Cats have a reputation for being aloof – some may even say “standoffish.”
But in reality, cats are social creatures who thrive on human interaction and form strong bonds (even if some have a strange way of showing it). In fact, recent studies have shown that cats are socially intuitive, and much like us, seek out attention from people who appear receptive and friendly.
One of the best ways to bond with your cat? Play!
Perhaps not surprisingly, cats can be a bit particular when it comes to playtime. Read on for expert tips on how to engage your feline friend best.
Why Playing with Your Cat Is Important
Despite his fondness for warm laundry and smoked salmon, your cat is an animal with a wild side. A couch-potato lifestyle is both unnatural and unhealthy.
“When cats are in their natural environment, they spend a considerable amount of their days hunting and capturing prey,” says Dr. Michelle Burch, veterinary advisor at Catological. “Indoor cats are deprived of almost all opportunities to engage in normal predatory and foraging behaviors, which causes an increase in behavioral problems and health disorders.”
Interactive play can both strengthen your bond and allow your cat to be, well, a cat.
“Environmental enrichment with play encourages more natural behaviors, constructively occupies your cat’s time, and aids in decreasing boredom,” says Burch.
How to Play with Your Cat: Tips & Tricks
Anyone can throw a toy mouse across the room. But providing effective, engaging, sustainable play requires a bit of know-how. Karen Reese, the behavior manager at Operation Kindness animal shelter in Texas, offers the following tips:
Think Like a Prey Animal
Cats are natural (and relentless) predators, so assume that your cat wants to catch and kill whatever toy you're playing with. With that in mind, make the toy move like prey. "If you are using a toy with a string, make it move like a snake slithering across the open floor," says Reese. "Mice move fast, from one hiding place to the other. Birds fly from one surface to the other and then land for a bit."
Tease the Toy
Your cat may appear disinterested at first, which is normal hunting behavior – he doesn't want to tip off his lunch. "Keep moving your toy like a prey animal as your kitty begins to warm up," says Reese. Once you detect a butt wiggle, prepare for the pounce.
Let Your Cat Win
Chasing is fun – but eventually, you should allow your cat to go in for the kill. "After your cat has put up a good chase, give him the opportunity to catch the toy," says Reese. "Let him chew on it or kick at it with his feet and really dig in."
End with a Snack
Every good hunt results in a feast. Ending play sessions with food mimics the natural hunting sequence. "If it's not a mealtime, you can finish off with a small treat or a spoonful of wet food," says Reese.
Interactive Toys for Indoor Cats
The best cat toys either mimic prey or simulate a hunt. Consider adding the following interactive cat toys to your collection:
A classic cat tease, laser pointers can provide an intense chase. “Laser pointers are excellent tools to help engage your cat in predatory attacks while bringing up the heart rate for a good bout of exercise,” says Burch.
A couple of cat tunnels can transform your living room into the wild savannah. Throw toys through the tunnels, or allow your cat to hide in them and “stalk” his prey, suggests Reese.
Every cat has a different play style. If yours prefers fast and feisty chases, try battery-operated mice, says Reese. Many are programmed to move like real rodents and have adjustable speed settings.
Cat Games to Promote Bonding
Looking for a little variety in your cat-and-mouse game? Consider these cat games from Burch:
For a fun DIY cat game, make a “peekaboo” box by cutting holes in an ordinary cardboard box. Toss in a few favorite toys, tape the box shut, and let your cat attempt to fish them out. (If it’s too hard and becomes frustrating for your cat, cut the holes a little larger.)
Like toddlers, many cats tend to prefer ordinary objects over high-tech toys. For an easy game, simply place paper bags throughout the house. Your cat will have fun trying to get inside, batting them around, and making crinkle noises. After a while, crumple the bags up and toss them around for a game of “fetch.”
Some cats prefer to pick on prey their own size. Sprinkle some catnip on a teddy bear and throw it across the room, allowing your cat ample time to attack.
While not as beneficial as aerobic exercise, some kitties may enjoy playing games on your tablet. Apps specially designed for cats can provide mental stimulation.
Cat Toys for Independent Play
Of course, there are times when you won’t be home or available for a play session. And that’s OK! You can still provide plenty of enrichment and stimulation for your cat. Treat your pet to the following:
“Catnip is a great way to entertain your kitty when you are too busy or you are going to be out of the house,” says Reese. You can buy toys pre-stuffed with catnip, or simply sprinkle some loose catnip on your cat’s favorite playthings and bed.
Scratching posts allow cats to engage in another natural behavior: vigorous, enthusiastic scratching. Reese suggests posts with toys and bells attached for added entertainment.
Hands-free mobile teasers connect to surfaces such as windows or countertops, offering many of the benefits of wand toys. For independent play, Burch suggests KONG’s Connects Cat Toys.
Daily, interactive play is essential for keeping your cat healthy and happy. The good news is that it’s fun – both for you and your pet! With the right cat toys and a little practice, you’ll be a play pro in no time.