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APPROPRIATE TOYS FOR YOUR KITTEN

Your playful kitty may turn everything from a ball of newspaper to the grocery sack into a toy, but that doesn't mean she doesn't appreciate the real thing. You can keep your pet active and safeguard her health by picking appropriate toys.

Your kitten has the urge to attack objects. This "object play" stimulates her predatory behavior. If you supply your kitten with lots of toys, she'll learn this behavior early.

What are the advantages? Your kitten will stay healthy mentally and physically, she'll learn social skills and coordination, and she'll get the exercise she needs to help prevent health problems like obesity. Plenty of play also keeps her entertained, which can head off behavior problems that stem from boredom.

The Wrong Toys

String, rubber bands, ribbon, needles and thread, and twine all make tempting toys for your kitten, but they aren't safe. Your kitty will be tempted to swallow these treats, and if they lodge in her stomach or intestines, surgery may be required.

If your kitten stalks the electrical cords in your house, invest in cord protectors or small PVC piping so she can't chew on the cords and burn her mouth - or worse.

Household objects like buttons and aluminum foil are also dangerous because they can wind up in your cat's stomach, causing perforation or blockages. Other objects, including bottles and caps used to contain chemicals, cleaning products or other dangerous substances can also be toxic or harmful to your kitten.

Finally, don't ever use your hand as a toy. Your kitten's tiny teeth and claws may not hurt, but you're encouraging aggressive behavior toward people that could lead to an accident when she's bigger and nibbles too hard on a guest.

Instead, use a stuffed animal or toy to play with her. This way, she can still "attack" without hurting you, and she won't learn that it's okay to play rough with people.

Your cat enjoys balls, toy mice and stuffed toys, but she likes playing with you the best, so use your kitten's toys to play with her. Try play sessions once or twice a day, and stop if your pet seems uninterested.

One note: Interactive toys make the best play choices, but don't leave them out after playtime. Your pet will be less interested in the toy if she always has access to it, and these toys sometimes have small parts that your cat can consume. With this in mind, here are a few suggestions.

Fishing Poles

Who would have thought a plastic pole with a string attached could be so great? These toys come with feathers, balls and other items attached to the end of the string. The idea is to dangle a target in front of your cat so she can practice her attack skills without attacking you.

Most cats love it if you animate the target. Come on, think like a mouse. Half-hide the toy behind your chair so your kitty can see it. When your cat takes the bait, "run" the toy around to hide on the other side of the chair. She'll love it.

Kitty feather dusters offer the same kind of play. The only difference is the end of the plastic stick has a wad of fluffy feathers instead of a string and toy.

Balls and Mice

Balls, toy mice and other small toys work best for games of chase, fetch and other hunting games for cats. Chasing these toys gives your cat a great cardiovascular workout.

Some small toys and toy mice also wind up so they can run around the living room on their own. Before you bring them home, check them over for small or loose parts your kitten could swallow or inhale.

Your cat also appreciates small, furry toys that resemble creatures. They look like prey and stimulate her predatory instincts. But remember, after your cat has "hunted" these toys, she may decide it's time to chomp down on her tasty treat. Watch your kitten carefully, and make sure she doesn't try to devour these types of toys. If she succeeds in devouring one behind your back, it may not cause a problem, but watch her for signs of gastrointestinal distress, and call your veterinarian if you have any concerns.

Catnip Toys

Many toys contain catnip. This scent entices and excites some cats because it carries a chemical called nepetalactone, which causes neurological stimulation in cats.

If your cat responds to catnip, it may be the end of your play session. Some cats become exuberant, but other cats react by rubbing, rolling over and stretching or licking themselves for 10 to 15 minutes after their exposure. Afterward, they may be inclined to take a nap or mosey over to the food dish for a snack.

Scratching Posts

It is normal, healthy cat behavior to scratch. Why do they do it? Scratching helps remove the outer layers of their claws, or the sheaths like a kitty manicure. It also helps mark their territory.

If your cat still has her front claws, a scratching post can save your carpet and furniture some wear and tear. There are many kinds of scratching posts, including twine and carpeted models. They come in an array of shapes and sizes, and some incorporate balls and toys to catch your pet's interest. Others provide a comfortable resting spot for an afternoon nap. You may need to test a few before you find one that captures your pet's interest.