Owners are on the hunt for the most engaging toys to please their cats, and pet specialty retailers reported improved sales of cat toys, including catnip products, over the past 12 months.

“We had a great 2021,” said Aidan Gannon, owner of Petzlove Food ’n Stuffz, a retailer in Lone Tree, Colo. “Cat customers in 2021 were spending a lot more money and purchasing a lot more ancillary items for their cats.”

Robby Majeska, owner of Keys Kritters, a pet store in Key Largo, Fla., also said sales were up, and credited it to the rise in adoptions and keeping his store open throughout the waves of the pandemic.

“My sales were up across the board, and we were open the whole time, being careful,” he said.

The number of pet owners buying toys for their cats is up 8 percent since 2018, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA)’s 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey. It rose from 59 percent of cat owners buying toys in 2018 to 67 percent in 2020, the survey stated.

The most important factor cat owners consider when buying toys is whether “the cat will actually play with it,” Majeska said. Locally made products and those that are eco-friendly appeal to cat owners as well, industry insiders said.

“The new trends are mostly tech and sustainable materials,” said Eric Merva, sales manager for Vee Enterprises, a manufacturer in Los Angeles. “Consumers are looking for products that are not only safe but eco-friendly, so there’s been an uptick to meet that demand.”

Susan Calles, national marketing manager for Ethical Products, a manufacturer in Bloomfield, N.J., agreed, adding that “eco-friendly materials are increasingly important to owners as they are more conscious about harmful chemicals and dangerous materials.”

Cat owners also want “more-treat dispensing toys, interactive toys with which cats can entertain themselves, and training toys as cat ownership has gone up and humans are learning more about how to care for them,” Calles said.

Top sellers at Petzlove include fishing-pole styles or danglers and especially catnip toys, Gannon said, with preference going to cute designs and quality products made by smaller companies.

“Handmade or handsewn toys appeal a lot to the customer,” Gannon said. “They like a cottage industry type of toy instead of mass produced. And they want toys that hold up well and are well stitched to last.”

Catnip products are top sellers at Keys Kritters as well, Majeska reported. Popular formats include loose catnip, catnip with silvervine, toys made of hemp material, and catnip buds and blooms.

Lesser known by customers and many in the industry, the silvervine plant is native to the mountainous regions of China, Japan and Russia, Calles explained.

“It is more potent than catnip and almost immediately activates a cat’s reward and pleasure center of their brains, causing them to rub, roll and lick, just as catnip would,” Calles added. “Essentially, if your cat does not respond to catnip, it is very likely that silvervine will do the trick to make them happy.”

Silvervine comes loose, compressed into a shape, in toys and in a chew stick form. Because silvervine is not very well known, customers don’t ask for it much, Gannon said, but he recommends it.

“Most of the time, we give them the option,” he said. “We get a lot of people who say their cat doesn’t play with catnip, and silvervine is a good alternative.”

On the Market

Perfect for Pouncing

While cat toys might not be a giant category for the average independent pet retailer, compared to dog toys, it’s a fun and important one for cat owners. Retailers that reported rising sales in cat toys and catnip items said product diversity is important. Here are some new offerings and popular favorites currently available.

DuckyWorld Products offers a variety of durable cotton twill, hand-stuffed toys featuring the company’s organically grown catnip. Last year, the Roseville, Minn.-based manufacturer released a new take on its original Yeowww! Catnip Chi-CAT-a Banana with the Yeowww! Catnip Chi-CAT-a Banana Peeled, which features crinkly peels, company officials said.

As part of DuckyWorld’s fruit line, the company added the Yeowww! Catnip Pineapple, in 2021, with 1.45 ounces of organically grown catnip and crinkly spikes to add texture and sound, said marketing specialist Kris Kaiser.

Yeowww! Catnip Kitten Mittens came out in July 2021 in green, yellow and red colors. Each mitten is decorated with images of the company’s other classic toys, and the three designs are available individually, as a three-pack and in a refillable jug display, Kaiser said.

Additionally, at press time, the company planned to launch Yeowww! Catnip Buds at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March.

For cats’ mental and physical stimulation, Ethical Products in Bloomfield, N.J., offers a line of cat toys by Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co. that includes toys designed to dispense food and treats.

“Doc & Phoebe’s cat toys are designed by a veterinarian and based on the science of cat behaviors,” said Susan Calles, national marketing manager. “They help to solve certain eating behaviors like portion control and ‘scarf and barf’, as well as boredom, lethargy and bad scratching behaviors.”

The Doc & Phoebe Puzzle Feeder is designed to challenge cats to forage and find food within multiple levels of compartments, some of which have lids that must be opened to fish food out with a paw. The Doc & Phoebe Forever Fun Treat Track features three levels and three ball toys for cats to chase around the track. Two of the balls hold treats that fall out when the balls are batted around the track, and one ball lights up to hold a cat’s attention, Calles said.

New for 2022 in touch-activated play, Ethical Pet introduced 15-inch long Flippin’ Skinneeez in four designs: Fox, Racoon, Skunk and Squirrel. Each toy features an on/off switch, a USB charging cable, and a catnip and silvervine blend inside.

Ethical Pet also offers Spot Naturals Silver Vine Cat Toys, including textured toys made with silvervine twigs and/or compressed silvervine and catnip.

Vee Enterprises offers its best-selling PURRfect Leather Bouncer. Made in the USA, the toy features an 18-inch colored wand, a 6-inch vegetable-tanned leather cord and a faux fur end with leather tassels to mimic prey, said Eric Merva, sales manager of the Los Angeles-based company.

“We use natural leather and no metal connectors, so it’s safe for the animal to bite or chew,” Merva said. “Naturally, leather is a more durable material, so the toy tends to have a longer life than others.”

Pricing Trends

Cat Owners Are More Willing to Splurge

Pet industry insiders reported not only increased sales of cat toys and catnip products, but also that pet owners are spending more money on these products, which means retailers ready to offer a good assortment of cat toys—at varying price levels—can see success in this category.

“It used to be [that cat owners spent] as little as possible,” said Eric Merva, sales manager for Vee Enterprises, a Los Angeles-based manufacturer. “However, nowadays cat owners are beginning to open up their wallets.”

Susan Calles, national marketing manager for Ethical Products, a manufacturer in Bloomfield, N.J., agreed that owners are becoming more generous with toy purchases.

“As we are seeing cat ownership grow and people ‘humanizing’ their pets, it seems pet parents will spend more,” she said. “Younger millennial owners may see their pets as ‘part of the family’ and are willing to spend more to spoil their cats or to have the latest toys.”

Items that are made and sourced in the USA can also earn a premium price tag, said Kris Kaiser, marketing specialist for Roseville, Minn.-based DuckyWorld Products, the maker of Yeowww! Catnip toys.

“Many consumers are willing to spend more knowing [our] toys are made in the USA and contain organically grown catnip,” she said. “Once a customer realizes that they are taking home a toy that their cats are really going to enjoy, they are willing to spend more.”

For this category, price diversity is important, insiders said. Most recommended a range from 99-cents on the low end to around $10 on the high end.

“Between $2 and $4 is our best-selling range for both catnip and regular toys, though some go up to $6 or $7.99,” said Aidan Gannon, owner of Petzlove Food ’n Stuffz, a retailer in Lone Tree, Colo. “For catnip, $9.99 for buds or ground is the sweet spot.”

Robby Majeska, owner of Keys Kritters, a retailer in Key Largo, Fla., warned against only carrying inexpensive toys. Instead, he offers mix-and-match toys for 99-cents and packaged items priced up to $10 per toy.

5 Tips to Best Display Cat Toys

Experts in cat toys and catnip products agreed on several key techniques to best display this category in pet store settings and boost sales in this category.

1. Grouped

“All cat toys are in one area, but I spread a few here and there as well,” said Robby Majeska, owner of Keys Kritters, a retailer in Key Largo, Fla. “I don’t put them out by manufacturer, but by what they do. Catnip is in one place near cat scratch posts.”

For some retailers, a made in the USA section can build interest.

“Since our products our U.S. made, we always suggest to retailers, with space permitting, to have a made in the USA section where they can showcase products like ours and others that are made here in the U.S.,” said Eric Merva, sales manager for Vee Enterprises, a manufacturer in Los Angeles.

2. Accessible

“We encourage our wholesale customers to get their customers to touch and smell the toys, as the quality of [our] product speaks for itself,” said Kris Kaiser, marketing specialist for Roseville, Minn.-based DuckyWorld Products, the maker of Yeowww! Catnip toys.

Aidan Gannon, owner of Petzlove Food ’n Stuffz, a retailer in Lone Tree, Colo., makes it easy for customers to examine the toys.

“We make a table display with clear containers or boxes with loose toys so customers can touch and feel the sewing and the toy, and they tend to sell well,” Gannon said. “That sells better than prepackaged hanging.

“We’ll see people pick up two or three different types of toys from the bins,” he continued. “Having customers interact with the toys and stay longer at the display generally increases sales. Since we started doing a table display last summer, our sales have really improved.”

Keys Kritters takes things a step further by truly letting consumers see the toys in action.

“We have store cats and catnip toys in with them, so customers see them playing with the toys and what works best,” Majeska said.

3. Unpegged

“I love merchandising,” Majeska said. “You won’t see any pegboard or empty space.”

Kaiser noted that displays increase sales.

“Displays move up to 40 percent more product than pegging alone,” Kaiser said.

Vee Enterprises offers a slim display to make it easy to show off its wand toys.

“With space being an issue for most specialty pet product retailers, [merchandising] definitely is a challenge,” Merva said. “We’ve come up with an 8-inch-by-8-inch tube display that doesn’t have a large footprint [but] is capable of holding about two dozen of our wand toys.”

4. Variety

“It’s important to have diversity of products,” Gannon said. “Different types, colors, sizes, etc., to attract the cat customer over to the display and keep customers engaged in the section. When we see a customer looking for a while, they typically purchase something.”

5. Well Stocked

Shoppers shouldn’t see empty shelf or wall space, Majeska said.

“Everything is full to show confidence in the product,” Majeska added. “It’s an older way to merchandise.”