Cats love to play with string, but I find string and ribbon get easily tangled and athletic cats will sometimes jump up and attack the hand holding the string. So the solution is to use a wand toy – string on a stick! They come with feathers, mice, bells, ribbons, etc.. I find that wand toys with bells on them don’t work well for me as a pet sitter, as many of my cat clients are shy at first, and the jingling noise scares them. I also prefer lightweight wand toys, rather than the ones with heavy balls or stuffed animals hanging from them. Sometimes the cat and I misjudge a pass, and they end up getting bopped with the toys. Cats love feathers, but they do not last long and can get messy.
The one I most often use and frequently find when visiting my cat clients, is a simple long soft ribbon attached to a plastic stick. It’s sometimes called a dancer or teaser or charmer. You can wave it up, down, side to side, around, and make designs in the air to tease your cat friend into pouncing on it. You can exercise the cat without getting out of breath yourself. The wand toy is simple, effective, and generally inexpensive and durable. You can easily make one yourself, though they are not expensive and can be found at any pet store.
The great thing about wand teasers is that the cat is not targeting your body during play. A common mistake new cat owners do is to tease their young cats with their hands, and let their cats play rough with them because they think it’s adorable that their tiny fluffy kitten is attacking their fingers. When the cute kitten grows into a strong, mature cat and continues to play roughly, the owner no longer finds it cute. Letting your cat use their teeth and claws on you during play, or letting the play or petting session go on too long when the cat becomes overstimulated and becomes too rough, teaches your cat that you are a toy and that you want them to play with you like a kicker toy or scratching post. It’s confusing to them if sometimes it’s ok to grab, bite, kick, and scratch you, but sometimes it’s not ok. It’s best to be consistent and clear: you are not the toy. If a cat starts to play too roughly, I stop play or petting, say a firm “no,” and give them time to calm down by not touching them for a while. They will learn that it is not acceptable to play too roughly with me, and if the teeth or claws come out, I will stop playing or petting them.
A wand toy allows you to keep a safe distance from your mighty hunter’s sharp teeth and claws, and gives you control over the play session. They’ll be focused on the toy, and not on your hand. While laser pointers are also great, and I carry one with me, I prefer a wand toy because the cat is able to “win” with it. A wand toy is a physical thing they can attack, grab, chew, and “get,” whereas with a laser pointer, the cat can never win, unless you end the chase on a treat or toy. The lack of a “victory” at the end of laser play could lead to increased aggression; after all, everyone loves a happy ending! A wand toy never runs out of batteries, and sometimes cats will play with them on their own. Another great thing about wand toys is that they are small enough to put away easily, and also large enough to find easily.