My Cats Hate Automated Toys, but I Buy Them Anyway

This is the look of some shenanigans about to go down.
This is the look of some shenanigans about to go down.
Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo
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My cats have totally opposite personalities. Charlie, my mild-mannered, slightly chonky, gray tabby will paw at a toy as she lays lazily on her back. Katniss, my sassy tuxedo cat, is still a kitten despite being nearly eight-years-old. For five years, it was just me and Charlie, until Katniss came into our lives two months ago.

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When they are not competing for my love and attention, Katniss will borderline bully Charlie into playing with her. Charlie, ever the sweet and patient cat, will indulge Katniss for a while, but when she’s tired of her shenanigans, she’ll give her a big ol’ boop to the face. It’s not Katniss’ fault she’s socially awkward; she was rescued as a kitten and wasn’t around another cat for her entire life until now. So, she’s still learning some manners, but she’s a fast learner.

When it comes to play time, though, neither play on their own. They want—need—me playing with them, whether it’s whipping a fake mouse or bug around on a wire or shinning a laser pointer across the room. Katniss will even play fetch on occasion.

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There’s just something about a toy actively moving that they find far more fascinating than playing by themselves. But I’m often several phalanges deep into a review or blog. I can’t always stop what I’m doing and pay attention to them, so I thought some automated cat toys would be the solution.

How play time with automated toys usually goes.
How play time with automated toys usually goes.
Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

I’m ashamed to tell you how many automated cat toys I’ve bought over the years, but uh, let’s just say my cats still prefer playing with me. Or napping and grooming in weird positions. Yet I still buy these dang cat gadgets hoping they’ll be entertained for at least five minutes.

Katniss is a bit more interested in one of the whack-a-mole toys I recently bought, and it’s the one I like the most, too. Not only is it super quiet, but the mouse jumps in and out of the holes in a sort of roller coaster motion. She’ll stare intensely at it for a few minutes, walk around it to see the plastic mouse pop up and down from another angle, and then try to paw at it, sometimes sticking her hand down into the hole. I think Katniss likes this toy the most.

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Charlie... Charlie stares at it. She seems to know it’s not real. She knows it’s not me playing with her. “Mom, WTF is this dumb thing?” her eyes scream at me. Just play with it like your sister, I plead with her.

Nope.

She then walks away, shaking her butt with her tail in the air. Katniss looks at Charlie, then at the toy. She looks at Charlie, then at the toy again, and decides to abandon it to chase her sister.

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But if Charlie even looks the least bit interested in a toy that Katniss wants to play with, Katniss will strut over, get in Charlie’s way, and take over the toy. If Charlie doesn’t move out of the way fast enough, Katniss will boop her, and Charlie, being the sweet, non-confrontational girl she is, will move away for the sake of keeping the peace. This was a common occurrence with another whack-a-mole toys I bought: a small, white spaceship-looking thing that popped a feather out of the holes at random.

Video: Joanna Nelius (Gizmodo)

One of the things I see touted a lot from these automated cat toy makers is how they will “captivate your pet’s attention,” “satisfy their hunting instinct,” or something along those lines.

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It’s literally on every single product description. This Pawaboo cat toy. This PetFusion Ambush toy. This spinning feather toy. This concealed motion toy. I’m sure they work on some cats. Hell, they work on one of mine for a little bit, but both of my cats know I’m not the one playing with them. The toys inevitably fail to captivate. So why do I keep buying them?

I have no idea.

Can I be mad or even frustrated with my cats? Not really. They love me so much they’d rather interact with me, animal to human, and I sleep better at night knowing I’m the one giving them what they want and need, not an automated gadget. I mean, they should love me. I clean their litter boxes and feed them. I even give them treats after a traumatizing day at the vet. Maybe I’m too worried about them being bored and that’s why I keep wasting money on toys that my cats get bored with after five minutes.

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I never had pets growing up, so I don’t mind that they always want to be near me. One will jump up on my desk while the other jumps up on the back of my chair, waiting for me to play with them. Okay, good girls, let mom finish this blog and she will.

Aaaaaaaaand shenanigans!
Aaaaaaaaand shenanigans!
Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo
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Staff Reporter, Reviews at Gizmodo. Formerly PC Gamer, Maximum PC.

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DISCUSSION

You have wooden floors.

In my experience the ultimate cat toys That required no humans were:

Solid plastic cap, like those used to close off milk cartons. The first time my mother had me move her fridge for cleaning we found about a hundred under there.

Large paper bag, open.

Cardboard box, open on a side. Small enough to hide in, yet be charged and still knocked around by the cat that wasn’t in it.

And lord knows why, my ratty flannel shirt. That would get dragged around like a child’s blanket by any of the first 3 feline monsters to grace the house hold.