Cats and Play
Play time is critical for a cat’s well-being. Play provides physical and mental stimulation, teaches them important skills, prevents behavioral problems, helps adopted cats bond to a new family, and helps shy cats come out of their shells. There’s actually a lot of important stuff going on while your cat is having fun!
Developmentally, play was necessary for wild cats to learn how to hunt. Domestication has basically eradicated a cat’s need to hunt and has turned play into ritualized behaviors. In the wild, play is primarily reserved for kittens, but domestic cats continue to play throughout their lives, even into their golden years.
Because play has its roots in hunting, your cat is likely to be most engaged by toys that mimic prey. Toys like Da Bird are ideal for cats that like to sit on the window sill and watch the birds outside. If your cat’s eye is immediately caught by a fly or spider, the Cat Dancer, Fly Toy, or laser pointer may be a favorite. Other excellent, all-purpose toys that we recommend include the Kong® Kickeroo™ and Cat Charmer. Your hands, feet, and shoestrings should NOT be used as toys. Encouraging your cat to play with these may lead to biting or destructive chewing behaviors.
It isn’t necessary to spend a lot of money to make your kitty happy. How you play with your cat may be more important than what toy you use. Often, a drinking straw wiggled under a blanket or the plastic ring from a milk jug peeking out from under a chair will lead to more vigorous and prolonged play than many commercial cat toys. Move the toy as if it were prey, and your cat will be more interested. This means having the “bird” circle and flutter back and forth quickly, while occasionally dipping down and then rising and sometimes taking a break on a “branch” (e.g. top of a bookshelf or table). If you are trying to mimic ground-dwelling prey, such as a mouse or insect, the toy should scurry across the floor quickly, then slowly, and should hide behind or under furniture. Remember that prey rarely moves towards its predator, so move the toy back and forth in front of or away from your cat, but never directly at your cat. Allow your cat to strategize, stalk, and pounce. Always end with your cat being successful and catching the “prey.”
Don’t discount the value of play for shy or “lazy” cats. Even if the cat isn’t chasing, jumping or otherwise very physically engaged, the mental part of play is beneficial. Keep at it, especially if this is a cat who is new to you. In a few weeks, your cat may be running all over the place in order to catch the toy.
Catnip toys, tinsel balls, and other such toys are generally well-used by kittens, but they often quickly become boring to adults. You may be able to pique your cat’s interest by rotating through a selection of toys. For instance, on Monday put out a ping pong ball and catnip fish. On Wednesday, replace the fish with a Kong® Straw Cone. Put away the ping pong ball on Thursday and scatter a few straws around the house. When your cat only has access to a particular toy every couple of weeks it will seem brand new each time.
The average adult cat needs about 30 minutes of play time daily. This can be broken into several short sessions instead of one long bout of play. At least half of this time should be interactive play with a person. Kittens will generally play for 45-60 minutes a day, and 5-10 minute increments are best for the little ones.
Finally, a word about laser pointers. Many cats enjoy them, and they can expend a lot of energy trying to chase them. However, you don’t want to end up frustrating your cat because he is never able to catch anything. End any play session using a laser with a few minutes of play with a toy that your cat can “catch.”