Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Importance of Play and Your Cat

Cats are predators who in the wild (or on the streets) hunt and kill smaller animals for food. They practice their hunting skills even as tiny kittens by stalking their littermates and pouncing on them and attacking toys or fingers. If your cat goes outside I’m sure there have been times when they have either brought a dead animal to you, or brought a live animal into the house with them to continue playing with. Even though our domesticated house cats get fed well (sometimes too well) they never lose the urge to hunt.

This urge to hunt or practice their hunting skills is why I feel it is so important to keep toys on hard to keep your cat stimulated. A bored cat – much like a bored dog – will find something to do to fill their hunting needs, usually something destructive. They will knock things off counters or shelves; they will drag clothes or other things else around the house. Keeping toys on hand for your cat when no one is home is very important for your cat’s well being. Walk into a pet store and there is a huge variety of cat toys. I can’t tell you how many toys I’ve bought over the years. What appeals to one cat doesn’t to another.

I feel it’s very important to play with your cat as well. Teasers are great, so are laser pointers. Some cats will actually fetch a ball or toy. When I was in college, I had a cat, Cleo, who would steal my roommate’s ponytail holders. She loved it when I would shoot it across the room. She’d chase after it, pick it up then drop it by my feet to do again. Playing with your cat strengths the bond between you. I think they enjoy showing off their acrobatic skills and hearing your praise. Plus, your cat’s antics can be hilarious. Many times when I play with one cat, one of my other cats will sit back and watch with great interest or jump in and join the fun.

When raising your cat, they might try to bite or scratch your hand or arm, not understanding this hurts you and is unwanted behavior. Keep a plush cat toy on hand so when your cat “attacks” you, you can put the toy in the way so they can redirect their aggression. Praise them when they do.

I have a basket in my dining room I keep the cat toys in. It’s full of balls, plush, catnip toys, fake mice, and “teasers” with feathers and other things on the end of a wand. When I vacuum, I collect the toys from throughout the house and put them back in the basket. Over time, toys will slowly migrate into other rooms. Our black cat, Gonzo, loves to grab one of the wands with feathers from the basket, drag it into the living room when my husband and I are watching TV, and triumphantly drop it in the middle of the room. We verbally praise her mighty hunting skills and prowess. She seems so pleased with herself!

What really reconfirmed my belief in the importance of play was watching a videos of large cats in captivity playing with pumpkins and lounging in cardboard boxes. These lions, tigers and panthers look just like the common house cat playing.

What are some of your cat's favorite toys or games?

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