Let’s Play!

Feeling stressed?  Overwhelmed?  Got the blues?  If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, then your cat probably can, too.  We’ve got the solution for both of you:  Dust off those cat toys & get busy playing!

The perks of play:

  • Stress reduction – If Kitty is stressed, behavior problems may arise (house soiling or furniture scratching, for example).  Regular play sessions can improve your cat’s sense of well-being and relax you, as well.
  • Exercise – Cats need routine exercise, just like we do.  Play is a great workout for your furry couch potato.  If Kitty is overweight and sedentary, talk with your veterinarian about the healthiest way to gradually increase his activity level.
  • Boredom relief – Trouble awaits the bored cat who must resort to entertaining himself.  Behaviors such as household destruction and ankle ambushes can result.  It’s especially important that indoor-only cats live in a stimulating environment that includes play & toys.
  • Keep the peace – If your cat misbehaves or begins to bully a housemate cat, distract him with an interactive toy (see below).  This positive approach allows you to reslove a problem while preserving your relationship with Kitty.  Certainly, punishment (squirt bottle) can be detrimental to this relationship.  Physical (hands-on) punishment is especially destructive.
  • Bonding between guardian & cat – You & Kitty can spend quality time enjoying each other’s company — with the help of a few toys.

How to play with your cat

  • Choose an interactive toy – One that you can dangle or drag for Kitty to chase is perfect.  (Our favorite is the Cat Dancer.  We haven’t known a cat to turn it down yet.  Check our site for many more feline-approved recommended toys.)  To preserve this type of toy’s entertainment value, put it away after playtime.
  • Hands are not cat toys.  If you encourage your cat to bite, scratch or pounce on you in play, he will learn to use his teeth & claws on you whenever the mood strikes him.
  • Play with your cat when he’s most active.  Choose a time when the environment is calm.  Several short (10-15 minutes) play sessions throughout the day are ideal.  Routine pre-bedtime sessions can help cure the “nighttime crazies”.  A tired cat is more likely to allow you to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Suit play styles to your cat’s personality.  Cats naturally prefer and excel at different types of play (jumping, stalking, chasing, pouncing).  Some coaxing may be necessary to entice a wallflower kitty into play.  Don’t force the issue by harassing your cat with toys.  Instead, gently experiment until you peak your cat’s interest.
  • Allow Kitty the thrill of the hunt.  Let him capture his “prey”, rather than always keeping the toy out of reach.  This prevent frustration and disinterest, and boosts his self-confidence.  So we do NOT recommend laser toys because, while they are great for lazy humans, they aren’t satisfying play-prey for Kitty.
  • Keep a variety of safe toys available so Kitty can amuse himself when you can’t play.  Crumpled pieces of paper, paper bags (without handles), cardboard boxes, and ping pong balls can provide hours of fun.  (If you have a dog, don’t allow him access to small cat toys.)  Keep it interesting by exchanging these toys for others every day, perhaps before bedtime so Kitty’s occupied when he’s most active without you.  Also, get on the floor with Kitty to play with these toys.  Otherwise, they will be pretty boring – from your cat’s point-of-view.

Play is simple, fun therapy for you and your cat.  So get going!


Article by Ruth Hagen.  Originally published in “North Bay Pets”, Spring 1998.

© 2012 Critter Consulting

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