Cat-friendly play and providing a suitably stimulating environment are key to keeping your cat healthy and happy! Learning how to play appropriately with your cat can help safeguard against your cat acquiring negative play behaviors such as biting and scratching.
Most people love watching their cat stalk, pounce, and play. Cats are highly intelligent, naturally curious, and active creatures, so it is imperative that we provide them with plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Many feline behaviors are instinctual so they must have the opportunity to hunt, stalk, and act out these natural behaviors. Your cat also needs to have appropriate resources so they can play, engage in their natural predatory behaviors, and have control over their social interactions.
So we have some suggestions of ways you can play with your cat, items you should have in your home to keep your cat stimulated, and helpful tips to keep in mind:
- Be sure to have a wide variety of items and toys that simulate the ‘prey’ cats naturally hunt (e.g., mice).
- Toys that have erratic movements to stimulate the movements of prey are very exciting to indoor hunters.
- Rotate and change your cat’s toys on a routine basis to keep them interested. Some cats become disinterested after a few days, some a few weeks, and some prefer one toy.
- Your cat needs to be able to capture the ‘prey’ at the end of their hunt/play to satisfy their natural instinct and prevent them from becoming frustrated. Lasers are very attractive to most cats, but lack the feeling of accomplishment of your cat capturing the prey.
- TIP: If you use a laser, hide a treat or piece of kibble, and have your cat end the play by capturing the laser right at the treat so she feels it is captured and she is rewarded.
- Cats play more when they are hungry, so weight management, frequent small feedings, or even hiding food around the house will help stimulate your cat to play more often.
- Feeding dry food in food puzzles is stimulating for your cat and simulates hunting. It can aid weight loss in the overweight cat.
- It is important to have toys and enrichment items (i.e. cat trees, perches, windows to watch outdoor activity) available for solo play when you are not home.
- You can also create do-it-yourself cat toys made out of common household items (i.e. paper towel rolls, boxes, socks, cardboard, crumpled paper, water bottles, etc.).
- When your cat walks away from you, she is done playing. Do not force interaction, instead let your cat initiate, choose, and control the type of human contact she desires. Each cat has their own individual preference regarding how much human interaction they prefer.
Helpful Tips for Playing with Your Cat
- Stimulate play with your cat with the use of interactive toys that mimic prey, such as a toy mouse that is pulled across a floor or feathers on a wand that is waved through the air.
- Remember to never use string-type products to play with your cat. String, yarn, and similar type of products (i.e. rubber bands, tinsel, ribbon, streamers, etc.) can be easily swallowed by your cat and cause very serious intestinal issues requiring surgery.
- Any products with loose pieces (i.e. bells, googly eyes, small pieces, etc.) or string-type materials that your cat can swallow, must be put away after play. Many household items and children’s toys can contain these type of materials. It is imperative to monitor items brought into your household and put away anything that can be dangerous for your cat.
- Introduce interactive play early in your cat’s life so she can learn how to play with you and avoid going after your hands and feet for play. Never use your hands or feet as toys during play. Although it may seem cute with kittens, as your kitten grows into a cat, she will believe this is an appropriate form of play. Scratching or biting can lead to painful injuries and infections.
- Use food puzzles or food balls to mimic the action of hunting for prey, and provide a more natural eating behavior. It can also help your cat eat more slowly as she needs to work for her food.
- You can reward your cat with treats to provide positive reinforcement for appropriate play.
- If you have more than one cat, remember to play with them individually.
- If you have children, or those unfamiliar with appropriate play for cats, teach them how to play with your cats so that your cats do not become frustrated or scared by these activities.
- Play also provides your cat with much needed exercise, which is critical in maintaining a healthy body weight and preventing your cat from becoming overweight or obese.
A Cat-Friendly Environment
- Make sure your cat has lots of safe hiding areas. This allows them a place to retreat to when they need some privacy. Tall-sided or igloo cat beds and cardboard boxes are good options.
- Cats love elevated perches or cat trees so they can observe, feel safe, and well – feel superior.
- Your cat needs appropriate areas to act out her normal scratching behavior. So be sure to include scratching areas in your home where your cat can sharpen nails and stretch her muscles.
- Be sure you place your cat’s litter boxes where she can easily access them without any challenges or potential threats.
- Place your cat’s food and water in a separate area where she can eat and drink without stress.
- In general, the more cats you have in a household the more perches, hiding areas, and feeding/drinking areas you’ll need so each cat can feel independent and comfortable in their home domain!