Playtime never over for cats

2015-06-02 06:00

PLAY is an important part of every cat’s life, from kitten through to adult cat, and should be encouraged as it performs many valuable functions apart from exercise.

Playing is important

Kittens learn by playing with their litter-mates, mom, other animals and items in their environment.

They learn vital arts of hunting, attack and defence. Other skills they learn along the way include co-ordination, discipline, patience, claw and bite inhibition, dealing with conflict, success and failure.

Playing also teaches observation and calculation; the speed and direction the prey is moving as well as the speed and direction needed by the cat to intercept the prey. The action of killing prey is taught by feral and wild cat mothers, yet it remains an instinct and many house cats can inflict a perfect killing bite without ever having seen it demonstrated.

Kittens learn their physical strengths and abilities — what they can take on as prey and how best to tackle it. By trial and error they experiment and discover what they are capable of achieving. As they grow bigger and stronger they can extend their games, try new options, go for bigger or more challenging “prey”. Every experience helps to build confidence and character.

Once past kittenhood, play remains an important part of everyday life for all cats.

Physical movement keeps them mobile, while exercising their minds keeps them alert and aware. Dealing with new toys and learning new skills improves confidence.

Movement and success release happy endorphins in the brain, making play a fun activity with extra emotional benefits. The excitement of the hunt, even for a toy mouse, releases adrenaline, which is released when the prey is caught and killed — an essential part of any game.

Older cats may slow down; it is so important to keep them mobile and having fun. A few minutes many times during the day is easier for older or overweight cats than one longer play session.

Advanced age may bring reduced vision, hearing and dexterity but it is no excuse to stop playing.


In order to play games we need toys. Toys of all description can be found in pet shops or there are many items in your home that can become toys. Toys should appeal to the instinctive actions of cats, hunting, climbing, hiding and, of course, curiosity.

Identify know your cats’ style of playing; this will make it easier to find the right toys. Does she like fast action games, easy games, interactive games or can she amuse herself? What size toy does she prefer — small enough to carry around, large enough to bite and kick? Does she have a colour preference? What level of activity is she capable of? Does she like to dance and jump (catch birds) or stay low on the ground (catch mice)? How long will she play before becoming bored or tired?

Young kittens play with everything they find, including each other and mom! Other simple toys for all cats include boxes of all shapes and sizes with holes cut for entrances and exits, paper bags (handles removed), string, ribbon, shoelaces, newspaper tents, corks, a ball of clean crinkly paper, acorns, leaves, and many other similar items. A ruler or stick with string and a toy attached is great fun for running and jumping games.

A small plastic pill container with some dried beans or small stones makes a noisy fun toy for older cats.

Catnip is a great way to get cats interested in toys, if they react to it. About half of the cat population enjoys catnip, for the rest it is just another smell. Kittens usually only react after five to six months of age.

Store toys that have catnip (or those that you would like to smell of catnip) in a ziplock plastic bag with dried catnip. The smell will be on the toys when you take them out for play. Change the catnip when the cats no longer react to the smell. Many cats enjoy Happy Cat (valerian root powder) and the same method can be used to keep toys smelling fresh.

Before playing with any item check that it is safe, has no sharp edges and is large enough not to be swallowed. Some toys have a short life while others can be used over again. Change toys on a regular basis to keep up the interest. Toys that include strings or require human interaction should be put away after play for safety.

Avoid games that use fingers or toes as toys, as these can lead to quite serious bites if play gets out of hand; biting can become a habit that is difficult to break.

Playing with your cat helps to create a fun and caring relationship

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