HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT TOYS AND SCRATCHING POSTS FOR YOUR KITTEN
Cats, especially indoor cats, have many basic requirements that need to be fulfilled to help ensure their physical and mental well-being. Environmental enrichment is very important and can help to prevent boredom, unnecessary stress, obesity and behavioral problems in our indoor cats. Toys and scratching posts are a major part of that enrichment.
Outdoor cats and cats in the wild spend a major part of their waking hours hunting for food. Indoor cats retain that desire to stalk and pounce on prey, but unless they have stimulus to do so they can often become sedentary. Toy mice, birds and other shapes that squeak, chirp or crinkle imitate meals of cats in the wild. There are also toys available which move - swinging, jittering, and vibrating to encourage play. Balls of different shapes and consistencies encourage chasing, catching, throwing, and carrying behaviors. Wands with toys dangling from a string at the end can also be fun and stimulating (these should only be used under supervision - see safety note below). Catnip is also a safe way to encourage play and exercise. While some cats enjoy commercially available toys immensely, many can also be very content with homemade toys. For example paper grocery bags, crumpled newspaper balls, plastic rings form milk jugs (OK as long as your kitty doesn't eat them!), cardboard boxes, and anything else your imagination can come up with. Each cat is different - try different toys until you know your individual cat's preferences. It is also important to vary and rotate toys so your cat doesn't become bored.
Important note on toy safety: Any toys with loose strings or pieces which can be ingested should not be used, as these can pose serious health threats (intestinal obstruction) to cats. Balls of yarn, spools of thread, thin ribbon, tinsel from Christmas decorations, plastic bags, etc are especially dangerous. Wand toys should be used only under supervision as long as the cat plays with the toy at the end of the string/rope and not the string/rope itself.
Scratching is a completely normal and important behavior in cats. Although it can be very frustrating for us humans and our furniture, scratching is instinctive in cats and allows them to shed old cuticle, sharpen their claws, stretch their muscles, and leave their scent. Even cats that are declawed need an outlet for scratching as they retain the scratching instinct. Location and type of scratching material/surface are important factors to consider when choosing a scratching post.
Type: There are many types of scratching posts available - horizontal vs. vertical, carpet vs. sisal vs. cardboard - and each cat will have his or her own preference. If a cat likes to scratch on sides, legs and arms of furniture, he will most likely prefer a vertical scratching post, while a cat who scratches on the carpet would prefer a horizontal scratching area. Make sure that vertical posts are tall enough so your cat can stretch up to scratch. As far as scratching substrate, many scratching posts have both carpet and sisal areas for scratching to allow the cat to choose which she prefers. Be sure to stabilize scratching posts to prevent movement or falling while cats are using them.
Location: Since one of the reasons cats scratch is to leave their scent and define their territory, they will often scratch prominent places near sleeping areas and room entrances. So, these are good scratching post sites in addition to areas of the house which the whole family uses. Other good locations are along routes to litter boxes and food and water bowls. Multiple scratching posts are a must in multi-cat households, but also a good idea in single-cat households.
Toys and scratching outlets are critical to encourage appropriate play and scratching behavior. Providing access to these basic needs starting in young kittens will help to create happy, healthy and well-adjusted adult cats.