Filling the Feline Toy Box
Once limited to simple cat toys, pet parents are demanding products to engage with their felines, leading manufacturers to create innovative products for meaningful playtime.
There was a time when cat toys were limited to only a small selection of catnip-based products, jingle bells encased in plastic balls or simple strands of yarn cut from grandma’s knitting basket. But consumers are now exploring methods to forge closer relationships with their cats, thawing the misconception that felines are too cool to play. With growing consumer interest in products that keep cats active, manufacturers are tapping into the expanding market of feline toys that promote health and interaction.
Using toys that encourage cats to chase affords the opportunity for these animals to act in a manner that taps into natural predator instincts, thereby promoting feline fitness and mental wellness that will allay anxiety. As with any other creature, recognizing the existence of distinctive personality traits within each animal is increasingly important for manufacturers to remain relevant.
“Cats have different play styles based on their hunting instincts, and having varying types of toys allows the retailers to cater to each,” explains Kirk Dixon, category director for Alliance, Ohio-based Coastal Pet Products. “Consumers continue to place importance on health trends and transfer those to their pets. We see this trend continuing into the future.”
The interactive cat-toy segment is receiving a lot of attention from consumers, as these products not only strengthen consumer relationships with their felines, but also afford enjoyment for both animal and pet parent. As consumers continue to play an active role in their cats’ playtime, they will seek a variety of products that accommodates their own interests as well as those of their pets.
Susan McCann, national marketing manager of Bloomfield, N.J.-based Ethical Products, reminds retailers that successfully selling to feline pet parents requires offering many different types of items that can appeal to the distinctive personalities of consumers and their cats.
“In 2017, we will continue to see a trend in interactive cat toys. The human/pet bond is stronger than ever, so the development of toys that promote this bond is critical,” she says. “Retailers should carefully plan their assortment to offer the most variety without duplication.”
With the concerns about the well-being of animals, pet parents will remain concerned regarding cat fitness and will continue to ensure indoor animals receive sufficient exercise to maintain a healthy weight. Including interactive toys during playtime allows pet parents to monitor the amount of exercise their cats experience on a daily basis.
Ensuring cats are physically healthy by maintaining an ideal weight and exercising their bodies is important, but promoting the mental well-being of these animals is also essential. These animals are often misunderstood as calm and independent, yet they are susceptible to anxiety, especially when exposed to uncertain or unfamiliar circumstances.
Explaining the inspiration for his most recent designs, Jim Boelke, president of Cat Dancer Products in Neenah, Wis., emphasizes the need to soothe and entertain cats while they are traveling in a carrier or being held in a kennel.
“Whether in a carrier, or in a cage in a shelter, we want these periods to be as anxiety free as we can make it for the cats, but until now there has not been a toy that can actually work well for a cat in confinement,” he says. “That means these cats get little exercise and that can affect mood and behavior.”
While calming cats during travel is important, these animals must also find comfort in their homes before they will be open to playing. Manufacturing products that have the appearance of a toy but work as a tool to combat anxiety has been the focus of some cat-product designers.
“We provide comfort products because it is important to us that we help pets live a peaceful, happy life, while strengthening the bond between pets and their pet parents. An active, engaged and happy pet will typically exhibit less destructive behavior,” reveals Anjilla Young, director of marketing with Novi, Mich.-based SmartPetLove.
Made for Fun
Today’s consumers are looking to invest in resilient, quality products, rather than constantly replacing the same poorly made toys that consistently break, which can be frustrating and threaten pet safety. When creating toys that withstand cat pouncing, biting or scratching, manufacturers understand that they now answer to discerning consumers who want to improve the quality of life for their pets by providing them with superior products.
“Our wand designs are shorter [intentionally], as we adhere to human child safety standards,” says Aimee Diskin, director of innovation for Novato, Calif.-based Worldwise, Inc. “Interactive play is key to building a bond with a cat, so greater emphasis should be on shorter wands and toys without parts that easily pull off.”
Understanding that consumers continue to favor products that are labelled “Made in the USA,” domestic cat-toy companies are promoting their stateside manufacturing practices. As a pet owner and sales manager at Los Angeles-based Vee Enterprises, Eric Merva recognizes the longevity of this trend as a result of the continued and greater inclusion of animals as family members whom consumers want to keep safe.
“A label that says ‘Made in the USA’ still serves as a big selling point because it stands for quality as well as safety,” he explains. “Not only is this important to the majority of domestic consumers and retailers but retailers overseas, such as China, have a demand for products made in the U.S.”
Proving more valuable than simple playthings, next-generation cat toys promote overall pet health. Though the allure of these toys can easily be explained through the science of basic feline predator instincts, the benefits of these products are far from simple. By designing toys with which consumers can engage their cats, manufacturers are creating happier, healthy home environments for calm, fit felines.