I've always understood the link between lack of exercise and behavior problems for my dogs, so I'm careful to make sure my dogs get regular walks/playtime. Only recently, though, have I thought about this same idea for cats. Jackson Galaxy (host of "My Cat from Hell" on Animal Planet) says that cats should be exercised until they're so tired they're PANTING. Have you ever seen a cat pant like a dog?
My cat, Maka, is a sweet boy who doesn't really have any behavior problems, but he definitely enjoys his regular nightly playtime. His absolute favorite toy is Da Bird. It's a pretty simple toy - just a super long plastic wand with a string and a bunch of feathers attached to the end. Something about the way it spins when you wave it through the air simulates the sound/feel of a real bird - it kind of makes a whirring sound that drives Maka CRAZY.
When I pull out Da Bird, Maka immediately goes into hunting mode. He gets this intense look in his eyes, and the the acrobatics begin. Let me be clear - Maka is not a small cat. He's not overweight (not by his choice), but he is a long, tall, alley cat dude. You'd never think he could jump as high as he does, or do the crazy flips and spins. It's amazing and hilarious. He absolutely loves it. If he manages to catch Da Bird, he clamps on. I never knew cats could play tug the same way dogs do. Seriously. Luckily we have the Da Bird refills, because he has already destroyed the feathers on his first one. I have to hide the toy from him when we're not playing, or he would drag it into his lair (the basement) and I'd never see it again. Da Bird is definitely Maka's vote for the best wand toy.
The last few foster cats in our store, though, would disagree. They've been obsessed with our new Neko Flies demo wand. Tasker, our last kitten foster, would literally climb the wall of other cat toys to get to it! Like Da Bird, the Neko Flies is a plastic wand (shorter than the Da Bird wand, but thicker and more durable) with a loop on the end to attach your toy. There are 7 options for attachments - 5 different bug-like toys, and 2 mouse-like toys. The bugs have crinkly wings and wiggly legs that make our foster cats go bonkers, and (unlike the Da Bird), they are REALLY durable! Our current foster (Whiskers) is a bruiser - he's probably pushing 20lbs, and even after he plays serious tug with it, the toy is no worse for the wear.
The Neko Flies demo wand is sitting on our foster cat cage, feel free to give it a shot the next time you stop by - whatever foster cat we have will be happy to show you how it works.
So we endorse both Da Bird and Neko Flies wands - cats go crazy for the Da Bird whir, but the Neko Flies can stand up to some heavy chomping and clawing. Both have refills, though, so don't be afraid to play rough!
Regardless of which wand you choose, try to play with your cat for at least 15-20 minutes a day - besides helping eliminate problem behaviors, it will strengthen your bond with your favorite furball.