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Playtime Helps Relieve Holiday Stress in Cats

Holidays can be stressful to cats.

Any change in routine can be stressful for cats. Holidays definitely qualify for that. Luckily, there are ways to decrease the stress and help cats cope. Number one among these is interactive play.

Why Are Holidays Stressful for Cats?

There are many factors that contribute to the holidays being potentially stressful for house cats. These include:

  • New people visiting the house
  • Owners keeping different schedules—being gone more often or at different hours
  • Decorations and Christmas trees changing the home's inner landscape
  • Getting in trouble for messing with holiday décor and the tree
  • Possible different odors than usual in the home, from scented candles, potpourri, and unusual foods cooking or baking
  • Guests staying in the house, possibly bringing their pets or their pets' scents with them
  • Their humans' stress levels increasing

The main thing to remember is any change or difference in the home can be stressful to a cat.

Signs of Stress in Cats

So, how do you know if a cat is stressed? Well, each cat is different in what symptoms they show when they're feeling stress. The most common things cats do when stressed include:

  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box
  • Scratching inappropriate items
  • Hiding
  • Excessive grooming

Learn more about general stress in cats, including its signs and treatment: "Stress in Cats."

Playtime Relieves Stress in Cats

One of the most powerful stress relievers in cats is play.

Why is play such a strong stress reliever for cats? For one thing, it's exercise, and that's just as great at mitigating the effects of stress in cats as it is in humans. Researchers believe exercise releases powerful endorphins in the brains of felines, as it does for humans.

Another thing play does for cats is imitate hunting. Cats have strong predatory instincts, and interactive play—where a toy acts like a rodent or bird—satisfies those instincts. And that relieves stress!

Exercise and play are always important for cats, but when they are experiencing an additional stressor in their daily lives, such as the hub-bub of a holiday, it's even more critical.

Best Types of Play for Stress Relief in Cats

Now that we know play is important to relieve pent-up energy and allow an outlet for latent predatory instincts in cats, what is the best play to use?

Interactive play. This type of play is where you help by making a toy act like a rodent or bird, so your cat can be the hunter. This type of play can provide the best exercise and most stress relief for your cat.

Not only that, but playing in this way with your cat can have strong stress relief benefits for you too. Cats are adorable when they're leaping, chasing, and pouncing, and the laughter it causes is great for people.

Interactive play helps bond cats and their owners, and that bond also provides stress relief for both parties.

Beyond stress relief, interactive play can help timid or shy cats gain confidence. It allows them to stay at a little distance from the person they're playing with, which is great for a shy kitty.

You can also enlist the help of your holiday guests. This can have a two-fold stress relief benefit for your cat. Not only does the kitty get to engage in interactive play, which is great for their mind and body, but they also get to associate that good time with the visitor. That can further decrease their stress because they can begin to associate the previous stressor of having a guest with something positive.

If your guests have brought their own cats, interactive playtime may help them get used to and accept each other. Of course, this should be done with caution. Another thing that may help is Feliway MultiCat. It mimics pheromones cats give off to calm each other and can be helpful in the case where multiple cats are feeling a little stressed.

Below are some great ways to engage in interactive play with your cat.

Wand Toys

Wand toys usually consist of a stick, a string, and something on the end of the string, usually feathery or furry. You hold the stick and make the toy on its end move like prey.

Here are some examples of great, well-made wand toys:

While you are acting like prey, it's crucial to remember your place. Prey doesn't simply lie still and offer itself up for lunch to a predator! It also doesn't run toward its predator. It sometimes freezes in fear. Other times it runs or flies away as fast as possible. Sometimes, it hides and shakes in fear. You can, and should, imitate all these things with the wand toy.

Of course, it's important that your cat gets to catch the prey eventually. Otherwise, the experience can be frustrating and even more stressful. So, at the end of the play session, make sure your cat gets to catch the wand toy. It can be even more satisfying for your cat if you offer a nice treat at the end of the session, to simulate the meal they'd get if they were really hunting.

Learn more here: "Interactive Playing with Wand Toys."

Balls and Tossable Toys

It would be easier if cats played fetch, but most of them expect their human to do most of the work of retrieving it. Still, tossing a ball or other toy can be great fun for you and your cat. Kitties like to chase, pounce on, and carry small toys around, and most cats like toys stuffed with catnip.

If you bring out a few tossable toys at once, you can toss a few times before you'll need to get up and retrieve them.

One really great toy for this purpose is the Mini Crinkle Ball. These are make a fun sound when crunched on, catch the light in ways that get a cat's attention fast, and they really fly. They're also inexpensive, so when they inevitably go under a couch or wherever else your cat's graveyard of toys is, you can pull out some new ones.

Another roll toy that's great fun is the Chase, Rattle and Roll Ball.

Toys with squeakers and other fun noises are almost irresistible to cats. This Real Bird brand toy make a realistic bird sound when a cat bats at it:

Fun Cat Toys

Here are a few more great squeaker toys:

This ultimate toy combines a wand with a squeaker: Our Pets Real Bird Orange Wand Cat Toy

Bunny Kicking Toys

Some cats really love to grab a toy with their teeth and front paws and kick at it with their back paws. For those kitties, a soft, slightly bigger toy works great, like these:

Fun Cat Toys

If you're looking for adorable holiday toys for your cat, check here: Holiday Cat Toys.

What to Do After Playtime

We recommend having multiple cat toys that your kitty likes and rotating through them during playtimes. Just like a cat wouldn't go out and hunt the same prey every day, they don't want to pretend to hunt the same "prey" every day. Variety in their toys helps a cat's mind stay sharp and fends off boredom.

Wand toys must be put away after play for safety because a cat can get tangled in the string, resulting in injury or death.

Other toys should be put away, too, to avoid your cat viewing them as "dead" prey that is no longer interesting to them.

You can store catnip toys in sealed plastic bags to help them last longer.

A Note on Play Safety

If your cat has any health concerns, like obesity, high blood pressure, or a heart condition, be sure to check with your veterinarian about safe ways to play. Watch them closely for signs of distress, such as rapid or shallow breathing.

For overweight cats to whom you may be introducing play for exercise, start gradually and go slowly. Try to minimize jumping and running in the beginning because it may be hard on their joints until they've lost some weight.

Other Ways to Decrease Stress in Cats

Besides interactive playtime, there are some other ways to decrease stress in cats too.

Backyard Squirrel Cardinal Shake Y'R Tail Mouse Cat Toy Play and Squeak Ball of Furry Fury Pouncy Mouse Honeysuckle Large Body Pillow - Single El Gato Muy Loco Catnip Cigar Yeowww!-tide Candy Cane Ratherbee Candy Cane Organic Catnip Toy
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