Playing with your cat is a great way to form a bond with her. Cats, like all mammals, engage in play as youngsters and continue to do so even after they have grown up. Play is a complex learning activity that helps kittens develop social relationships and helps them hone their physical and mental skills.
But it is also fun, which is why adult cat continue to do it. You can spend many enjoyable hours just watching with amusement as your cat plays. Watching a cat play is one of the most entertaining pastimes afforded to the cat owner. And playing with your cat can be even better, but first you need to understand how cats play.
A cat’s play takes three forms, though often it is sometimes difficult to separate them.
Social play is how kittens learn to interact with their littermates, their mother, other cats, other household pets, and you. During social play, kittens test their world and learn their place in it. Kittens develop personality traits based on their playful interactions that accompany them into adulthood. As a kitten grows, social play with littermates gives way to social play with their human caregiver(s), assuming that the kitten is adopted into a family and is not simply fending for herself.
Poking, batting, and tossing around small objects are ways that kittens learn about how to deal with prey. During such play sessions they develop the survival skills that they might need if they ever have to provide for themselves. You may see your kitten stomp on her toys, flip them over, and circle them once they land – acts that mimic overpowering and killing a prey animal for food. Object play teaches a cat how the world and things in it feel, what is animate and what is inanimate. She may jump up from her toys as if noxious, invisible rays emanate from them, and then dissolve into fits of sheer delight and discovery.
An active cat is a confident cat. The running and jumping of locomotor play helps a kitten increase strength, coordination, and flexibility. Locomotor play also stimulates a cat’s appetite while helping to keep her physically fit. In addition, locomotor play helps eliminate boredom. An active play session at night can help reduce a cat’s nocturnal perambulations, which otherwise may keep the cat’s owner awake.
In addition to the physical lessons play teaches kittens and cats, play also teaches emotional ones. Kittens learn that playing is just plain fun and that it feels good to run, jump and cavort with other cats and animals, including human ones.
Playing With Your Cat
Playing with your cat can seem like a pretty simple task, but not all cats play alike. Here are a few tips that will make playtime a more fulfilling time for you and your cat, whether you are a first-time cat owner or a feline veteran.
Safety is always first. Some cats will play with nearly everything they can find, whether or not it’s safe for them. Be sure to inspect every toy for loose threads, breakable parts, or bits that can be swallowed accidentally. Don’t forget to make sure that the toy is safe for you too; letting Fluffy nibble on your earrings is probably not a great choice. Many behaviorists suggest against using your hands as a toy as it can encourage cats to nip and scratch them.
Cats respond to different stimuli. Just like humans, cats have individual preferences for what kinds of toys they prefer. Some like toys with jingling bells or crinkly cellophane inside. Other cats go crazy for any toys with a lot of motion or parts that dangle. Some prefer lots of different toys and others like only one type. Spend some time finding out what things make your cat perk up, and you’ll have a better chance of finding a game that they love. A cat wand with detachable ends, such as the Neko Flies wand is an inexpensive way to vary the toys you use with your cat.
Mix it up. The same repeated motion or sound can quickly become boring to your cat. Try waving a cat toy in different patterns, tossing toys down stairs or across a room, and swap out toys occasionally to keep the experience exciting. Vary the speeds with which you flip their kitty wand or drag their toy across the carpet.
Use what you have. Cat toys don’t have to be expensive! In fact, many cat owners claim that their pet’s favorite toys are ones that they have found around the house. Toilet paper tubes, empty boxes, large plastic milk caps, and other household items are some favorite inexpensive toys. Recycle old clothing and other items into cheap and fun cat toys.
Go robotic. Playtime doesn’t have to stop when you’re tired. Automated, interactive toys can often be turned on and left to amuse your cat when you just can’t play anymore. They’re also great for entertainment while you are not home. Some examples of interactive toys are the Panic Mouse, Bolt Laser Toy and the Fling-ama-String which are designed to improve your cat’s mental health and keep them active.
Cycle out your toys. Cats naturally become disinterested with the same old toys. If your cat seems bored with what they have, consider setting those toys aside for a little while rather than throwing them out. After some time has passed, cycle out their current toys with ones that they played with in the past. Chances are, a few months away from their old favorites can remind them of how fun they really were.
Selecting the Right Toys
There are tons and tons of cat toys on the market. But do you know your cat’s toy preference? Is your cat a birder, a mouser, or a bugger? Does your cat prefer toys that mimic birds, mice or catching bugs? There are many types of cat toys made for cats and each cat has his or her own preferences as to what stimulates them to interact.
Favored cat toys mimic predatory acts that cats would perform if they were to hunt for their food. Although your cat may not need to “hunt”, they still enjoy the actions and movements involved with the process of hunting from which they create a form of play. Cats love to chase, pounce, capture, carry, bite and roll around with good cat toys.
Types of Cat Toys
Some cats prefer toys that either mimics the sounds, textures, or movements of prey. Cat toys on the market may be designed to move, vibrate, twitter, squeak or swing simulating “prey” to induce a cat to react and play. Natural substrates such as leather, fur or feathers are popular, however, some cats prefer fabric or substrates that crinkle like plastic or foil. Some kitties like cat toys with no sound while others like squeaks, twitters, chips, or cracks. Other like cat toys that move quickly e.g. very small balls that move across a surface, pieces of kibble that slides a cross the floor, or a laser light on a wall that they “chase.” Many cats love toys that can be tossed up with their paws, swat at and bit! Some cat toys are enriched with catnip to entice play.
How to Figure Out What Kind of Toys Your Cat Likes
Buy several cat toys and roll them or toss them to your cat to determine his or her preference. Watch to see which type of toy is most interesting to your cat. For example, you may see a trend of your cat preferring toys that simulate birds such as bird shaped toys, toys that chirp, toys made of a bird-type substrate (feathers) or toys that create bird-like movements (fluttering toys). Other cats will prefer toys that mimic “catching small rodents,” such as cat toys shaped like mice, toys that squeak, toys made of fur, or toys that have encourage jerking movements. They may also enjoy tossing, biting or carrying their “prey.” Movements that simulate bug catching are a favorite play type of many cats. You can test this by giving your cat a kibble of food to chase, use a laser light on the floor or wall, or by playing with a string with a knot on the end and moving it quickly.
When introducing cat toys, introduce them one at a time. Use different sizes, shapes and textures. Try fur, feathers, fabric and leather. Roll them, toss them, slide them, and move them in different ways and speeds. When using dangling cat toys such as wands or sticks that have a dangling toys, play with your cat by dangling the toy in front of your cat and slowly … move it away. Try the feathery options that fly and mimic bird feather movement. These work really well and will often provoke a “pounce” in cats that like that type of toy or play activity. You might find that you cat likes a crinkle ball that rolls or bounces and makes noise when they “attack” it that simulates some of the movement and sounds of prey.
Once you figure out what your cat prefers, you can vary the sizes and types of cat toys within that category.
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