How to Play with Your Cat

How to Play with Your Cat

How Often Do You Play With Your Cat?

If your cat misbehaves, or even toilets outside the box, then you have to consider you’re not playing often enough.

The definition of ‘play’ is: To take part in a game or other organized activity.

Hmm, this doesn’t mention fun! Of course play should always be enjoyable, but for cats it’s also an essential way of expressing natural behaviors.

Much like a pan on the boil, unless you relieve the pressure (by lifting the lid) it spills over. In our feline friends this buildup of energy leads to all sorts of destructive behaviors, house soiling, or bullying of other cats. So whilst play is fun, it also provides a much needed outlet for energy and frustration.

Instead of letting “A sleeping cat lie”, and snooze the day away, only to wake at night and disturb your sleep, get into the habit of regular play sessions spaced over the day.


What is Play to a Cat?

When a young kitten learns to hunt, she does so by ambushing her litter mates. Through the medium of play she improves her muscle strength and eye-to-paw co-ordination so that one day she can hunt down supper.

Cats are hunters. Their mental and physical make up is geared towards long periods of inactivity interspersed with shorter periods of intense activity; such as lying low and then stalking a mouse or bird.

This means, in terms of a being a four-legged athlete, cats are sprinters rather than marathon runners. To play successfully with our feline friends, means little and often. A brief, five minute play session every few hours, is much better than one longer session where the cats pads off for a sleep after ten minutes.

Also, although we are talking about interactive play where you take part in encouraging her to move, don’t overlook activities that cats enjoy and are good for their mental and physical health. This includes climbing (such as a tall cat tree), scratching (using scratching posts) and perching up high to watch what’s going on. They also love exploring, so paper bags, cardboard boxes, and tunnels all have a part to play in keeping Kitty amused.


How NOT to Play with a Cat

If you’ve had a bad experience being scratched by a cat, your enthusiasm for play is damped. However, the cat that bites hands during play was probably set a bad example in younger life.

To make sure play is enjoyable for both of you; here are a few basic don’ts.

  • Don’t use hands and feet as toys: When your cat chases your toes under the duvet, you are sending out a message that feet are fair game. Never wiggle your fingers enticingly (unless of course you’re training a cat to savage a wagging finger.) Instead, use toys that put distance between you and the cat.
  • Don’t play rough: Cats are cats, not dogs. They dislike rough-housing and prefer the game to be hands-off.
  • Don’t leave free access to ribbon or string: That piece of string makes and enticing toy but don’t leave Kitty unsupervised with it for fear of her swallowing the wiggly worm and damaging her bowel.
  • Don’t leave kids playing unattended: It’s not fair to the children or to the cat. Also, teach kids to back off if the cat is getting over excited, and always leave an escape route so Kitty can run away if the kid becomes too much for her to cope with.
  • Don’t pull your hand away suddenly. If the cat scratches, then screech to let her know it hurts and withdraw your hand slowly. Sudden movements are more likely to trigger the predatory urge to pounce and do further damage.
  • Don’t frustrate your cat: Each game should end with the cat making a kill. For example, when using a laser pointer ends with the red dot landing on a scrunched up ball of paper for the cat to pounce on. A red dot that vanishes in thin air can leave a cat feeling frustrated, and this can cause health problems such as cystitis


How to Make Toys More Attractive to Cats

If you watch the same TV program over and over, it soon becomes boring. The same is true for playing with cat toys. Animal behaviorists know that a cat shows peek interest in a toy for five to ten minutes, then familiarity breeds contempt.

To short-circuit this, switch the toys around regularly (at least daily) to provide a constant stream of fresh stimulation.

To make toys extra interesting tries rubbing them with catnip or rabbit scent (from outdoor hunting shops). Indeed catnip toys hold a strong fascination for cats with the catnip sensitivity gene (not all do.)

Also, why not turn mealtime into playtime by fair means or foul [See next.]


Food Related Toys

Making Kitty earn her kibble is a great way of simulating hunting behavior, and definitely comes under the heading of playing with food.

There are a variety of commercial puzzle feeders available. These work on the principle that the food is inside and the cat has to pat, bat, swat, or scoop to get at the food. However, you can make your own version easily enough using a clean, plastic drink’s bottle with holes drilled in it. Place some kibble inside and let Kitty bat it around to get the kibble to fall out.

Don’t overlook simple tricks like putting food inside cardboard boxes (save up your cereal packets) or the inner cardboard roll from toilet paper. Alternatively, for wet food, place it in muffin tins to make the food last longer, or hide it around the home.


What Makes for a Good Cat Toy?

The best toys mimic prey, and should move and be small enough to hold in the mouth.

A few favorites include:

  • Wings on strings
  • Battery operated toys that move
  • Catnip toys
  • Ping pong balls in a bath
  • Feathers on moveable sticks
  • Tossing treats upstairs.


So there we have it. Improve bad behavior by engaging your cat in play – making them happier and healthier as a result.