Cats and Play
Cats and Play
Play time is critical for a cat's well-being. Play provides physical and mental stimulation; teaches important skills; can prevent behavior problems; helps an adopted cat bond to the new family; and helps shy cats to come out of their shells. There's actually a lot of important stuff going on while your cat is having fun!
Developmentally, play was necessary for wild cats to learn how to hunt. Domestication has basically eradicated a cat's need to hunt and has turned play into ritualized behaviors. In the wild, play is primarily reserved for kittens; domestic cats continue to play throughout their lives, even in their golden years.
Because play has its roots in hunting your cat is likely to be most engaged by toys that mimic prey. Toys like Da Bird are ideal for cats who like to sit in a window and watch the birds outside. If your cat's eye is immediately caught by a fly or spider the Cat Dancer, Fly Toy, or laser pointer may be a favorite. Other excellent all-purpose toys that we recommend include Kong Kickeroo and Cat Charmer. Hands, feet, and your shoestrings should NOT be used as toys. Encouraging your cat to play with these may lead to biting or destructive chewing.
It isn't necessary that you spend a lot of money to make your kitty happy. How you play with your cat may be more important than what toy you use. Often a drinking straw wiggled under a blanket or plastic ring from a milk jug peeking out from under a chair will lead to more vigorous and prolonged play than any commercial cat toy. Move the toy as if it were prey and your cat will be more interested. This means having the "bird" circle and flutter back and forth quickly, while occasionally dipping down and then rising and sometimes taking a break on a "branch" (e.g. top of a bookshelf or table). If you are trying to mimic ground-dwelling prey (a mouse, insect or rabbit, for instance) the toy should scurry across the floor quickly, then slowly, and should hide behind or under furniture. Remember that prey rarely moves towards its predator so move the toy back and forth in front of or away from your cat but not directly at your cat. Allow your cat to strategize, stalk and pounce. Always end with your cat being successful and catching the "prey".
Don't discount the value of play for shy or "lazy" cats. Even if the cat isn't chasing, jumping or otherwise very physically engaged the mental part of play is beneficial. Keep at it, especially if this is a cat who is new to you. In a few weeks your cat may be running all over the place in order to catch the toy.
Catnip toys, tinsel balls and other such toys generally are well-used by kittens but often quickly become boring to adults. You may be able to pique your cat's interest by rotating through a selection of such toys. For instance, on Monday put out a ping pong ball and catnip fish. On Wednesday replace the fish with a Kong Straw Cone. Put away the ping pong ball on Thursday and scatter a few straws around the house. When your cat only has access to a particular toy every couple of weeks it will seem brand new each time.
The average adult cat needs about 30 minutes of play time daily. This can be broken into several short sessions instead of one long bout of play. At least half of this time should be interactive play with a person. Kittens will generally play for 45 - 60 minutes a day; five- to ten-minute sessions are best for the little ones.
Finally, a word about laser pointers. Many cats do really enjoy them and they can expend a lot of energy. However, you don't want to end up frustrating your cat because he is never able to catch anything. End any play session using a laser with a few minutes of play with a toy that your cat can "catch".