Play isn’t just for kittens; adult cats enjoy play too! Play strengthens your bond with your cat and provides them with needed mental stimulation and physical exercise. Cats are predators, and play time can be like a hunting game for them. Play can be interactive, which involves you moving toys to simulate prey for your cat. Play can also be solo, where your cat plays with toys on their own.
Interactive toys usually feature a fishing pole design, with a toy dangling on the end of a string or wire. When playing with your cat, move the toy to imitate prey, as if it was trying to get away from the hunter. Don’t dangle the prey right in your cat’s face. On the other hand, don’t make it too hard for your cat to catch the toy, especially when you are just starting out. You want your cat to have successes catching the toy so that the play is fun and rewarding.
Cats also benefit from solo play. There are many types of cat toys designed for solo play. The most common types are ping pong balls, catnip toys, food dispensing toys, and fuzzy mice. They should be light enough for kitty to bat around since they will have to “bring them to life” by themselves. Toys should be mentally stimulating and switched out regularly to prevent boredom.
Play Rules to Successfully Play with Any Cat:
- Provide interactive play at least twice per day, preferably morning and evening hours. Good toys include cat-dancers, fishing pole toys, and string toys.
- Stick to a regular play routine so your cat has appropriate outlets for play and plenty of exercise. Also leave toys for solo play that they can play with alone.
- Vary the type of toys regularly to ease boredom. When not using interactive toys, store them out of reach in a cupboard or closet so that they stay novel and exciting.
- Redirect your cat to appropriate toys if they attempt to play with human hands or fingers. Use fetch toys or toys on sticks/strings to keep your cat away from human hands and feet.
- Stop all play and calmly withdraw from your cat should they start attacking people.
- Learn to recognize early signs of play aggression, such as dilated pupils, hiding around corners, and crouching to pounce. Redirect your cat immediately to an appropriate toy at the first sign of these behaviors.
- Consider adopting a second cat of similar age, energy level, and personality.
Hands Are Never Toys: Never play roughly with your cat, wrestle with them, or move your hands or feet so that your cat chases them. It is very important whenever you are playing with any cat to use a toy instead.
Never teach your cat that body parts are toys to be hunted, bitten or scratched. When playing with your cat, don’t jerk away from your cat or vocalize high pitched sounds. This is how prey responds to an attack and this can trigger aggression. Never physically punish your cat. At best, this teaches your cat to fear you, and at worst, your cat can be seriously injured.
Cat Toys and Play
There are a variety of cat toys on the market, including food and puzzle toys, and toys that bounce, flutter, or move in a way that entice cats to chase. The best toys for active play are feathery string, or streamer-like wand toys, or a toy dangling from a fishing pole. Even a peacock feather makes a great interactive toy due to its length. With timid cats, stay away from large or noisy toys. Some cats are more attracted to things in the air while others prefer staying closer to the ground. Knowing whether your cat prefers air or ground play hunting will be an advantage, and you may have to try several different toys and rotate them frequently before you find the ones your cat likes best.
Imitate the movement of prey when you play with your cat —this is more interesting to your cat than continuous movements. Sometimes just a subtle movement and twitching of the toy can catch your cat’s eye, and your cat will plan their attack. Avoid dangling the toy in your cats face; no prey does that.
Benefits of Interactive Play
- Motivates sedentary cats and helps prevent obesity
- Strengthens the bond between you and your cat
- Can help cats become more comfortable in a new environment or with new people
- Decreases boredom
- Can redirect tension between companion cats
- Maintains muscle tone and improves circulation
- Can stimulate appetite for finicky eaters when using feed dispensers and puzzle toys
To be most effective, play at least twice daily for about 10 to 15 minutes each time. Include a morning play session before you go to work to prepare your cat for a day home alone. Leave with a variety of food and puzzle toys for them to engage in solitary play. The play session when you get home is extremely important for indoor cats because they probably napped much of the day. If you’re consistent in scheduling playtime, your cat will soon look forward to your arrival. Another play session can be scheduled before you go to bed; this helps some cats sleep calmly through the night.
When playtime is over, be sure to put all interactive toys away. In addition to the danger of strings being chewed, these toys should be reserved for your play sessions. Between sessions you can leave furry mice and other safe toys out for solo play. Don’t leave out too many toys because they’ll soon lose their appeal. Rotating a few helps prevent boredom, and cats will think they are getting a new toy each time it reappears.
How to Avoid Problems
- Never play with hands and feet.
- Don't allow play behavior to escalate into aggression. End play sessions if your cat seems overstimulated.
- Try out different types of toys to find out what types of toys and play your cat enjoys. Keep your home well stocked with your cat’s preferred toys.
- Physical punishment for play aggression is never appropriate.
- When you want to end the play session, begin by decreasing the intensity of the activity. You don’t want to abruptly end the game, leaving your cat in an excited state.
- Don’t be discouraged if during the first few sessions your cat only looks at you or half-heartedly paws at the toy.
- Be aware that play time during early morning and evening hours corresponds with the natural rhythm of hunting behavior in felines. It is therefore important to know exactly when and how to properly play with your feline companion.
- Consider your cat’s age and physical condition. An elderly or out-of-shape cat will benefit more from ground hunting.