The Importance of Play for Cats
Play is something you may think cats can and will do all by themselves without any assistance from cat parents. Actually, cats don’t get enough beneficial playtime due to many factors such as stress, boredom, fear, lack of environmental enrichment, the family’s busy schedule, and more. Playtime is so good for cats mentally, physically, and emotionally, yet many aren’t getting an adequate amount. Let’s look at some reasons why it’s important to provide playtime for cats.
The most obvious benefit is that play is good exercise for maintaining physical health and aids in preventing weight gain. Cats are hunters and were born to move. For indoor cats (which is the safest environment for cats), there is often a lack of exercise and stimulation. Playtime provides that necessary outlet so cats can work off energy, maintain mobility, keep in good physical condition, and safely engage their natural prey drive. For older cats, playtime can help stimulate cognitive function and maintain physical mobility by safely and gently working those stiff muscles and joints. For kittens, playtime helps them learn about their emerging physical skills and abilities, while teaching them to direct those sharp little teeth at the toy and not a human family member. That lesson will pay off big-time as they mature into adult felines.
Bonding with Your Cat
For fearful cats, interactive playtime allows them to stay within their comfort zone and yet still enjoy the game. The use of a wand toy means you can build trust at the cat’s pace and comfort level. Playtime builds confidence as the cat experiences the joy of stalking and pouncing. If you have a scared cat, the more he ventures out of hiding to go after the toy, the more confident he’ll feel the next time. Regularly scheduled and frequent playtime builds on the previous sessions to help your cat feel in control and comfortable. Successfully “capturing” prey helps your cat positively associate with your presence and the immediate environment. Whether you’ve just adopted your first cat or you’re trying to enrich the life of a longtime cat family member, playtime strengthens the bond between the two of you.
Let’s face it, everyone is busy and there are so many demands on your time. It’s not surprising that cats end up bored. This can result in a cat finding destructive or unhealthy outlets. Playtime keeps the cat stimulated and engaged in a healthy, constructive way. It gives kitty the opportunity to engage cognitive and physical skills. Endorphins are released during playtime and those good brain chemicals go a long way in battling boredom and stress.
Playtime can be a valuable tool to help avoid behavior problems or address current behavior challenges such as aggression, intercat conflict, fearful behavior, and stress. In a multicat home, interactive playtime can help redirect energy in a positive way toward the toy instead of one cat picking on another. Playtime is useful during new cat introductions to help cats stay distracted, so they don’t focus intensely on each other while at the same time, helping to develop a positive association. If you have a cat who displays aggression toward you, in addition to addressing the underlying cause of the problem, incorporate interactive playtime. Use a wand toy to keep a safe distance between you and the cat while giving him an outlet for pent-up energy. This will also reinforce that the toy is the appropriate target for biting and pouncing.
Cats rely on familiarity and predictability in life. They don’t like abrupt changes and yet often, they are faced with the unexpected. It could be a move to a new home, the addition of a new family member, new pet, schedule change, you name it. Life changes all the time in ways you can’t always predict or avoid. The comfort of daily playtime with the toys your cat enjoys can help ease him through those upheavals a little better.
Fun for Everyone
With interactive playtime, you can customize the game to fit your cat’s age, cognitive ability, and physical mobility. The way you play with an energetic young kitten differs from the technique used for a senior cat with limited motion. The point is that they can each enjoy playtime in a way specifically suited to them. Choose a toy based on preferences you think your cat may have such as texture, movement, size, or sound. A timid cat may prefer a smaller toy that seems easier to conquer, whereas a confident cat may like more of a challenge. No matter what toy you choose, it’s the movement that makes a difference. Move the toy across or away from the cat’s visual field to stimulate the play response. Don’t dangle the toy in the cat’s face because that’s not how prey would normally act. Move like prey so your cat can react as the mighty hunter. Engage in interactive play sessions at least twice a day for about 15 minutes each. I know you’re busy but isn’t it worth investing 30 minutes a day for your cat’s physical, emotional and mental health? Playtime is a vital part of cat life disguised as just plain fun. Guess what? It’s also fun for you as well.