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How to Design a Great Cat Toy

Abstract

Do you love animals and want to help keep them healthy? Well, here's your chance to design and tailor a toy that will bring out your pet's most playful nature. In this science fair project, you'll evaluate the skills and activities of your pet and determine what kinds of toys most excite your pet and make him or her lively and curious. So call your furry or feathered friend, and let the frolicking begin!

Summary

Areas of Science
Difficulty
 
Time Required
Long (2-4 weeks)
Prerequisites
None
Material Availability
You will need to work with a pet that you are very familiar with.
Cost
Very Low (under $20)
Safety
Adult supervision is required when testing enrichment toys. Pet safety must be considered at all times. All toys must be made from non-toxic materials. You should be familiar with the pet you are working with.
Credits

Kristin Strong, Science Buddies

Objective

To design and test different versions of an enrichment toy to determine which version most excites a pet both physically and mentally.

Introduction

What helps keep your pet healthy? Just like people, animals need the right food, clean water, grooming, rest, and exercise. The exercise is best when it uses the animal's natural skills and instincts like climbing, swimming, hunting, fetching, or digging, because exercise in this form conditions the animal's brain, as well as its body.

Photo of a cat jumping next to a photo of a dog jumping
Figure 1. These photos show pets at play using their natural instincts, like pouncing and fetching.

Animals kept in zoos have special challenges staying healthy, even if their environments are kept as close to their natural habitat as possible. Many zoo animals don't have to work for their food since it is given to them by the zookeepers. Without the challenges of finding food, guarding territory, or avoiding predators, some zoo animals may become bored and even depressed. Zoos try to combat this boredom with enrichment toys. Enrichment means making something richer, fuller, or more interesting. The goal of an enrichment toy is to provide a stimulating activity that exercises both the brain and the body of the animal. If you want to see how two kids got involved with enrichment activities at their local zoo, watch this DragonflyTV video and join Chelsea and Camille as they learned how to design and evaluate enrichment toys for the zoo's tigers and otters.

Video: DragonflyTV Kids Do Science - Tigers and Otters

You don't need to go to a zoo, though, to design and evaluate an enrichment toy. You can do it right in your own home, with your own pet, by thinking about and observing your animal's skills and behaviors.

Possible materials for enrichment toys are unlimited and can be found all around the house and yard. Examples include paper bags; boxes; balls; sticks; shoelaces; pieces of fur or wool; different thicknesses of string or rope with and without knots; clean, empty, plastic containers; cardboard tubes; marbles; mirrors; full-size photos of other pets; crumpled paper; old, clean socks; bells; and dry kibble or treats make great, enticing stuffers for socks and containers for some pets!

Is it possible that an enrichment toy might captivate one pet, but not another of the same breed or species? Yes, absolutely. Just like people, animals have their own personalities, even within the same species or breed. So, what makes a good enrichment toy for your German shepherd, for example, might not make the best enrichment toy for someone else's. Your animal is unique. Whether old or young, shy or social, you will find out what kind of toy captures and holds his or her interest. So, go call your pet! It's time to watch Fluffy or Fido get frisky!

Terms and Concepts

Questions

Bibliography

This science fair project was inspired by this resource:

This source describes popular enrichment toys for hamsters:

This source describes animal enrichment strategies at home for all kinds of pets, from cats and dogs to rodents, birds, and exotic reptiles:

Materials and Equipment

Note: The Materials & Equipment and Experimental Procedure provide one example of an enrichment toy with variations for a pet cat, but this basic procedure can be applied to any kind of pet, and the list of possible toys is endless, so watch your pet around the house and yard for clues as to what he or she enjoys playing with the most, then modify this science fair project accordingly.

Disclaimer: Science Buddies participates in affiliate programs with Home Science Tools, Amazon.com, Carolina Biological, and Jameco Electronics. Proceeds from the affiliate programs help support Science Buddies, a 501(c)(3) public charity, and keep our resources free for everyone. Our top priority is student learning. If you have any comments (positive or negative) related to purchases you've made for science projects from recommendations on our site, please let us know. Write to us at scibuddy@sciencebuddies.org.

Experimental Procedure

Making Your Basic Enrichment Toy and Its Three Variations

  1. In this example, your basic enrichment toy is a shoelace attached to a stick or pole, for which you will make three variations. Tie one end of the first shoelace tightly to the end of the first stick or pole.
  2. Repeat step 1 three more times so you have four sticks with a shoelace tied to the end of each one.
  3. Place a handful of dry cat food inside one of the cotton socks. Tie the loose end of one of the shoelaces that is tied to one of the sticks around the top of the sock so that no cat food can escape.
  4. Place a handful of dried catnip inside another one of the cotton socks. Tie the loose end of another one of the shoelaces around the top of the sock so that no catnip can escape.
  5. Place the jingle bell inside the last cotton sock. Tie the loose end of another one of the shoelaces around the top of the sock so the bell cannot fall out. You should now have three sticks and shoelaces with socks attached, and one that is just a shoelace tied to a stick.

Testing Your Basic Enrichment Toy and its Three Variations

  1. Pick a time to test your toy when your pet is normally alert. Cats, for example, are crepuscular. They are most active during dusk and dawn, preferring to laze about or sleep most of the day and night. Testing is best done around sunset or early morning when they are typically most frisky. Test your pet at the same time each day. Record the time of day for testing in your lab notebook.
  2. Choose a test area that is free from distractions like other people, other animals, or loud noises.
  3. Make a data table in your lab notebook, like the one below, in which you describe the basic toy, and each of its variations. Also write down two or three natural behaviors that you are going to watch for and count.
  4. Start the stopwatch or note the time on your watch with the second hand in your lab notebook.
  5. Drag the basic enrichment toy along the ground beside your cat.
  6. Count the number of behaviors you observe as you play with your cat.
  7. Stop counting at the end of 3 minutes and write down the number of behaviors that you observed in your data table.
  8. Repeat steps 4-7 for the first variation of your toy.
  9. Repeat steps 4-7 for the second variation of your toy.
  10. Repeat steps 4-7 for the third variation of your toy.
  11. Repeat steps 3-10 on two more days, starting at approximately the same time.
Data Table: Day 1
Enrichment ToyBehavior 1: PouncingBehavior 2: Biting Behavior 3: Tossing
Basic Toy: Stick with a shoelace    
Variation 1: Addition of a cat food-filled sock   
Variation 2: Addition of a catnip-filled sock   
Variation 3: Addition of a bell in a sock   

Analyzing Your Data Charts

  1. Create a fourth data chart in which you average the results of your three days' worth of data for each toy. Was there one version of the toy that excited your pet the most for all behaviors? Was there one version of the toy that was better for some behaviors, but not others? Were there any versions of the toy that your pet completely ignored?
icon scientific method

Ask an Expert

Do you have specific questions about your science project? Our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Variations

  • Compare responses to an enrichment toy among three or more pets of the same breed or species.
  • Compare variations on an enrichment toy that focuses on one of the senses, such as touch. Determine what types of textures your pet prefers to play or chew on. Or create enrichment toy variations that focus on sound. What frequencies attract your pet? If your focus is vision, what colors of toys interest your pet the most? How about shiny or dull toy surfaces?
  • Try repeating your tests at different times of the day. What times of the day (or night) is your pet most interested in play?
  • Evaluate whether your pet prefers playing with enrichment toys solo or with a human involved.
  • If you'd like to test various dog toys to find the most appealing for your dog, see this Science Buddies science fair project: Dog Toys: What Makes One a Favorite or a Flop to Fido?

Careers

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "How to Design a Great Cat Toy." Science Buddies, 9 Dec. 2021, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Zoo_p051/zoology/cat-enrichment-toys. Accessed 27 Nov. 2022.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2021, December 9). How to Design a Great Cat Toy. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Zoo_p051/zoology/cat-enrichment-toys


Last edit date: 2021-12-09
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