Veterinarian-written / veterinarian-approved articles for your cat.

How to Play With Your Cat- Part One

cat_playFor cats and their humans, interactive play is a “seriously fun” endeavor. It is an important daily activity that enriches your cat’s life.

Why Play with Your Cat?

Interactive playing has many benefits for your cat (and for you):

  • It provides physical and mental exercise.
  • It prevents and relieves boredom.
  • It’s a potent stress reliever.
  • It channels restlessness and is a hedge against destructive behavior.
  • It aids in weight maintenance.
  • It’s a distraction from frightening noises or situations (may help lessen fear).
  • It’s pleasurable.
  • It strengthens the cat-human bond.

General Strategies for Maximum Benefit During Interactive Play with Your Cat

  • Make toys act like prey, to simulate a hunting experience. Prey runs away from a kitty, scampers across the room, occasionally freezes in full-alert mode, and rests from time to time.
  • Make sure your cat has places to hide. Furniture often suffices, but also try adding cardboard boxes and paper bags with the handles snipped off to the playing venue. More hiding places generally means more exciting and fulfilling hunting opportunities. This works in two ways:
    1. Your cat uses structures to remain out of sight. When the unsuspecting prey walks by, kitty springs into action.
    2. The toy (aka the prey) seeks refuge inside, under, or behind furniture or one of the props, such as a box or bag. Kitty waits patiently for his prey to emerge . . .
  • Give your cat a challenge, but let him “win” a lot. If your cat continually swats at a toy but it’s always out of reach, he’ll get frustrated or bored. As you regularly play with your cat, you’ll get to know his “sweet spot” which optimizes the degree of difficulty and frequency of satisfying captures.
  • Try to end the game on a high note—a decisive pounce, possibly followed by some gnawing and clawing. You may want to give your cat a treat reward for a job well done: he caught his prey, now it’s time to eat.
  • If your cat seems bored—or worse, perturbed—end the play session. Try again later, perhaps with a new toy or in a different setting. You want him to have only positive associations with playtime.
  • Match the activity intensity and duration to your cat’s physical condition. If your cat has been a couch potato for a while, is elderly, or has had injuries or illnesses, consult with your veterinarian before starting a play program.

Safety First:

  • Any toy that has sharp edges or removable parts or filling or that may come apart if your kitty bites and claws it should only be used under adult human supervision. This is doubly important when you use household objects as toys (see next section).
  • String and string-like objects can be dangerous because cats cannot spit out string once they start to swallow it; a simple piece of thread or cord can result in an emergency room visit.
  • When in doubt, don’t leave the toy out; after the play session, store it in a place that’s inaccessible to your cat. Consult with your veterinarian if you’re not sure about the safety of a toy.

The World of Cat Toys

Toys are a central part of cat play. They are most notably stand-ins for prey in the wild—not exact replicas but close enough. They stimulate your cat’s hunting instincts and imagination and provide a tactile target for stalking, pouncing, and destroying.

  • Incorporate a variety of toys into the playtime. Throw toys, wand toys, self-propelled toys, catnip toys, etc. Try toys of various sizes, shapes, and textures, but not necessarily all at the same time.
  • There are marvelous store-bought toys of every type, but also take advantage of the profusion of household items that make great cat toys. For example:
    • Aluminum foil wrapped into a tight ball makes an intriguing chase toy.
    • Twirl a straw on the floor, then glide it down the hall. Kitty may give enthusiastic chase.
    • The belt from a bathrobe becomes a beguiling creature when you drag it along the floor and up the side of furniture.
    • The classic ball of yarn is popular as ever, as long as kitty plays with it under your watchful eye.
  • Cats have been known to eventually get bored with the same old toys, even if they have a million of them. Throw new toys into the mix every now and then, to re-energize play times.
  • Unless your kitty has endless fascination and preference for a specific toy, rotate toys rather than relying on the same one day after day; this keeps play times more fresh and surprising.
  • Besides safety considerations, putting interactive toys away after use is a way to practice “absence makes the heart grow fonder” from a kitty’s perspective.

Good Times to Play with Your Cat

There are no hard and fast rules for the best times to play with your cat, but the following guidelines may help the two of you get the most out of your play sessions.

Consider initiating interactive play:

  • When your cat gives you “I want to play” hints (running around, “chase me” stances, self-playing)
  • When you’ve been out and kitty’s been home alone for a while, to work off have pent-up energy that kitty may have accumulated
  • Just before your bedtime and a midnight snack (for kitty), in hopes that you and he will be on the same sleep schedule for a few hours
  • During stressful periods for your cat, since interactive play is a great way to unwind—for both cats and humans
  • Randomly, for the element of surprise

Learn more: "How to Play With Your Cat- Part Two."

You May Also Like These Articles:

How to Play With Your Cat- Part Two

Interactive Playing with Wand Toys

How to Keep Playtime Fun for Your Cat

Play Aggression in Cats

Clever DIY Cat Toys

Stress in Cats

Cat Weight Loss: How You Can Help Your Cat Lose Weight

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