Why Cats Need Play

How to keep your feline friend interested in play as she grows from kittenhood into an adult cat.

Watching a kitten playing with a furry mouse never gets old. She tosses it in the air, bites it, and attacks it with vigorous bunny kicks. Play is an integral part of kittenhood, as any cat parent knows. The challenge is to maintain that degree of interest in play as she moves from kittenhood to adulthood.

The Art of Play 

Kittens learn the art of play from their siblings. There’s nothing cuter than a litter of kittens tumbling around with each other. Beyond the cuteness, though, they’re learning important skills, which includes setting boundaries when it comes to biting and kicking. Play also helps with their coordination and helps strengthen their growing bodies.

Cats also sleep anywhere from 12 to 16 hours a day, and as kittens grow into adults, they may become bored more easily, which means they spend more time snoozing. While it may be easy to “let sleeping cats lie,” a lack of play means a lack of exercise, which can lead to weight gain and health problems. So it’s important to encourage play in adult cats. The question is, how?

Short Bursts of Energy

In the wild, cats operate on short bursts of energy. This can be seen in our own cats when they experience episodes of the “zoomies.” Well-known “cat daddy” Jackson Galaxy takes these bursts of energy into account when he recommends the “Boil and Simmer” approach to playing with your cat.

This involves playing with your cat for a short period of time, letting her “simmer” down, then bringing her to a “boil” again, and so on. “Cats are motivated by their primal instincts to hunt, catch, kill and eat,” Jackson says, adding that unwanted behaviors may occur if that energy is not released.

Selecting Cat Toys

When it comes to cat toys, the choices are endless. Pet supply stores are chock full of fishing poles with every imaginable toy dangling off the ends; catnip-stuffed toys in any shape or size; balls with bells and feathers; colorful plastic springs; crinkle balls; and even motorized devices. But it’s often the simplest things that capture your cat’s attention. An empty toilet paper roll, a wadded-up piece of paper, or an empty box can be made even more inviting with a sprinkling of catnip.

You may have to experiment and offer your cat a variety of toys before you find the perfect match (and even then, her preferences may change). Chances are, you can’t go wrong with a fishing pole. One of Sofiya’s favorites as a kitten was a square of faux lamb’s wool on a rawhide string attached to a stick. She would drag it all over the place until it defied repair and the fabric on the end was unrecognizable.

Hint: If you’re lucky, your kitty may learn to play fetch; often, this is something cats pick up on their own. 

It’s All About Timing

Set aside a specific time for play each day – your cat will look forward to it and even start to remind you. According to Jackson Galaxy, cats operate on a “hunt-catch-kill” regimen, bracketed on either end by sleep. A period of play before meals can end with dinner as a satisfying “catch,” while a session before bedtime, followed by a meal or treat, can help minimize the 4 a.m. crazies or 6 a.m. breakfast demands.

Hint: Rotate your cat’s toys. Try storing them in a plastic bag with catnip to add to the enticement when you get them out again.

Keep It Safe

When choosing toys for your cat, watch out for pieces that can be bitten off and ingested – googly eyes, buttons, pieces of yarn. Shiny Mylar strips attached to a stick are great fun, but they should be put away between play sessions to avoid ingestion.

Laser toys are controversial. Cats love chasing that red dot, but there’s no satisfaction of “catching prey” at the end of the “hunt.” You can get around this by tossing her some treats toward the end of the session to “finish the job.”

Hint: It goes without saying that the laser beam should never be pointed directly into the cat’s eyes.   

Ensuring that your cat has plenty of play in her life offers multiple benefits. It helps keep her physically fit and mentally stimulated – and it also enhances the bond you share with her.


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