As cat owners seek toys that encourage engagement and connection, manufacturers report that cat toy sales are on the rise.
Liz Bales, DVM, creator of Bloomfield, N.J.-based Ethical Products’ Doc and Phoebe collection, cited the pandemic as a factor in increasing toy sales.
“The pandemic has been an amazing time for people to learn about their cats,” Dr. Bales said. “And, so many people have gotten cats. Cat lovers are seeing that their cats are happier and less stressed when they are playing. And for cats, playing means re-creating the hunt.”
Because people are working from home, they need to find new ways to keep their cats busy for longer periods of time, she noted.
“Wand toys and other toys that require a human being are great, but we need ways for our cats to stay entertained on their own, so we can get things done,” Bales said.
Melissa Slippen, toy brand manager for Petmate, a manufacturer in Arlington, Texas, said cat owners are looking for toys that promote both mental and physical exercise, as well as interactive toys that strengthen bonds between owners and cats.
“We know each cat is different and use consumer [feedback] and data to drive our innovation so that we can provide engaging toys no matter what your cat’s play style is,” she said. “Having an assortment of innovative and different toys on shelf is always an eye-catcher and offers each unique cat a solution for their needs.”
Darin Eisenbarth, president of Petsport, a manufacturer in Pittsburg, Calif., said individual cats are drawn to different textures, materials and sounds, and multipacks that offer a variety of toys are great ways to help owners identify what types their cats are drawn to.
“Consumers are a little bit wary; they’re worried their cat won’t play with a toy,” he said. “If you have three or four different toys, the consumers respond because they think, ‘Oh, out of those toys my cat will probably find something they’ll like.’”
Eisenbarth said it is surprising how quickly demand for cat toys has grown in the past few years. Five years ago, Petsport offered three or four cat toys, and now it manufactures 30.
“Dog toys dominate the market, but there are more cats kept as pets than dogs,” he said. “The market is not addressing that fact. Retailers are kind of clamoring for more cat toys, and the market just isn’t addressing it.”
Sheila King, category manager for Coastal Pet Products, a manufacturer in Alliance, Ohio, said cat toy sales are increasing year-over-year, with consumers increasingly gravitating toward more interactive toys, scratcher toys and wand varieties.
The company’s most popular cat toy is the Turbo Transform It, which is made of scratchable corrugate and can be transformed into four distinct shapes to appeal to any cat, King said. It also has a variety of add-on options, including the Turbo Catnip Cyclone, Turbo Scratcher Cat Grass, Turbo Grooming Arch, Turbo Teaser Toy and Turbo Treat Ball.
Catnip toys are good options for cats that don’t seem naturally inclined to play or get active.
“Cats having a toy that they actually want to play with helps them get some much-needed exercise, as well as keeping them busy and entertained,” said Kris Kaiser, marketing specialist for DuckyWorld Products in Roseville, Minn. a manufacturer known for its U.S.-made Yeowww! Catnip toys. “It’s fun to bring home a new toy that you know your cat is going to enjoy and respond to.”
Kaiser said retailer and consumer confidence in U.S.-made products has helped boost the company’s sales, and retailer Randy Klein agreed that “made in the USA” is a priority for customers right now.
Klein owns Whiskers Holistic Petcare, which has stores in New York. Klein keeps the stores’ cat toy assortments fresh by looking out for manufacturer specials on new releases.
When looking to bolster their assortments, retailers can turn to social media, Faire, Etsy, manufacturer reps and trade shows to explore their options, recommended Eric Mack, consultant for and former owner of Purrrfect Bark, a pet store in Columbus, N.C.
Jeff Reibert, pet supplies buyer for CountryMax, said regular reviews of category sales are helpful in keeping toy selections updated across the chain’s stores across the state of New York.
“We review monthly sales by category to help see where we need to make changes,” he explained. “From there, we review new products quarterly to add fresh items as needed.”
Laser, Catnip and Wand Toys
Some of the newest cat toys on the market are designed to make playtime feel like a feline hunting session.
Cats are motivated to exercise by hunting for small portions of food many times throughout the day, said Liz Bales, DVM. Bloomfield, N.J.-based Ethical Products’ new Doc and Phoebe collection, created by Dr. Bales, is designed to let cats engage these instincts.
Instead of feeding cats from a bowl, cat owners can put small portions of food into Doc and Phoebe’s Hunting Feeder and Doc and Phoebe’s Wet Feeder and hide them around the house, she said.
“Now the cat gets to spend its day doing what it wants to do hunting for many small portions of food throughout the day and night, and the cat parent gets to get things done,” Bales said. “To fill in the gap in between the hunts, toys like the [Doc and Phoebe] Forever Fun Treat Track, Twirly Bird Snacker and Puzzle Feeder allow cats to be entertained and playing while having a treat, not climbing on your keyboard and bumping your hand for their favorite treat all day long.”
In January 2021, Petsport in Pittsburg, Calif., released the USB Rechargeable Laser Chase Robot, an interactive laser toy that recharges in any USB outlet in about an hour to provide up to six hours of play.
“[The laser toy is] always going to be the No. 1 cat toy out there,” said Darin Eisenbarth, president of Petsport.
DuckyWorld Products in Roseville, Minn., known for its U.S.-made Yeowww! Catnip toys, launched three organic catnip toys throughout spring and early summer:
With its crinkly fabric peels, the Chi-CAT-a Banana Peeled is a new take on DuckyWorld’s original banana-shaped catnip toy.
The Pineapple, DuckyWorld’s largest fruit toy so far, is stuffed with more than 1.4 ounces of the company’s organic Yeowww! Catnip.
The Kitten Mittens collection is a set of three mittens decorated with a banana, a rainbow and a heart, in a nod to some of DuckyWorld’s most popular toys. Retailers can order Kitten Mittens in three-packs or 30-count countertop display jugs.
Petmate’s latest releases are the JW Flutter-ee Feathers and Wool-ee Crawler telescopic wands, said Melissa Slippen, toy brand manager for the Arlington, Texas-based company.
“Flutter-ee Feathers wand is for the cat who likes to catch flying critters, while Wool-ee Crawler is designed for those that like to hunt and stalk,” Slippen said.
Show and Tell
Cross-promotions, highlighting a toy’s features and customer testimonials can all help build in-store retail sales in the cat toy category.
The best way for retailers to encourage cat owners to try new toys is to share personal stories of their own cats’ enjoyment of particular toys, said Randy Klein, owner of Whiskers Holistic Petcare, which has stores in New York.
Some retailers are taking it a step further to actually show their cats enjoying the toys.
“We use our in-house cat to try new toys and share the results in person or via social media,” said Eric Mack, consultant for and former owner of Purrrfect Bark, a pet store in Columbus, N.C.
The store also cross-promotes by using interactive toys in demos with canned foods and treats.
Liz Bales, DVM, also recommended having a store cat demonstrate the use of products.
“Additionally, independent retailers can help cat parents have reasonable expectations for how quickly a cat will interact with and accept a new toy,” said Dr. Bales, who created the Doc and Phoebe cat toy collection for Bloomfield, N.J.-based manufacturer Ethical Products.
Retailers can let owners know that they can help their pet accept something new in their environment more readily by having the new toy smell like the pet.
“You can accomplish this by rubbing the new toy and their bedding, adding their favorite food and treats, and even a little catnip,” she said. “Finally, cats are solitary hunters. Although they love us, they are programmed to hunt and eat alone. Sometimes the best way for a cat to enjoy a new toy is by themselves.”
Picking out a catnip toy can provide a sensory experience for customers. Kris Kaiser, marketing specialist for DuckyWorld Products, said the potency of the company’s Yeowww! Catnip helps the Roseville, Minn.-based manufacturer’s toys stand out.
“Have a customer pick up a toy, touch it to feel the quality of the fabric, and then give it a good sniff,” Kaiser said. “Most of our toys have over an ounce of catnip packed inside. This makes our toys extremely fragrant, and customers can usually smell them as they pass by a display.”
Retailers can also try offering toys as add-ons or freebies with other purchases. New York-based pet store chain CountryMax pairs toys with food to encourage repeat sales.
“We will run a promotion on a particular cat food, and [customers] receive a specific cat toy for free,” said pet supplies buyer Jeff Reibert. “Who doesn’t love something for free? Once that cat gets a favorite toy, their pet parent will likely be back to buy it again.”
Cater to the Cat People
Pet specialty retailers who want to make the most of cat toys sales should carefully consider how to display these products.
The single most important aspect of merchandising cat products, including toys, is for retailers to dedicate space to a separate cat section, said Darin Eisenbarth, president of Petsport, a manufacturer in Pittsburg, Calif.
“Cat people consider themselves cat people, and they want to be catered to,” he said. “Don’t just separate the toys out. Create a new section. Let the cat people know you are specializing for them. They don’t want to be a subset of the dog toys.”
Eric Mack, consultant for and former owner of Purrrfect Bark, a pet store in Columbus, N.C., said both spinning racks and fully stocked slat walls work well for displaying toys, and the store has luck with placing cat toys in the food section.
CountryMax, which has stores throughout the state of New York, makes use of endcaps.
“Along with our pet toy aisles, we like to use our endcaps to make nice displays of toys, as well as tying in other great cat products we offer, such as catnip, cat scratchers and cat furniture,” said Jeff Reibert, pet supplies buyer for CountryMax.
At Whiskers Holistic Petcare, which has stores in New York, toys are displayed in open baskets with large price signs.
“People go by price a lot with cat toys,” said owner Randy Klein.
Most of CountryMax’s toys are sold at an affordable price point, but some are on the more expensive side, which can make them more of a challenge to sell, Reibert said.
“We use shelf signage to help promote and explain the more expensive electronic cat toys,” he said.
For toys with an interactive component, a demo display or visuals can be key to making a sale.
“Retailers can make it easier for the consumer to understand the toy right away by utilizing ‘try me’ displays or educational/how-to visuals in-store,” said Melissa Slippen, toy brand manager for Petmate, a manufacturer in Arlington, Texas. “When retailing online, having expanded digital assets that help communicate and visualize the toy in use is a great way to give consumers confidence to purchase higher-priced items.”
Retailers can also take advantage of displays offered by manufacturers to optimize space and catch customers’ eyes.
“Our displays pack a lot of product into a small footprint,” said Kris Kaiser, marketing specialist for DuckyWorld Products, a manufacturer in Roseville, Minn., known for its U.S.-made Yeowww! Catnip toys. “When displays are kept full, they generate 40 percent more sales than pegging alone. Giving prominent display for new items will entice loyal customers to buy.”