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Posted on Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 9:13 p.m.

Top pet toy picks from the experts - the animals themselves

By Lorrie Shaw


Exotic birds like toys, too.

Lorrie Shaw | Contributor

Daily, I see countless pet toys get used, abused and enjoyed. Unfortunately, some are ignored. In compiling this list of top pet toys for 2011, I did one simple thing: I paid attention to what pets used, how and for how long.

One thing is abundantly clear. All pets are different: the way that they play, what gets and keeps their attention and how long the toy lasts varies.

I have the unique vantage point of not only having three pets of my own, but seeing what my charges respond to as well.

With so many variables as far as size, preference and physical ability, there is a lot that you might want to consider when choosing a gift this holiday season, or any time of year. And as you'll see, not all toys are created equal when it comes to each species.

For dogs:

The Atomic Treat Ball by OurPets

This is a great foraging toy that has quickly become Gretchen's tried and true first choice over the past year. Made from durable thermoplastic rubber, it's soft on her senior teeth but still tough enough not to chew through. We stuff it with kibble or small bone-shaped treats to offer her stimulating independent play or even for mealtime.


These are genius and surprisingly so. How many times have you given your dog a plush toy and they've 'gutted' it? Seeing the flossy stuffing pulled out and strewn over the house is a sign of a good time where your crafty canine is concerned, but in our eyes, it's just not good! The truth is, most dogs won't tear apart those plush toys as long as there is no stuffing to be had, and now, they are readily available. Believe it, friends! With several kinds available, you'll never see that white mess ever again.

The Kygen Hide-a-Squirrel plush puzzle toy

Another favorite, this fun, durable toy comes with three stuffed squirrel toys that squeak.
Insert the squirrels into the "tree," and let your pooch do the rest. Dogs have fun figuring out and working to extract the squeaky contents. Be assured that this toy is durable: both of our dogs had difficulty destroying it. I even machine-wash and dry the tree and squirrels. It's available at better pet supply stores.

The Kygen company also makes these other plush puzzle toys: IQube, Intellibone, Hide a Bird, Hide a Bee and more.

Classic Kong

This is the self-professed "world's best dog toy," and I know that your dog will agree. Great for puppies and dogs alike, this stuffable rubber toy is an essential toy in every dogs' life. Helpful in teething or keeping mouths and minds busy, the hollow yet durable toys can be stuffed with goodies like canned food, peanut butter, Kong spray, Easy Cheese or with kibble that's been soaked in water — and then frozen. Give a frozen Kong to your pooch as you leave for work, and he'll stay busy and satisfied for a spell.

Kong Extreme

This is the same as above, but more resilient. It's our favorite choice, as our Bruiser is a power chewer and hasn't destroyed his yet.

Senior Kong

Ditto, but with softer rubber to accommodate an aging dogs dentition. Why should young pups have all of the fun?

The company also makes a Kong Wobbler. Great for dispensing treats or a meal, it will be a hit. Watch the fun here

Premier Busy Buddy line

Tug a Jug (another Gretchen favorite), Football, Twist and Treat, Chuckle — just to name a few help your dog transform destructive chewing habits into healthy playtime. Tug a Jug and Twist and Treat are great "foraging toys" that allow pooches to use their natural instincts, but in a directed, healthy fashion.


A ball launcher that saves your arm and keeps your hands dog slobber free? Believe it! And, dogs go crazy for it.

Tennis balls

The ubiquitous tennis ball. They get a bad rap from a lot of folks because they feel they're unsafe, but in all honesty, every dog that I know does fine with them as long as they're used under supervision. If they get "popped," we just toss them and offer new ones. Our Bruiser is the happiest dog ever when he has one. We buy them by the bag full and use them with the Chuck-it.

For cats:

Furry mice

These old standbys stand the test of time. As close to the real thing as they can get, toss one out and cats will chase, stalk, attack and bat these simple joys of feline life. Available at pet stores, grocery stores and discount stores everywhere.

Cat trees

Felines love to perch, hide out and scratch their claws. Cat trees give them everything that they want, and more. Many styles, sizes and price ranges. Here's a example.

Kitty City

These unique cat "houses" give cats what they love, and the flexible design allows you to "build" a structure that suits your cat.

Undercover Mouse

This nifty gadget will engage your cat with its "interaction." It has variable speeds to choose from and it's durable.


Need I say more? Cats everywhere (though some young cats do not react to its intoxicating effects) love this natural herb. It's available in catnip toys or in its dried form. Sprinkle it on the floor and let them have fun.

The SmartyCat Crinkle Chute

This collapsible tunnel toy offers cats the best of all worlds: the ability to hide, explore, hunt, with the addition of sensory stimulation. It's made from a durable polyester that crackles — a noise that most cats love.

Paper bags and cardboard boxes

Yes, we frequently leave these lying around for our cat, Silver, and he loves them. Plus, they are free.

For exotic birds

From Amazons to Cockatoos, they're popular pets, just as cats and dogs are. They possess the need to be occupied and to play just the same. Puzzle and rope toys attached on different parts of their enclosure are wonderful to stimulate their minds. Cardboard boxes and paper are a favorite (they love to rip them up). Clean toothbrushes are great engagement toys, as they can be gripped easily, and birds find the texture interesting.

So, there you have it, fresh opinions from those that matter — the pets themselves. But one last thing. The best gift that you can give your pet: yourself, and your time. Don't forget to play today.

Click here to read additional recommendations from myself and other pet professionals, that were included in a nationally-distributed article "Can I Haz Presents" by Danielle Cadet.

Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger for Connect with her on Google+ and follow her daily pet adventures or email her directly.



Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 12:26 p.m.

We always avoid toys with squeakers. Our dogs always destroy the toy to get to the squeaker. We also believe that may have been the cause of an obstruction which eventually caused our dog Brandy's death. For that same reason, please make sure that your cat is never exposed to anything long and stretchy. I once tied a gift for my husband with a stretchy decorative cord. We did not realize one of our cats had begun chewing on the cord under the tree at the back. When a cat starts swallowing something like this they are unable to cough it back up and eventually it can get into the intestines and cause real problems. The vet could not do anything to save either of our animals. Please be careful and aware.

Mary Bilyeu

Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 12:26 p.m.

It was fun just to read this list! Maybe just ONE more toy for the grandpuppy ... ;)


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 2:07 p.m.

Nice ideas! The link for the Kygen hide-a-squirrel is wonky. The other links seem to work okay.

Lorrie Shaw

Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 2:27 p.m.

RunsWithScissors: There are so many more toys that are great, too. The bat oat: most are inexpensive! Thanks for chiming in, and that link is fixed - thanks for the heads up!