How to Play with Your Cat

“Cats are great. You don’t have to do anything.”

I’ve heard that said many times. And while you don’t have to take them for hour-long walks to the park 3 times a day, or wash their feet before they come in the house, or apologize to the neighbours because they were barking while you were at work all day, cats do require more attention than perhaps most people think.

Indoor cats need to play. They need it not only for physical exercise but mental stimulation and motivated, rewarding activity. They need to act out their hunting instincts to stay sharp and interested in life or else they can become bored and depressed.

And they need you to get involved. Giving them a toy to play with on their own or shining a red laser dot occasionally isn’t going to cut it.

Where to start?

It’s not that difficult to learn how to play with your cat every day. Experiment with lots of different stimuli to see what they like best. Kodi loves chasing a feathered wand toy and the toy balls covered in fabric that he can carry around. Shorty prefers “mousing” or playing with a small object, specifically one wrapped in foil like the little toy presents you might find at a dollar store. They both love catnip toys. Cut some holes out of a box and you have an instant playstation that you can drag a string throughout inspiring chase. An empty toilet paper roll, a balled-up piece of paper, or even a sock can make a great toy.

And, if you’re up for it, run! It may sound silly, but I actually run through my apartment playing hide and seek with my cats. They get very excited when they see me run and hide and then peek out when I catch them running after me, at which point they freeze as if they weren’t doing anything at all. Not only does it keep them and me active, but it strengthens our bond.

For how long?

Luckily, cats are sprinters not marathoners. They evolved for quick bursts of chasing followed by feeding and then long periods of rest. So that’s the best outline for how you should play with them. Get them to run and chase for a few minutes, or until they show no interest by lying down or hiding under a table. Then announce that it’s treat time or dinner time and feed them. Chances are your kitty will then spend many happy minutes cleaning themselves as they drift off to a nice long slumber on your favourite shirt.

Or, maybe you’ve got a cat like Kodi, who really won’t stop playing until you decide it’s time.

When?

Schedule playtime before mealtime is ideal but I know it can be challenging. Read their behaviour and you’ll start to learn when they most like to play. Kodi will meow a very specific tone when it’s hunting time. He’ll even jump up to a chair I have next to the kitchen cabinet and stare at the place where I keep the feathered wand toy. He’ll meow at me, look at the top of the cabinet, meow at me, turn to the cabinet, and so it goes until I finally give in.

But watch out!

It’s important to monitor their playtime so they stay safe, especially if you’re playing with string, ribbon, feathers, anything they could start to eat and ingest. Never leave them alone with these items, nor any boxes with holes cut in them or bags or enclosures of any kind where they could potentially get stuck. I may leave them unattended for a few minutes at a time while they play boxes or stuff animals that I don’t think will cause them any harm as they often like to play when no one’s around, but I always keep a close eye on them. Also, you don’t want your cat to get used to the toy and see it lying around the house. Remove toys after playtime and bring them out when it’s time to hunt.

What about laser toys?

Shorty and Kodi love the little red laser dot, and Kodi even knows the very sound of it when I pick it up and starts to look for the dot. You may have heard of the caution against using these toys, though, as they could harm a cat’s sensitive eyes if shone directly into them, and that there’s no physical catching sensation that the cat is looking for when chasing it. I only bring out the laser toy very occasionally, maybe once every couple of months, and make sure that as soon as they “catch” it, I tell them what good kitties they are and give them treats. The same goes for flashlights, reflections, or apps on your phone or tablet. Keep their play instinct strong by rewarding them with petting and/or treats when they’ve “caught” the bug.

But when playing the laser or any toy that you can control, trying to make it disappear around a corner or under something will really stimulate you’re cat’s chase instinct. Watch both Shorty and Kodi go nuts when they keep seeing the red dot escape them:

Whatever you do, make sure it’s a fun activity for both you and your cat(s). And listen to what they’re trying to tell you in terms of wanting or not wanting to play and what toys interest them most. Experiment and stay safe!

Do you have any other tips or stories you’d like to share? Any fun toys you think readers would like to know about? Share in the comments below.

8 thoughts on “How to Play with Your Cat

  1. One of my cats will only chase the laser dot if it goes where he thinks it should. So the “game” each time is for me to figure out where he thinks the red dot should be. When I get it wrong he just sits and stares at me. Judging.
    Thanks for taking time to educate people about the function and importance of play time for cats.

  2. My biggest concern is how can I play with my 5 cats when I have disabilities? I live alone so I can’t have someone else play with them. I manage to feed them & take care of their litter boxes but playing pushes me beyond my limits. Do you have any play suggestions I might use?

    1. In that case, a laser pointer would be great! When they “catch” it, be ready to give them treats and tell them what good hunters they are 🙂 Someone on Facebook also posted a cat fishing pole that had a toy mouse attached to it. I’m not sure if that would work as well for you?

  3. our boys (=cats) play with everything. plastic bowl (the packaging of catnip), plastic bag (they always check our groceries), jack always stole the hair elastic band of my daughters, a piece of paper, the rat doll from ikea, etc, etc. of course we always keep an ete on everything they play with. i never knew having cats is so enjoyfull!

  4. Thank you Rob for this very helpful post! I have two black cats, Isabella and Yasberry, who are older girls now. I love the tip on putting the toys away after playing with them. I bought them some new toys for Christmas and I have been enjoying some wonderful times with my furry kids! Merry Christmas to you and Shorty and Kodi!

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