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A Guide to Playing with Cats

Published date: 06 March 2024

Our cats are programmed to hunt and exhibiting these natural hunting behaviours helps keep them happy! Every part of the hunting process from the stalking, pouncing, and chasing to killing, releases endorphins (feel-good hormones) in your cat’s brain.

Play is the perfect way of supporting these natural hunting instincts and will allow your cat to get that ‘hunting high’, without harming wildlife. Not only this but proper playtime provides needed mental and physical exercise and is fun for both cat and owner.

Sometimes it can seem like a challenge to get your cat up and active. So here are some tips to help keep your cat engaged during playtime.

Introduce new toys slowly

Show your kitty how the toy works and allow them to interact when they are ready. With a toy mouse, for example, demonstrate the movement by waggling the toy gently on the floor. This will start piquing your cat’s natural curiosity and build up excitement!

Make it Realistic

The purpose of play, especially with adult cats is to mimic the natural hunting process. Make the toy act like a real mouse or bird! Prey should run away, vary speed and direction of movement, hide around corners, and suddenly freeze! Subtle movements are the most effective and reflect real-life prey.

Use their Instincts

Cats are ambush predators, which means their method of hunting involves sneaking up and jumping out at unsuspecting animals. Pop out some boxes and a stylish cat tunnel to show off your cat’s natural stealth skills.

Set the Mood

If you are able to, try dimming the lights during playtime. Cats naturally hunt during lower light when their main prey (mice) are most active, therefore lower light can stimulate hunting mode.

Use a Variety of Toys

Introduce your cat to a variety of toys and enrichment opportunities. Remember every toy has been designed to reflect prey in some way. Toy mice and soft animal-shaped toys mimic the feel of prey in the mouth. The crinkly material found in many of these cat toys mimics the sound and feel of bone, which is a natural and important sensory stimulation for cats.

Jingly and soft balls are great for encouraging your cat’s natural chase instinct, plus the sound and texture can reflect real-life prey.

Dangly toys on strings act like flying prey and encourage cats to leap and attempt to grab.

Larger toys will encourage cats to attack as they would bigger prey in the wild, by pinning and raking their back claws along the toy’s belly. By using all these types of toys, your cat can show off all their impressive modes of attack.

How to play with an older cat?

Playing is not just for kittens, cats of all ages benefit from regular exercise and playtime.

Don’t expect too much of an older cat, as chances are they aren’t as nimble as they once were. Batting at an object with a paw, running a small distance or pouncing less energetically on something is still playing.

Remember toys such as danglers are high energy, so for senior cats, the way you play with them should be modified to the cats’ abilities. Rather than swooping above their head, instead, waggle the toy at ground level, or secure the toy so it is dangling down for easy batting.

High-quality catnip can be a great way to perk up your older feline and get them more interested in play!

For more cat advice check out our guide on Keeping Cats Happy.

Written by Lucy Marcham

Lucy teaches all aspects of the Pets Corner curriculum and specialises in animal nutrition, ensuring that our staff have the right knowledge and understanding of pet diets to assist customers with confidence and care.