Having your cat climb up the cat scratcher, chase after the laser light and swat his mouse toy is not only fun — it’s good for her. “Regular playtime is essential for your cat’s health,” says Samuel D. Stewart, DVM, a vet at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital in Woburn, Massachusetts. “You need to give cats some sort of enrichment” so they don’t get bored and destructive.

But depending on the toys you provide and your kitty’s personality, her playtime could put her at risk of getting hurt or worse, says Stewart.

Related: 8 Common Cat-Feeding Mistakes to Avoid

Is your cat a destroyer of toys?

Some cats are safe around any toys, “and some are constantly ripping and chewing on things.” If the toy has small parts, such as glued-on bits, metal pieces or tiny balls, that may become loose and your cat swallows them, it’s no more fun and games.

Stewart recommends removing any small or loose objects from your cat’s toys. After each play session, inspect the toys and put them away, so your kitty can’t destroy them while you’re not watching.

Most of the cat emergencies Stewart witnesses at the veterinary hospital involve a cat swallowing strings and threads — even the tails of mouse toys. He recommends being extra careful to make sure your cat doesn’t eat these because they can get tangled in the digestive tract.

“Watch out for anything that they can rip into pieces,” Stewart adds. After all, some cats might decide to play with things you left around the house, like balloons, pieces of foil, plastic bags, rubber bands — anything really.

kittens playing with toy (Photo: Mark Hayes/Shutterstock)

Safe store-bought toys

So what should your cat play with? Stewart suggests these:

  • Catnip toys.These can be a lot of fun if your cat is susceptible to the dazing effects of this herb. Health-wise, says Stewart, catnip is safe even if your cat ingests some of it. Just be careful if she wants to eat it all or gets so carried away that she might rip open the toy and ingest a piece of fabric in the process.
  • Laser toys. A favorite among most cats, laser toys may cause blindness if pointed directly at your cat’s eyes (or another person’s eyes). Fortunately, Stewart says, accidents like that are very uncommon, probably because people are well aware of that risk.

Related: The Hazards of Toys and Tools with Lasers

  • Treat toys.Toys that dispense treats while your cat plays may be a wonderful way to reward her while she exercises. Just be careful not to feed too many treats — she could end up with an upset tummy, and you could end up with an overweight kitty.

cat playing with mouse (Photo: dragi52/Shutterstock)

Safe DIY toys

Tired of spending a fortune on toys only to have your cat ignore them and play instead with a cardboard box? Try these vet-approved ideas for homemade toys:

  • Knitted, crocheted and sewn toys. If you've got skills in these areas, you can find free patterns online for homemade cat toys shaped as animals, pillows — just about anything.
  • Wooden toys. Carpentry is your thing? Get that piece of wood sitting in your garage, wrap it tightly with sisal rope, jute cord or even kitchen twine and build a cat scratching post. Just avoid cotton rope and nylon, as cat claws can easily get stuck in the fibers. If you don’t feel like creating your own design, the Internet is full of step-by-step projects. If you’re a pro, try building a whole cat tree. Your cat will love it.
  • Catnip toys. Have a sock that lost its mate? Fill it with catnip and tie a knot at the end. If you want to make it fluffier, throw in a piece of cloth before tying the knot. Or get a piece of fleece or a rag and fill it with catnip. Tie knots until the catnip is secured inside and enjoy watching your cat try to unpack his treasure.
  • Fun rings or ring ball. Get an empty roll of toilet paper. With scissors, cut finger-width slices, creating cardboard rings. The rings are in itself a lot of fun for cats. But you can also insert one ring inside another and repeat the process until you formed a ball of four rings. Then throw it and watch what happens.
  • Kitty’s castle. Turn cardboard boxes into castles by taping them shut after cutting a hole or two wide enough for your cat to go in and out. Cats love a dark place to hide.
  • Paper balls. Take a large piece of paper, crumple it into a ball and throw it. You might be surprised at how much fun a kitten can have with something as simple as a paper ball.
  • Feline fishing pole. Attach a few feathers or fleece strings to a stick of some kind. Drag it or wave it around while your cat pounces on it and jumps for it.

Lastly, with pets comes endless cleaning. Just be careful not to spray cat toys with household cleaners. The chemicals could make your cat sick.

Related: When To Take a Sick Pet to the Vet

Daniela Caride is a freelance writer who has four cats and two dogs. She blogs about being a pet parent at Taildom.com and founded a nonprofit called Phinney's Friends.