cat play

The Importance of Playing with Your Cat

One of the most important things we can provide for our cats is opportunities for play. From kittens to seniors, every cat needs daily play sessions to get out their energy, provide physical and mental enrichment, and relieve stress. It can even be a way to reduce some problem behaviors.

Domestic cats are not very different from their wild ancestors and they have many of the same behavior patterns. One hard-wired behavior is their need to hunt. Outdoor cats will go through a four-step prey sequence while hunting: locating prey by sight or sound; stalking and chasing; grabbing and pouncing; and finally delivering the kill bite. For our indoor cats that don’t get many opportunities to hunt, we can elicit that prey sequence through play.

If you’re thinking, “I’ve tried to play with my cat and he just doesn’t want to,” I’m here to tell you that he just hasn’t been offered the right type of play. (Lack of play or lethargy can also indicate a medical concern, so be sure to check with your veterinarian to rule out any physical problems.) Let’s take a look at how we can encourage play in a way your cat will love. 

Types of Toys

Think about the types of prey your cat might naturally hunt. Some cats are specialists while others are generalists that will hunt or play with pretty much anything. Have a variety of toys that mimic different prey animals to see which your cat prefers: feathery (bird-like), small and furry (mouse-like), large and furry (rabbit-like), bug-like, or snake-like.

The toys laying around your house are essentially “dead” prey. It’s not very exciting to chase a dead mouse, so cats might not play with these very often. You should still have several toys out for your cat to engage with if they want to, but interactive play is going to be the bread and butter of your cat’s hunting practice.

Interactive Play

Interactive play with a wand toy or any other toy that you manipulate is the best way to mimic prey movements and elicit your cat’s inner hunter. Not only is it fun for you and one of the most fulfilling activities for your cat, it is also a great way to bond, especially for those cats who might not like to be held or petted. 

How you move the toy will wake up the hunting instinct in your cat. If you’ve tried waving a toy in your cat’s face, you’ve probably noticed that they won’t engage with it. What mouse would walk right up to a predator? Think like a prey animal: have the toy run away from the cat,  behind a box, or into the air like a bird. Vary the speed from a run to a crawl to a freeze. Engage other senses by using toys with bells or crinkly sounds or rustle the toy under a piece of tissue paper.

During your impeccable prey performance, let your cat win! After a few narrow escapes for the mouse, let your cat pounce on it and bite before it gets away again. Eventually you can wind down the play session by letting the mouse slow down and die. Offer a few treats or a meal afterward so your cat is rewarded for all of his hard work.

Many cats enjoy chasing laser pointers, but these toys need to be used carefully to avoid frustrating your cat. A laser toy elicits half of the prey sequence (watching and chasing), but it doesn’t let the cat finish the job by grabbing and biting. It’s a game they can never win. You can avoid that frustration by pairing the laser with a physical reward. Hide toys or treats around the room and pause the laser pointer on those objects that they can grab and bite.

Creating a Play Schedule

Cats thrive on predictability in their routines. Schedule times to play with your cat for 10-15 minutes, twice a day. Regular play times before breakfast, after work, while brushing your teeth, or before bedtime will help your cat know when it is time to play and when it’s time for rest. 

In addition to the physical and mental stimulation play provides, consistent play routines can help reduce some problem behaviors like aggression directed at other cats or family members and excessive grooming. Interactive play is also a great way to bond with your cat and increase their confidence to alleviate fear or stress responses. The effect that play can have on other aspects of our cats’ lives is a testament to how important their hunting practice can be!

If you need help crafting a play and enrichment plan for your cat, contact us at Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training!

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