Tuesday, 25 August 2020

How to encourage your cat to play

Whether your cat is a furry bundle of energy or more of a chilled out moggy, it’s important that they have the opportunity to show their playful side. 

As well as being great for their physical health – all that running, jumping and pouncing helps to prevent them from becoming a bit chonky – play is also great for their mental wellbeing. Not only does it keep boredom at bay but catching objects also releases happy hormones in their brain, which is why they want to do it again and again... and again.  

black cat lying upside down holding a multi-coloured feather toy

Setting aside some time to play with your cat is a great way to strengthen the bond between you. If your cat is quite shy, gently encouraging them to play will help build their confidence and they’ll learn to associate those happy hormones with spending time with you. If your cat is quite hyperactive already, then regular play sessions will hopefully wear them out a bit, so they’ll be more relaxed later and might even give you a chance at a lie in. 

There are lots of different ways you can encourage your cat to play, here are a few ideas…

Types of play to try with your cat 

Interactive play

Cats are very sensitive to movement, so toys you can move along the floor or dangle in the air will really help to grab their attention. This is why fishing rod toys are so perfect, because you can use them to mimic the prey cats normally hunt in the wild. Try dragging the string away from your cat along the floor and watch your cat wriggle their bum in preparation to pounce. 

GIF of black-and-white cat playing with fishing rod toy

It’s important to let your cat catch the toy every so often, as this will motivate them to keep playing. Toys such as laser pens can be frustrating for cats as they are unable to actually catch the dot on the floor, which means those happy hormones aren’t released in their brain. 

Another thing to avoid is grabbing your cat’s attention with your wiggling fingers or toes, as this will be quite painful when they decorate your digits with claw or teeth marks. For more advice on how to prevent inappropriate play, watch our video.

Solo play

two black-and-white kittens playing with a ball

Your cat will only need a few short play sessions throughout the day, but if you’re pushed for time then there are a few toys your cat can play with by themselves. 

Ping pong balls or rolled up pieces of tin foil are ideal as they will move quite a distance on their own once your cat gives them an initial prod. Leave a few in rooms with hard floors so your cat can have fun batting them around and skidding after them. 

If your cat is partial to a bit of catnip, then toys stuffed or sprayed with this feline friendly substance will naturally get them sniffing, pouncing and rolling around with glee. 

GIF of brown tabby cat rolling around with catnip toys

Feeding play

As well as movement, food also tends to be a good motivator for cats so try combining playtime with dinnertime. 

Puzzle feeders and other feeding enrichment toys encourage your cat to work a bit for their food, providing more physical and mental stimulation than simply using a food bowl. 

GIF of tortoiseshell cat playing with mouse-shaped feeding ball

There are lots of these toys you can buy in pet shops and online, but you can also easily make your own by recycling items you’d usually throw away, such as toilet roll tubes and egg boxes. Watch our video to find out how. 

Training play

GIF of two tabby-and-white cats jumping over pack of toilet roll on command
Follow Bruce and Clark the kittens on Instagram

It’s not just dogs that can learn new tricks. Cats can be trained to do all sorts of things, from the basics like going through a cat flap to more ambitious feats like jumping over obstacles and even playing noughts and crosses!

As long as the training is done using positive reinforcement, such as offering a treat or fuss when they get it right, then it can be a great bonding experience that’s fun for both of you. Just remember to be patient with your trainee and keep the sessions short to give them a break every now and then.

GIF of two tabby-and-white cats playing noughts and crosses with their owner
Follow Bruce and Clark the kittens on Instagram

For lots of ideas for how you can train your cat, take a look at our blog series

For lots more advice on how to play with your cat visit www.cats.org.uk/cats-and-play

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