Our Cat's Place – Living With Cats thoughts, articles, & information on cats, their behavior, and their relationships with us.
  • Pounce! Why Playing is an Important Part of Cats Behavior

    May 7

    jumping-cute-playing-animals

    From the time a kitten is born, their instinct for play is very strong. At first, baby kittens play with the others in their litter as a way to learn about cat social structure. After a few months, they start to play with the things around them. A young cat loves to play with just about anything! This is how they develop their ability to stalk, pounce, kick, and wrestle, which are all important motor skills involved in hunting.

    In fact, for cats in nature, playing is actually how they learn hunting skills. But even a domestic indoor cat has the built-in instinct and need for play; it is part of the feline nature. As cat owners, we need to understand this in order to raise a happy and healthy cat.

    Young kittens will learn that it is not OK to scratch or bite humans, as long as they have a toy mouse or bird to play with. Kittens have almost unbelievable stores of energy that can be redirected to chasing a cat toy. Some of my cat’s favorites have included small cardboard “sticks” attached to the end of a long wire, and feathers on a string attached to a long stick. They love to chase these around and will do so for long periods until they finally get worn out! For the cat, this play exercises their hunting and “prey” drive, while for the cat owners, it helps us bond with our cats, and can also help save the furniture from being scratched or climbed!

    Grown cats still have the need to play. Playing provides good exercise for your cat, benefiting his overall health and fitness. It also allows them to use their mental abilities associated with stalking and hunting prey. I often play with my cat before feeding him. If he successfully catches his toy mouse on a string a few times, he might feel more like he has “earned” his dinner, and we both enjoy the bonding time together.

    In fact, play has been found to be a successful method of therapy for cats that have been misbehaving. If this is done correctly and consistently over time, play can help a cat be less aggressive, more accepting of new pets or humans in the household, adapting to a new home, and even to stop urinating outside the litter box.

    What are the best toys for cats? Well, this really depends on the cat and his environment.
    Young kittens often like to have a stuffed animal to cuddle with, the way young human children do. And even adult cats can enjoy these! Another type of toy is the kind that encourages the cat to figure out a problem or puzzle. This would include the toys where the cat must figure out how to get a small ball or toy out of a box full of holes, or a treat out of a dispenser. These can keep your cat entertained for quite some time, and might be a good toy to have if you are away from the house a lot.

    But the overall favorite cat toys are those that allow the cat to play at hunting prey. Something that moves, whether on it’s own or with help from you, is best. The mouse or bird on a stick, as mentioned above, is great, but also try one of those laser pointers that you can run around on the floor or up and down a wall. Many cats go absolutely nuts playing with these (mine does!), and they can provide loads of fun for both you and your cat. Try running a toy or a light beam around through a cardboard box or cat-climbing tree for extra excitement. Your cat will feel like a mighty hunter indeed when he catches one of these!

    Before you give your cat a toy to play with, make sure it’s safe for him. Don’t give your cat a toy with very small parts that he might bite off and choke on. Also avoid anything with ribbons or small pieces of plastic that could get stuck in your cat’s stomach if he swallowed them. Cats always enjoy new things to play with, so it’s a good idea to remove some of his toys and “rotate” them so that he always has something different. If you run out of ideas, just put some empty cardboard boxes or paper bags on the floor and watch your cat go! It doesn’t matter so much what they toy is, more that your cat has something to play with and on. Cats simply need and love to play!

    Find many more great tips on cat behavior and caring for cats in Mary Matthew’s book “Ultimate Cat Secrets”.

    all the best to you and your feline friends,

    Beth

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