Got the blues?
If you can answer yes to any of those questions, then your cat probably can, too.
I have the solution for both of you:
Dust off those cat toys and get busy playing!
The perks of play:
- Stress reduction: If Kitty is stressed, behavior problems may arise (i.e., house soiling, furniture scratching). Regular play sessions can improve your cat’s sense of well-being and relax you.
- Exercise: Cats need routine exercise, just like we do. Play is a great workout for your furry couch potato. If Kitty is overweight and sedentary, talk with your veterinarian about the healthiest way to gradually increase your cat’s activity level.
- Relief from boredom: Trouble awaits the bored cat who must resort to self-entertainment. Natural but unwanted behaviors such as household destruction and ankle ambushes can result. It’s especially important that indoor-only cats live in a stimulating environment enriched by toys and interactive play.
- Keep the peace: If your cat behaves undesirably or begins to bully a housemate cat, distract him with an interactive toy (see below). This positive approach allows you to resolve a problem and reduce tensions in a multi-cat household — all while preserving your relationship with Kitty. Certainly, punishment can be detrimental to this relationship, in addition to increasing unwanted behaviors. Physical punishment is especially destructive. Step away from the spray bottle and pick up a cat toy.
- Bonding between human and cat: You and Kitty can spend quality time enjoying each other’s company — with the help of a few toys.
How to play with your cat:
- Choose an interactive toy. One that you can dangle or drag for Kitty to chase is perfect. My favorite is “The Cat Dancer.” I haven’t known a cat to turn it down yet! To preserve this toy’s entertainment value, put it away after playtime.
- Hands are not cat toys. If you encourage your kitten or cat to bite, scratch or pounce on you in play, he will learn to use his teeth and claws on you whenever the mood strikes him.
Think: Do I really want to encourage this behavior?
- Play with your cat when he is most active. Choose a time when the environment is calm. Several short (10-15 minutes) play sessions throughout the day are ideal. Routine pre-bedtime sessions can help cure the “nighttime crazies.” A tired cat is more likely to allow you to get a good night’s sleep.
- Match play styles to your cat’s personality. Each cat naturally prefers and excels at unique types of play (jumping, stalking, chasing, pouncing.) Some coaxing may be necessary to entice a wallflower kitty into play. Don’t force the issue by harassing your cat with toys. Instead, patiently and gently experiment until you pique your cat’s interest.
- Gift Kitty the thrill of the hunt. Let him capture his “prey,” rather than always keeping the toy just out of reach. This prevents frustration and disinterest, while boosting his self-confidence. For those reasons, laser pointer toys are a no-no. While the human lazily sits still to operate the laser, Kitty never catches the dot. It’s frustrating beyond reason for your furry little predator. Get off the couch and play with your cat.
- Keep a variety of safe toys available. This environmental enrichment invites Kitty to self-amuse when you can’t play. Crumpled balls of paper, paper bags, cardboard boxes, and ping pong balls can provide hours of fun. (If you have a dog, don’t allow her access to small cat toys.)
Keep it interesting: Exchange these toys with others every other day, and add some treats to the toys for Kitty to discover. Often, get on the floor with Kitty to play with these items. Otherwise, they will be pretty boring — from your cat’s point of view.
Play is simple, fun therapy for you and your cat. So get going!
“When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?”
— Michel De Montaigne