toys in and out of sight. Try marinating toys that are off duty in a bag filled with catnip so they'll be more exciting to your cat when they reappear. It's also important to rotate scratchers and toys among different locations in the home to renew your cat's interest in their daily landscape.

Because cats are naturally crepuscular (they sleep during the day and are active at night), schedule play for the evening when they are off "airplane mode." Quagliozzi recommends providing them with a minimum of 30 minutes of mental and physical stimulation daily, in addition to feeding them meals out of food-dispensing puzzle toys.

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