The importance of play for your cat

The cat toy industry is booming and there is a whole range of games and puzzles that will give your cat endless hours of fun, provide them with healthy mental stimulation and will help to develop a stronger bond between you and your cat.

Most cat owners are aware that their feline friend loves to play but don’t necessarily understand when this play should occur, the role of play in a cat’s development or the importance they have in encouraging their cat to play.

Here’s our guide on how to play with your cat:

When play should occur

Cats are intelligent creatures who require mental stimulation on a daily basis. A few short sessions every day is better than one long session as this mimics the normal activity patterns of your cat.

Ways to tell if your cat wants to play…

  • If they suddenly start playing with random objects
  • Sudden rapid movements
  • Crouched posture as if they’re about to pounce
  • Enthusiastic behaviour

Side note: Don’t give up if they lose interest. The timing may just be wrong.

Playing with kittens

Kittens use play to develop coordination, social and communication skills.Generally younger cats are more playful than slightly older cats. When introducing kittens to play, it is important to teach them good manners. They should be discouraged from scratching, clawing or biting. Playing with a kitten is a fantastic way to create a long-lasting bond with them and will provide a healthy outlet for their energy.

Play and the older cat

Don’t forget that your older cat can enjoy play too — they just may need a little more encouragement. Elderly cats will enjoy the gentle stimulation and exercise of a game that is suitable for their level of mobility. Even if your cat lies down to play it will still be beneficial, both physically and mentally.

The importance of play

Essentially, when a cat plays, they are honing their hunting skills. Hunting prey is a natural instinct for your cat and one they perhaps don’t get to practice as much when domesticated.

Encouraging your cat to play on a regular basis will help channel these instincts to a suitable outlet and prevent symptoms of boredom and anxiety from developing.

Cats are naturally excited by novelty and will get bored quickly with toys that are available to them all the time. It’s therefore important to encourage your cat to take part in different types of play, always ensuring that play mimics their natural predatory behaviour i.e. short bursts of activity at frequent intervals. Try to mimic your cat’s prey i.e. Make sure the toy “scurries” away from her and perhaps “hides” behind a chair or on a tabletop. Then, most importantly, let them catch it. This will help fulfil their killing machine desires.

Games to play

Toys can appeal to all the feline senses — sight, sound, scent, touch and taste. Each cat will have specific likes and dislikes regarding toys and these will be based on some or all of the following. Establishing what stimulates your cat is based on trial and error, although there are some toys that have majority appeal, such as fishing rod toys with feathers on the end, fur mice, climbing posts, food games and plastic balls with a bell inside.

  • Texture
  • Shape
  • Size
  • Scent
  • Noise
  • Movement eg, random, quick, stop/start
  • Owner interaction
  • Time of day
  • Location
  • Presence of other cats

What do cats like to play with?

  • Toys that you can move rapidly just like a mouse or bird
  • Toys that reflect light or appear to change in some way
  • Toys with different textures that are around the size of their natural prey

Side note: Cats can become bored with the same toys so be sure to swap the toys every few days to keep your cat interested.

You are a key ingredient

It’s important their play sessions involves YOU. It’s a great way for you to get to know your cat’s personality and to build a strong relationship with your cat.

Just always remember to:

  • Play for a few short sessions every day
  • Allow your cat to catch and grab the toy at the end of each game
  • Provide a variety of toys
  • At the end of each session tidy away toys with string, or anything that might present a danger to your cat
  • Never force your cat to play or be trained
  • Have fun!
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