Cats are notoriously difficult animals to buy gifts for. It's not unheard of for someone to spend $200 on a massive cat wheel that supposedly "every cat loves," waste three hours putting it together, and then their cat never touches it because he prefers the damn cardboard box it came in. This is definitely not based on personal experience, though. Lucky for you, this list is full of not-so-expensive toys that your cat will most likely prefer over a cardboard box.
Your cat is a natural predator, a fact you may forget while it's stumbling off a windowsill or licking its own butt. Da Bird remembers though, which makes it a pretty great cat toy. The premise is simple: It's a mock bird attached to a pole with string. When you wave it around, the feathers soar through the air kind of like a real bird. Seeing that activates lion instincts in your cat. Luckily, you can buy replacement birds.
Sometimes the simplest things are kept simple because they work. It's well-established that cats love cardboard, so someone just put little tubes of it on a wire. That's what this toy is. Cardboard on a wire. And guess what? Cats go crazy over it. It's hard to find a toy that elicits so much excitement for so cheap.
If you've ever shined a laser pointer near your cat, you know that a little moving red dot is the height of feline entertainment. This toy automates that chase, shooting its light in randomized 360º patterns for 15 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time for your cat to play without getting too tired out.
Now your cat doesn't need to make the difficult decision between scratching up your sofa and batting your mail off the counter. Both options are available at once with the Turbo Scratcher. Essentially a scratch pad in the middle of a little track with a ball, it's a great budget toy with dual functionality. Cats like scratching. Cats like batting things. Cats will like this.
Maybe your cat is especially keen on batting. If that's the case, the Petstages Tower of Tracks is a great option. Instead of one track with one ball, it offers three tracks with three balls, all stacked up. Multiple balls moving at once means endless entertainment. If you have more than one cat, they can play cooperatively too.
Another toy that plays on predator instincts. The SmartyKat Crazy Cruisers Electronic Chase is a sturdy piece of fabric beneath which an electronic rodent shuffles about. Your cat will pounce all over trying to get it, and you can increase the speed to challenge more active cats.