Signs Your Cat Needs More Playtime
Bring on the feather toys.
There’s nothing coy about a dog: When your Lab wants to play, he’ll drop his tennis ball at your feet and shoot you a big, goofy grin.
But cats tend to play things a little cooler. Our feline friends can be harder to read, and are above begging for a feather toy. In other words, they’re no basic Bichons. “Dogs are more nuts and bolts, whereas cats appreciate the subtleties in life,” says cat behaviorist and author Carole Wilbourn. “If cats were humans, they’d be the artists and writers among us.”
Known as “The Cat Therapist,” Wilbourn co-founded the first feline-only veterinary practice in New York City in 1973, and has since traveled the world helping clients better understand their pets. Here, she translates our kitties’ cues for play.
The Importance Of Playing With Your Kitten
Kittens are born with strong instincts that help them survive in the wild. However, domesticated kittens that may never have to rely on these instincts for hunting or hiding will use them for play. Playtime is often an outlet for these instincts, taking the form of stalking, pouncing and capturing prey such as a mouse-shaped toy.
A kitten that is separated from the litter when too young may not have learned appropriate play behaviour, so its up to you to teach them how to play nicely.
Super Fun Games Your Cat Will Love To Play All Day Long
Keep your feline busy with these stimulating activities.
Pups are often to thought to be more playful than their feline counterparts, but kitties like to get rambunctious, too. Most felines don’t care for walks as dogs do, but enjoy some stimulation indoors. The good news is there are easy, inexpensive games you can play with your cat and options they can also enjoy by themselves. The list below includes seven interactive activities, including a hide-and-seek game that taps into your animal’s instincts and a game of fetch that all kitties will enjoy. Plus, you’ll be able to play these games in any size space, whether you have a large home or a small apartment. Just grab the materials and your cat, and start having some fun.
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Rough Play In A Kitten Or Adult Cat
Kittens and cats need to play. Play is normal behavior that provides young animals with opportunities to develop their physical coordination and problem-solving skills. It allows them to engage in species specific behaviors like hunting and stalking. If theres another cat in the home, it also gives them a chance to hone their social skills with members of their own species. Its very common for kittens and young cats to engage in rough, active play because feline play can consist of mock aggression. Many cats retain this kitten-like behavior well into adulthood. Cats stalk, chase, pounce, swat, kick, scratch and bite each otherall in good fun. However, people often misinterpret this kind of behavior as aggression when its directed toward them.
Cats display two different types of play behavior: solitary play and social play. They direct solitary play toward objects, like toys, skeins of yarn, paper bags, boxes and rolled-up paper. Social play is directed toward fellow cats, people or other animals. Unfortunately, problems can sometimes arise when feline play is directed toward people. Despite the playful intentions of a cat, he can cause injury to his human playmates. Cat scratches and bites are painful and can easily become infected.
Can You Just Get Another Cat For Them To Play With
It is likely another feline friend will help cover the social needs of our cat. This is especially the case if they have had to spend a lot of time on their own. However, cats will still need our company. They need to interact with us and we need to ensure this interaction is healthy. If we ignore them and don’t meet their needs, they may even come to resent us.
It is also important to know whether or not your cat will play nice with others. You can’t just bring another cat in and assume they will get on happy as Larry. If your cat has never socialized with other cats and was separated from mother and siblings at a young age, they will likely have difficulties adjusting. If a cat doesn’t socialize when young, doing so later on can be tricky.
In these cases you will need to know whether or not your cat is playing or fighting. If they haven’t socialized young, they may not know the right game patterns. They might also have trouble with dominance or simply just not like the friend you have ‘imposed’ upon them. If your cat has not socialized well, you should ensure their home has enough entertainment so that getting another cat isn’t necessary.
On the other hand, if your cat was adopted around three months of age and has experience socializing with other cats, adopting a new friend could be just the ticket. Now you will have two friends to be entertained and entertain.
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How To Exercise Your Cat And Build Your Bond
While cats may conduct their own playtime, watching shadows or climbing their cat trees, pet parents should engage their cat daily with interactive playtime.
Hartstein says that discovering how your cat likes to play and what toys and activities engage her the most is one of the fun parts of welcoming a feline into your family.
Learning what gets them excited, fulfilled, what provides them with joy, fun and enrichment is a wonderful experience for both the parent and cat, Hartstein says. Learning about one another and teaching a cat to partake in play and fun is one of the joys of pet parenthood.
Like anything, though, moderation is key. You dont want to play with cats to the point where they are overly tired or display signs of overexertion, such as panting.
Generally if your cat walks away, is getting agitated, angry, stressed, too intense or becoming too stimulated, you should stop playing, says Hartstein. Several shorter play sessions tend to suit many cats better than one longer one.
Four 10-minute sessions a day is a reasonable guidepost, says Dr. Osborne. Keep in mind, however, that every cat is different and has their own unique exercise requirements.
Talk with your veterinarian about appropriate cat exercises for your cats biology, age and other factors that play a role in your cats physical health.
Kittens Have A Reputation For Being Playful Why Is Play So Important To Them
Play is a very important part of the feline world and kittens need the opportunity to play in order to learn vital adult skills both for communication and for hunting. From a very early age, they play with their littermates and with objects that they find in their environment. Indeed, play provides the ideal opportunity for kittens to investigate the world around them. Young kittens play using chasing and pouncing behaviors that seem to have their origin in predation.
“Predatory play is an integral part of feline play behavior and early learning.”
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What Is The Best Way For Me To Play With My Adult Cat
Playing with cats using remote style toys has a number of advantages especially for the more independent adult cat. If a toy is being held in the owners hand the cat will be aware of their presence and this can interfere with the full expression of their predatory behavior, as it does not seem real. The close presence of human hands can also encourage cats to play with moving fingers and can encourage predatory responses towards owners hands and ankles. The easiest way to encourage play while remaining a little distant from the cat is to use fishing rod style toys and the aim is to keep the object moving and let the cat repetitively stalk, chase and kill the prey. During a natural hunting sequence cats will often spend time observing the movement of potential prey without chasing it and while many owners interpret this as a sign that the cat is not interested in the toy the truth is that this cat has just become more efficient at waiting for the right moment to pounce.
When Does Play Aggression In Cats Cross The Line
As a pet parent, you’ve probably witnessed play aggression in cats on more than one occasion .
Cats love to attack their toys and even their playmates, but because cats can be somewhat mysterious, your kitty’s intentions during playtime may not always be clear. It’s all fun and games until she crosses the line with a nip, scratch, or bite. Read on to learn how to identify cat aggression during playtime and how to reel back the roughhousing.
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Suggestions For Cat Friendly Play
Try to have a wide variety of toys and items that simulate or mimic the prey cats naturally hunt . Toys that have erratic movements and simulate or mimic the movements of prey are very exciting to cats. You should rotate and change your cats toys on a routine basis to keep him interested. Some cats become bored with a toy after a few days, some a few weeks, and some prefer only one toy. Also, allow your cat to capture the prey at the end of his hunt/play session to satisfy his natural hunting instinct. This also prevents your cat from becoming frustrated. While lasers are very attractive to most cats, they dont allow your cat to feel the sense of accomplishment of capturing the prey.
TIP: If you use a laser, hide a treat or piece of kibble. Then at the end, let your cat capture the laser where the treat is hidden. This way he feels like he captured the prey and is rewarded.
Cats tend to play more when they are hungry. So, manage his weight, feed him frequent small meals, or even hide food around the house to help encourage him to play more often. Offer dry food in food puzzles to entice your cat. This type of feeding simulates hunting and can aid weight loss in the overweight cat. It is important to have toys and enrichment items available for your cat to play by himself when you are not home. You can also create do-it-yourself cat toys made out of common household items .
He’s Attacking Your Ankles
Your cat’s wild ancestors spent large portions of their days hunting for food-and old habits die hard. “Even though our cats are very domesticated, they still have wild instincts,” says Wilbourn. “In the wild, cats aren’t served food, and they’re all born with the desire to hunt.”
A cat who can’t entertain his inner predator will find somethingto hunt, whether it’s your ankles or your dog or a toy. To appeal to his wild side, stock up on feather toys that look and move like birds. Playing keep-away is fun, but be sure to let your cat catch his “prey” once in awhile.
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Examining The Nature Of The Fight
The Dos And Donts Of Feline Fun
- Play for a few short sessions every day 10 to 15 minutes will do the trick.
- Allow your cat to catch and grab the toy at the end of each game to satisfy their predatory instinct.
- Provide a variety of toys, especially those shaped like prey .
- Never use your fingers or toes as a toy during playtime. If you do, your kitten could develop a bad habit painful for you.
- Never hit or yell at your kitten when they nip or pounce. This will make them fearful of you.
- Never force your cat to play or be trained. Some kittens prefer less play; some prefer more. Find the right balance for your pet.
Teaching your kitten how to engage in friendly play not only helps you and your family avoid painful nips and scratches, it also encourages proper social skills while developing your cats reflexes and coordination. Keep activities short and positive, and your kitten will grow into a happy and healthy cat.
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Create Positive Alternatives To Bad Behavior
If you have an ankle-attacking cat, keep an interactive toy with you at all times. As soon as you see body language that indicates shes hunting your legs, distract her with the interactive toy. Do this consistently and your cat will learn to exercise her prey drive on her toy rather than your feet. If your cat is a door darter, get her attention with her favorite toy and then toss it in the opposite direction as youre about to leave.
When done on a regular basis, cat play is far and away the best tool for bonding, socializing and training. If youve got a cat thats acting up, give it a try; youll be surprised by how well play therapy for cats works.
Thumbnail: Photography by Xseon / Shutterstock.
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My Kitten Loves To Play A Game That Involves Chasing My Fingers As I Run Them Across The Back Of The Sofa Or Pouncing On My Toes As I Move Them Under The Covers Is It Okay To Play These Games With Her
Chasing and pouncing are vital elements of feline predatory behavior and your kitten will spend hours engaging in these activities. When toes and fingers move rapidly across her field of vision they are seen as a suitable target and it can be very amusing to play with your kitten in this way. However, the problem is that your kitten will learn to target human flesh within a predatory context and as she grows up you may live to regret these seemingly innocent games.
“As a basic rule, it is best to only play predatory games with toys that your cat can eventually catch and kill, such as toy mice, pieces of food on the end of string, or balls of rolled-up paper.”
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Encourage Their Natural Hunting Instinct
Motorized mice toys, a light beam from a flashlight, or even a simple string that you pull across the floor can help keep your cat stimulated and mentally engaged by encouraging their natural instinct to hunt. Bonus: their antics as they ready to pounce are sure to make you laugh and keep the whole family entertained! You can increase their interest even more by giving them boxes to hide in as they wait for the “prey” to approach. Along with mental stimulation, this kind of cat play is a good way for you and your family to spend time and bond with your cat as well as encourage them to exercise.
What Not To Do
- Attempts to tap, flick, or hit your cat for rough play is almost guaranteed to backfire. Your cat could become afraid of your hands, or she could interpret those flicks as playful moves by you and play even more roughly as a result.
Aggression: Cats can bite or scratch through the skin. In these cases its best to seek help from a behavior specialist to work with your young cats behavior. Be sure to keep your cat confined until you can get professional help. Also, be sure to thoroughly clean all bites and scratches and consult your physician, as cat scratches and bites can easily become infected
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The Importance Of Engaging In Play With Cats
Play is a vital element in your cats life.
Constructive playtime for a cat is much-needed exercise, explains Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM of Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center & Pet Clinic in Ohio. One hour of play increases a cats healthy lifespan by four hours. It often improves cats mental health, too, lessening anxiety and destructive behavior.
Cats need play just like kids do. It helps them engage, deal with boredom and it helps build bonds between other cats in the home, says Dr. Taylor Truitt, DVM, The Vet Set, Brooklyn, New York. Play stimulates their brains and also helps them exercise. Overweight cats are an epidemic in our homes, and as we know, exercise helps us trim down. Any time I meet an overweight pet, I talk to the pet parent about playtime and burning calories.
These are reasons enough to set aside time to play with your cats, but theres one other very important reason why playtime is essential for them. Play is a part of a cats biology, Dr. Truitt adds. Play simulates the natural prey stalking instincts in cats, which helps them stay mentally fit and stimulated.
Often when I have behavioral problems with cats, the owners are not actively engaging in playtime with their cats, Dr. Truitt says.
The mental and physical enrichment that develops from cats at play will also help a cat transition into a family, animal behaviorist Russell Hartstein, CEO and founder of Fun Paw Care in Los Angeles and Miami, says.
Toy Under The Blanket
Hide a stuffed toy under a blanket and wiggle it around so that the blanket moves. Your cats will think there’s a mouse under the covers and dive right for it. Move the toy around so they have room to pounce. A variation of this would be to put your cat under the covers and you lightly run the stuffed toy over the blanket. My cats can’t resist trying to catch the shadows .
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How To Play With A Cat That Is Aging
How to play with an aging cat is different than how to play with a cat whos younger. As cats age, they may be less inclined to interact so dont wait for an invitation. Take out the interactive toy with feathers to entice your aging cat. Movement is important to maintain that agility and to keep aging cats limber.
Some elderly cats appear to have found the fountain of youth and play nearly as much as they did as a kitten. Their secret is in genetics, regular preventive veterinary care, good luck and a lifetime of play.
Other cats not surprisingly slow down significantly, which is normal. Even a few moments of gentle daily play makes a difference. Expectations are, of course, adjusted depending on any physical limitations on an individual older cat, but play is a good thing.
Filling Your Cats Toy Chest
What are the best cat toys to use to play with cats?
Like everything else, this will depend on the individual cat. Some cats will amuse themselves if you set out boxes or paper bags, says Dr. Osborne. Of course, make sure there are no staples or harmful items that may injure the cat. Your cat may also enjoy playing in piles of shredded paper or with plastic tops from water bottles.
Both Dr. Osborne and Dr. Truitt also recommend cat interactive toys like a cat feather wand or a fishing pole teaser toy for cats playing. These toys will give you time to play and bond. Dr. Truitt especially likes the KONG fishing pole teaser cat toy. She doesnt recommend laser toys that dont allow cats to grab onto anything.
Dr. Truitt says that toys that allow cats to hunt for a prize, such as the Smart Cat Peek-a-Prize toy box, are always a fun way to engage your cat in play.
Consider playing with your cats at regular times of the day, says Dr. Osborne. As most kitty owners know, cats love rituals, so even play with them right before meals, she said. Playtime right before meals improves a kittys appetite. If you make it a habit of playing before feeding, the kitty will know its time to eat and be ready.
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Observing Their Body Language
How To Play With Your Cat
Cats need a variety of toys, including those they can play with on their own and those that you use to play with them. Youll also want to provide items for your cat to explore, such as cardboard boxes, paper shopping bags, packing paper and toys that encourage them to investigate various holes with their paws.
Cats are natural hunters, so it makes sense that the best way to get your cat moving and playing is to stimulate their predatory instincts. Small, motorized, remote-controlled and battery-powered mice are great for capturing your cats attention and then getting them to stalk, pounce and chase. Feather toys, which are often attached to the end of a wand or string, are good bird replicas for your feline friend to stalk and even snatch from the air. Yet another favorite is the laser pointer, which can imitate a bug for your cat to hunt and chase. Just be sure to avoid pointing the light directly into your cats eyes.
For those times when youre not home, youll want to have toys that your cat can throw around, such as small mice , or swat, such as crinkle and rattle balls. Interactive toy puzzles that challenge cats to get to treats through different openings can keep your kitty entertained and mentally stimulated.
Remember to introduce new toys, or at least alternate toys, occasionally to keep your cat from becoming bored. And you also need to let them catch the prey from time to time. Both of these practices will keep playtime interesting for your kitty.
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