The Importance of Playtime for Cats

playtime_with_cats

Cats have a reputation for being low maintenance, which is probably one of the many reasons why they have surpassed dogs as the most popular pet in America. Unfortunately, because of this reputation, many people think cats don’t need as much attention as dogs do. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Play is vitally important to a cat’s mental and physical health, and it’s especially important for indoor cats. Even though cats may sleep up to 16 hours a day, when they’re awake, they need stimulation, and the best way to accomplish this is with play. In the wild, when lions, tigers and other wild cats aren’t sleeping, they’re either hunting, or teaching their young to hunt. And play is nothing more than channelling your domestic tiger’s hunting instinct into play.

Benefits of Play

  • Exercise. Obesity is the number one health problem in cats. According to a recent survey, 55% of America’s cats are overweight or obese. In addition to feeding a species-appropriate raw or canned diet, exercise is the best way to keep your feline charges fit and trim.
  • Relief of boredom. Cats who don’t get challenged or entertained get bored, which can lead to depression. This can be a problem especially for single cats. I learned this the hard way when Amber died shortly after I adopted Allegra as a 7-month-old kitten. We both learned together what it takes to keep a single cat happy.
  • Stress relief. You may wonder what our pampered house cats could possibly be stressed about. Feline stressors range from changes in their environment to picking up on stress from their humans. One of the best ways to counteract stress in cats is through regular playtime.
  • Help with behavioral challenges. If you watch Jackson Galaxy on My Cat from Hell, you will have noticed that “play therapy” is part of Jackson’s recommendations in almost every case he tackles.
  • Increase of the bond between cat and human, and between cats in the same household. Cats chasing each other and playing with each other is a great way to build a bond between cats in the same household. Playing with interactive toys is a wonderful way to increase the bond between you and your cat.

Creative Playtime for Cats

Toys that simulate play and satisfy a cat’s innate hunting drive will be most effective for creating a fun play experience for your cat that also helps her burn off excess energy. Even though there are lots of cute little catnip filled toys on the market, simply placing one in front of your cat and hoping that she’ll play with it doesn’t work with most cats.

Interactive, fishing pole type toys such as the Neko Flies or DaBird are the best way to get your cat playing with you, and to satisfy her hunt/prey instinct. Certified Cat Behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett provides wonderful advice on how to make all the right moves with interactive toys in her article on Interactive Play Therapy:

How you move the interactive toy is important. Don’t wave it around frantically just to give your cat an aerobic workout. That’s not how cats naturally hunt. Stick to what’s natural for your cat. In the wild, a cat would stalk her prey while staying as quiet and invisible as possible. She would inch closer and closer and then, when she gets within striking distance, she would pounce. Cats don’t have the lung capacity to chase to exhaustion so don’t conduct marathons throughout the house. Move the toy like prey, alternating between fast and slow motions so it gives your cat time to plan her next move. Here’s a tip: movements that go away from or across your cat’s visual field will trigger her prey drive. Don’t dangle the toy in her face or move it toward her.

Interactive puzzle toys can be a great way to keep your cats entertained and mentally stimulated when you can’t play with them. The toys are designed to be filled with treats, and they challenge kitty to retrieve the treats through varied openings in the toys.

Rotate toys in and out. Don’t keep the same toys out in the same spot all the time – this will almost guarantee that your cats will get bored with them. Put some toys away for a week or two, and then bring them out again. Your cats will think they got a brand new toy. Of course, you don’t want to do this if your cat has a favorite toy that she plays with all the time. I’ve turned my family room into a giant kitty playroom. There’s is no human furniture in the room, only cat trees, scratchers, and a ton of cat toys. Every once in a while, I’ll take some things away, bring out others, and rearrange everything to keep Allegra and Ruby interested.

Cat toys don’t need to be expensive. To a cat, almost everything can become a toy: grocery bags with the handles cut off, boxes, toilet paper rolls, milk carton tops, tissue paper – in a cat’s mind, these were all just made to be played with. Some cats enjoy chasing bubbles, or batting Q-tips around the bathtub. Think like a cat, and you may be surprised at the things you already have in your home that make the purr-fect cat toy.

Make time for one or two play sessions, 10-20 minutes in length, each day. You and your kitties will find that you’ll look forward to these session every day.

How do your cats like to play?

30 Comments on The Importance of Playtime for Cats

  1. Sean
    February 2, 2017 at 1:44 pm (10 months ago)

    Awesome article. I wish more cat owners understood this. Hey – you guys should do a full review/comparison article of wand-style or “fishing” rod type toys for play therapy. Neko and Da Bird are great – but I’m sure a lot of cat owners (like me) need more choices and you guys give really good advice.

    My boys are male main coons, so they’re pretty aggressive and powerful in how they play. Da Bird works – it got my grumpiest, Romeo, to come out of his shell and regain his confidence after I adopted him. But the dang thing kept breaking. I found that the Da Bird wasn’t strong or tough enough. I spent waaay too much money getting replacement parts, or buying new toys altogether. (And just so you know – I never let my cats chew on their wand toys, ever. My cat’s destroyed the da bird simply in their pouncing, swatting, and grabbing the lure in the course of normal play therapy sessions)

    The Da Bird style of toy really works in triggering the natural hunting instincts, exercising your cat’s aggression, and helping them be calm and confident the rest of the day. So I’ve done a lot of research and looked everywhere for da bird alternatives. There aren’t very many reviews/comparisons out there so I had to figure a lot out on my own.

    I’ve tried a bunch of different alternatives, but I keep coming back to the Cat Tamboo Flyers (cattamboo.com).

    My second favorite alternative to the Da Bird is the Freddie’s Feather Wand. It’s much smaller (so easer to travel with I guess) but it doesn’t get the same response from my cats as the Cat Tamboo toys. It’s the classic wand-style with a string. Great materials, good, sturdy construction, but it’s harder to entice your cat and give the feathers a really realistic movement.

    Reply
  2. MinneMo
    December 3, 2016 at 2:18 am (12 months ago)

    I had three socks that lost their mates, so I stuffed the largest one with the others and some catnip and ran a seam across the opening. My cat loves it because it is still light enough to toss and bat around by himself but big enough that he can hold it with his front paws and kick it with his hind feet. Bonus: it is just big enough that it disappear under appliances like most little catnip toys. I’ve made several now. My family is happy to give me their stray socks.

    Reply
    • MinneMo
      December 3, 2016 at 2:19 am (12 months ago)

      Doesn’t disappear under appliances…

      Reply
  3. Pamela C
    December 27, 2013 at 7:28 am (4 years ago)

    Ingrid, you’re making me laugh. This is my 2nd Cat family, from one litter. I’m trying to be a much better caretaker this time. On a limited budget it’s very hard. BUT, one thing I can tell you when you keep a litter together there is NEVER a problem with playtime. All my boys think swatting their sister’s tails is the best play in town~ Bad Boys. Even at 3 I still have too many sleepless nights with cats running up and down their wall of wine boxes. But, it’s better than being woken up by an alcoholic who tells you she is going to die and maybe take you with her, which is what I did as a child with an alcoholic mother. Play is not a problem, following script is, well I’m not writing any screenplays for them.

    Reply
  4. Louanne hunnicutt
    September 25, 2013 at 9:04 pm (4 years ago)

    Our cat loves chasing bugs that get in the house and pipe cleaners. She throws it in the air, chases it for quite a while before getting bored.

    Reply
  5. Kari
    September 25, 2013 at 4:48 pm (4 years ago)

    We have two rescues, a girl and a boy (siblings) that we adopted at 8 weeks old, and they are now about 18 months old.
    My girl, Brie, loves a crumpled up Post-It note over anything else. We play fetch with it at least twice a day, and if that’s not often enough for her, she’ll take it into the bathtub for some “indoor soccer” for a while.
    Her brother, Zach, loves the little balls with a rattle or bell inside, and if it has feathers sticking out, well that is just top notch in his eyes. He loves to throw it in the air and leap after it all over the house. And when he’s not into that, he loves to play “chase me” – when he lets me catch him, he gets lots of pets and kisses and purrs up a storm.
    Also, they both love wand toys. We use those at night to get them tuckered out before bedtime.

    Reply
  6. robin
    September 25, 2013 at 3:00 pm (4 years ago)

    Our youngest cat, a little over a year old, plays ball with us. We got him a couple fabric nerf balls for the pool. We throw it gently to him and he bats it back, like we are playing catch. It is so cute.

    Reply
  7. biker mike
    September 25, 2013 at 12:30 pm (4 years ago)

    and my bengal cat loves to play fetch with her fav toy mouse,,, but at 3 am

    Reply
  8. biker mike
    September 25, 2013 at 12:25 pm (4 years ago)

    A plastic straw can entertain a cat for hours

    Reply
  9. Linda
    September 25, 2013 at 11:46 am (4 years ago)

    my pal Sophie is a ground cat, she is very smart and gets bored with toy quickly even the lazer light. She only uses the scratching post of her tree post and only goes on one of the levels if we put her up there to brush. We try to play with her but often she only does that in short span and often lays there looking at it. She is an only cat, any suggestions on other things that will stimulate her on the ground?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 25, 2013 at 3:05 pm (4 years ago)

      You could try using wand toys and entice her to follow the toy up the cat tree, Linda. Same for stimulating her while on the ground: make it really interesting for her, vary the toys speed, direction, etc.

      Reply
      • Linda
        September 25, 2013 at 5:17 pm (4 years ago)

        Thank you, we have a bunch of wand type toys we even made our own with ribbons tied to the end. For now she likes it but it won’t be long before she tires of it. We have tried to use them to get her to climb/jump on the platforms but she doesn’t go for it. She has several toy baskets and they are full of traditional toy and home made/odd toys and we do change them out. We have had her almost 3 years, she just turned 5 so wanting some other things to try. As Jackson Galaxy would say she needs to own her spaces. We also have 3 beds placed in different area of the house but she has quit using them. She doesn’t like boxes nor sacks, plastic or paper, however she is interested in plastic but only wants to sit on them. I’ve had cats all my life and I’ve had a ground cat, and never had one that didn’t like sacks or boxes. I am at a total loss at what else we can do for her.

        Reply
  10. Michelle
    September 25, 2013 at 11:18 am (4 years ago)

    my cats simply looooooooooove peacock feathers – they’re the bestest best toy ever… welll, very close second to a box 🙂

    Reply
  11. Jenny
    September 25, 2013 at 10:45 am (4 years ago)

    Thanks for the idea about moving the toys and taking toys away for a short time. I think that might solve my problem that my cats don’t seem to want to play anymore. They just sit and watch me play with their toys. I’ll try bringing out some of their old favorites and see if it sparks their interest again.

    Reply
  12. tobeinmt
    September 25, 2013 at 10:36 am (4 years ago)

    Our male cat l-o-v-e-s plastic drinking straws and coffee stirrers. And our female goes nuts for the belt of my robe, other strings and lazers and dangly things she will ignore, but waffle robe belt… oh it is ON! 🙂

    Reply
  13. Heidi
    September 25, 2013 at 10:00 am (4 years ago)

    Sometimes I put all of my kitten’s toys on the top level of his 7 foot tree. He takes them down to ground level one by one. If he throws one down, he has to run down to the floor to tag it and meow, then back up for the next one.

    He’s also discovered that he loves receipts. I guess that paper is the right size and makes the right crinkly noise, so whenever one falls on the floor (or is left on a surface he can reach), he claims it!

    Reply
    • Penny
      September 25, 2013 at 5:12 pm (4 years ago)

      My furbaby George, a Ragdoll, goes nuts when ever the family comes home from shopping. He has to have the receipt. He plays fetch with my hubby for ages with a crushed up receipt. Funny thing is, he won’t play with any other type of paper.
      I do a lot of knitting and crocheting and George chooses what wool he likes and I make him little stuffed balls or toys with the left over scraps.
      I also made him a spider on a crochet chain from wool and use an old knitting needle as the holder. He loves that.
      His most favorite thing to do though is chase any fly that enters the house and is very proud of himself when he catches it.
      He is such a creature of routine that on the odd nights when he doesn’t get playtime at the same time he resorts to becoming the scat cat around the house, running, jumping and staling everything and everyone until he gets his way.
      George rules the house and we have his permission to live here lol
      There are so many other things he enjoys doing that it would take a few pages to list them.
      Have fun with your cats, they really do become your best friend and confidante.

      Reply
  14. Wendy
    September 25, 2013 at 9:49 am (4 years ago)

    Tom and Mary Beth, my cat loves their laser light. One will play for a good amount of time with her’s. Another toy both my cats love is their kick sacks. They can grab and wrestle them and there is a furry tail on them to chase as well.

    Reply
  15. Connie
    September 25, 2013 at 9:12 am (4 years ago)

    I have a rescue cat that is estimated to be around 5yrs old and she doesn’t play. She’s afraid of the cat tree I got for her & all she does is sleep. Is it possible she doesn’t know how to play?… meaning, no one has taken the time so she isn’t understanding what I am doing?

    Thanks,
    Connie

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 25, 2013 at 10:37 am (4 years ago)

      Connie, I think it’s possible that that’s why she doesn’t play. I would work with her. Try to encourage her with treats, catnip, and wand toys.

      Reply
  16. Krista
    September 25, 2013 at 9:09 am (4 years ago)

    My cats love to play hide and seek. They go all over the house looking for me and then when they find me, they run thru the house and hide somewhere for me to find them. It’s a blast!!! Of course they always find me a lot faster than I find them, but it’s good exercise for them and me!!!

    Reply
  17. Liz
    September 25, 2013 at 9:09 am (4 years ago)

    I have three Ragdoll cats.. We have a ritual every evening after dinner… It’s great for them, entertaining for me, and tires them out so they sleep more at nite… Have found the silliest things they love… Put a aluminum foil ball inside an empty water bottle they will bat it around for hours… Dabird is also another fav… Just buy a stick, string and feathers and you can make your own!

    Reply
  18. Tom Randall
    June 19, 2013 at 12:11 pm (4 years ago)

    I agree it is amazing how many people think of cats as low maintenance and essentially taking care of themselves but I can attest that this is true just from the number of people I come across who say things like, I can just leave my cat at home it’ll take care of itself. Agree nothing can be further than the truth.

    We’re currently in a quandery working on trying to find some toys that little Saul likes. He used to like the little mice and the plastic balls, he had one of those rings with the ball inside that he could bat around, he seems to have gotten bored with most of these. It is quickly becoming apparent to us that he is a very smart cat and he figures toys out and gets bored with them easily. For instance he has obviously figured out that the ball in the ring isn’t really going anywhere. We’re also finding out that you don’t want this kitty to get bored, by the gods I’ve never had such a little hellraiser and I’ve had cats since I was a little kid. When he gets bored he will usually jump up on the counters and start playing with stuff up there. I don’t so much mind him up there but when he starts knocking stuff off and I’m constantly having to go out there and figure out what he’s done now I admit it gets a little much. We love the little guy and we want him to be happy and us to be happy so we’re definitely going to have to try some other things. He had a fishing pole type toy that got broken so we’re going to get him another one of those and see if he likes that. The others are easier to please,, they will occasionally play with the balls that are around or with grocery bags and stuff, he’s the hardest to keep entertained right now.

    Best,

    Tom Mary Beth and the furries.

    Reply
  19. The Island Cats
    May 21, 2013 at 7:45 pm (5 years ago)

    Sometimes the simplest thing can be used as a toy. As others have mentioned, my cats love ping pong balls, boxes and bags. My one cat, Ernie, loves to play with the ring that comes off of the plastic milk jug. He will bat it around and throw it in the air until it finally ends up underneath something like the china cabinet and I have to fish it out for him. 🙂

    It was nice meeting you at BlogPaws!

    Sue

    Reply
  20. Sue Brandes
    May 21, 2013 at 5:51 pm (5 years ago)

    My kitties love bags and boxes. I have one kitty that loves daBird. Another loves those toys that look like springs. And all of them love any kind of balls. I have two that love when you chase them around the house. They will chase you back. Their favorite game. And 2 love to play fetch. And of course catnip time I keep my hands to myself. LOL.

    Reply
  21. Joanne
    May 21, 2013 at 9:01 am (5 years ago)

    Ping pong balls in the bathtub!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 21, 2013 at 4:36 pm (5 years ago)

      Great idea, Joanne!

      Reply
  22. Cathy M
    May 21, 2013 at 8:47 am (5 years ago)

    A bit of a surprise that cat are considered low “maintenance”. Your cat is an extension of your family and with that comes a responsibility to make them happy. Play time is one of the most rewarding times with your cat and honest I think they are the most hilarious pets ever. Just my two cent 🙂

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm (5 years ago)

      I agree 100%, Cathy!

      Reply
    • Glenn
      September 25, 2013 at 8:13 pm (4 years ago)

      I don’t play with my cat because he needs playtime… I play with my cat because it’s fun!

      Reply

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