Everyone knows that cats sleep for about 15 hours per day, but did you know that cats need at least 30 minutes of vigorous play every day? Being a playful cat is beneficial for cats both mentally and physically. Having great options for play in your home could be the secret to improving your relationship with your cat too.
5 Benefits of Being a Playful Cat
In the wild, cats are able to get all the exercise their body needs to stay healthy through their hunting. Once we take cats into our homes, they no longer need to hunt and there is a need for play as a substitute form of exercise. Playing can keep all of those muscles working and your cat’s brain functioning optimally. Also, domestic cats are increasingly becoming obese. A playful cat is getting exercise that can help the cat maintain a healthy weight.
- Beating boredom.
Cats get bored too. Just like in humans, long stretches of boredom can turn into lethargy or worse – depression. Playing with your cat can help beat the blues!
- Bonding with you and your other pets.
Playing with your cat is a way to spend time with them and let them get to know you. During play, cats learn that you are friendly, fun and that they can trust you. They can also learn to bond with your other pets through play.
- Confidence building.
Creating a warm environment in play can build up your cat’s confidence in its own abilities. Play allows your cat to practice using their limbs and mouth to reach and hold things, pouncing, jumping, running, and interacting with others. Being a confident cat takes a lot of practice!
- Relief from anxiety.
There are many things in a home environment that can cause stress to a cat – loud noises, visitors, other animals, unusual smells, changes in routine, etc. In cats, anxiety can manifest itself in behaviors that humans tend to consider to be “bad” behaviors like marking territory with urine, aggressive behavior, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Play allows built up anxiety to be relieved much the same as exercise can release anxiety in humans.
Should I play with my cat?
You should absolutely play with your cat! However, both interactive play and solo play are beneficial to cats. A playful cat will likely want and enjoy both types of play.
Engaging with your cat for play helps your cat psychologically. Unlike solo play toys or automated toys, you have a mind and a will of your own. You can see what your cat is doing and respond accordingly. As your cat becomes more skilled, you can make “the hunt” more challenging for them. Your praise and companionship make you a great playmate too.
It isn’t always easy to fit in all of the interactive play your cat needs in one sitting. Try breaking up the 30 minutes of playtime into multiple shorter sessions ( 2 play sessions of 15 minutes each or 3 play sessions of 10 minutes each). Kittens may require shorter, more frequent play sessions than adult cats do. Having other pets that can play with your cat is helpful as well.
How to Play With a Cat
- Be the prey.
The idea when playing with your cat is to be the “prey” that they are hunting. Use toys to mimic the behaviors of common cat prey. Think of how a mouse runs around or how a bird flutters in the air. Wiggle the toy as you move it back and forth in front of the cat. Make sudden, short stops.
- Play at the pace of your cat.
In order to feel confident playing the game, your cat needs time to think about and plan their moves. Let the cat capture the toy occasionally.
- Don’t forget the cool down.
If your cat is really riled up, don’t suddenly stop playing. Slow things down like a cool down in exercise. Let the cat get one last “win” before you finish.
- Be the keeper of the toys.
Make sure that any toys with long strings are kept out of the cat’s reach when you are not using them to play with your cat. It would be horrible for your cat to swallow or become entangled in any of that string while your back is turned. Always consider the safety risks of leaving a toy out with an unsupervised cat before leaving them out. Leave out some toys for solo play, but consider putting away some of the toys you use for interaction to keep them special.
- Clearly define “toys”.
If there is something you don’t want your playful cat to play with, don’t use it when engaging in interactive play. When you use something during play, the cat learns that it is a toy. Cat behavior specialists recommend not allowing cats to play with your hands because they could cause some damage to you when they bite or scratch.