Long gone is the time when a bone or a ball were all your pets could play with, and choosing a toy for your pet can feel overwhelming with the endless choices on the market today. Toys aren’t just an accessory for your pet—they are a necessity for their overall well-being. So naturally, you want to spoil your furry friend with a toy that they will actually enjoy. Here are some tips on picking out the perfect toy for your pet.
There are several factors to take into consideration when choosing a toy for your dog, including but not limited to:
Age - Age can be a significant factor is what types of toys your dog can enjoy. Puppies who are teething will be more prone to chewing, so a durable chew toy will be most suitable. Once they are past the teething phase, your dog will have a strong enough jaw for harder rubber toys if they still prefer something to chew on. An older dog on the other hand may have worn-down teeth from his younger years, so softer materials may be better.
Size - You want to choose a toy that will be comfortable and safe for your dog. A toy that’s too large may be harder for your pup to play with, and likewise a toy that’s too small can present a choking hazard. A good rule of thumb is that if a toy is small enough to fit behind your dog’s rear molars, then it is a choking hazard.
Environment and Lifestyle - Will you be playing inside or outside? Durability may be a significant factor if you plan to spend plenty of time playing outdoors. If you’ll be playing both inside and outside, try a variety of toys so you’re set both for fetch at the park, or a quiet night in. Similarly, you want to think about your lifestyle and how that impacts your pet’s life: do you need a toy that your dog can play with alone or with you? Interactive toys will promote owner-pet bonding, but if your dog is home alone often then you might want to consider an enrichment toy.
Personality - As pet owners, we know each dog has their individual preferences. Often they will let you know what toys they like. Look at their personality, habits, and play style to choose a toy that will fit into their life perfectly. If your dog is a snuggler, then they might like a plush toy they can cuddle with. If your dog loves to chase, then you may want to grab a good ball or frisbee to play fetch with. You know your dog best, so use your knowledge to pick up something you think they would like.
Chuck Costello from the KONG Company categorizes dog toys into five groups: training toys, enrichment toys, interactive toys, self-amusement toys, and comfort toys. These categories all serve different purposes, so this is where you must consider both your and your dog’s needs. Training toys, like teething toys, teach your dog what is appropriate to chew on and will soothe anxious chewers. Enrichment toys, or treat-dispensing toys (most puzzle toys), help stave off boredom by providing mental stimulation. Interactive toys, which require two parties, help build your bond with your dog through games like fetch of tug of war. Self-amusement toys, like a KONG Wobbler full of peanut butter, are great for dogs who spend lots of time home alone or have separation anxiety, as they are durable toys that can keep them entertained without the presence of a person. Last but not least, comfort toys, which are usually plush toys, can be any toy your dog bonds with and may curl up with for warmth and comfort. Try having one of each of these toy types to cover all your bases, and observe what your dog gravitates towards most!
For our finicky feline friends, there’s also plenty to keep in mind when shopping for toys, such as:
Size and Weight - Generally, cats like a toy that is lightweight so that they can bat it a fair distance without too much force. Depending on your cat, they may like a toy they can carry around in their mouth, in which case you want a toy that is neither too big nor too small (producing a choking hazard).
Texture - Cat toys come in all kinds of textures, from fur and feathers to fabric and leather. Try out a variety of textures with your cat and see what they prefer. You may notice a pattern of your cat favoring toys with feathers, or fuzzy mice, or a nice smooth ball to roll across the floor. Additionally, try to avoid toys with glued-on decorations that can be pulled off and potentially swallowed.
Engaging the senses - Engage your cat’s hunting instincts with a toy that engages their sense of smell or makes noise. For smell, try a toy filled with catnip—which, it should be noted, does not produce an effect on every cat. If this is the case for your cat, you can also try a honeysuckle or silver vine toy. Many cat toys produce sounds that imitate prey, such as chirping or squeaking noises, that will enhance the play experience for your cat.
Personality - Ultimately, you know what your cat enjoys best. Pay attention to what items from daily life perk up their interest. Maybe they like to go searching for crumpled pieces of paper to toss around, or are particularly interested in anything that flies. Choose toys that have similar features or imitate the things they seek out. Take a look at their play style as well. If they enjoy leaping in the air, then a wand or fishing pole toy may excite them most. If they prefer pouncing on the ground, then a mouse toy may be just what they need.
Overall, you want your cat’s toys to mimic prey animals and engage their natural feline hunting instincts. Keep this in mind when playing with them as well. For example, if you are using an interactive toy, such as a wand, try to emulate natural prey behavior. Move the toy erratically, alternating between fleeing (fast) and cautious (slow) motions. Cats also like to have options; offer them a variety of toys, rotating them weekly (unless one is a favorite!) so your cat doesn’t get bored with them. Try to make time for at least one or two 10-20 minute play sessions with your cat each day—your cat will thank you!
What are your pets’ favorite toys? Let us know!
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