Play is an intriguing behavior. Scientists even speculate on its function. Since all species seem to engage in play on some level, it must fulfill an important need. It might prepare youngsters for future tasks such as hunting or fighting. It certainly serves to refine communication skills between participants, and it offers an opportunity for aerobic exercise.
But the main reason we play is quite simply that playing is, by definition, fun. Play is a treat that we can and should offer to our cats. Naturally we cannot engage in precisely the same games that cats play with one another. What is the best way to provide play?
The first step is to establish some ground rules. No one should get hurt or be frightened. If a cat hisses, bites, or runs away, then the game should be discontinued.
Another important rule is that human body parts should not be used as substitutes for toys. That is to say, a cat should not be encouraged to grab or chase hands, fingers or legs. A pony tail is not a toy. The bottom line is that cats cannot help the fact that they are predators. The drive to hunt is a powerful one, and even the most sophisticated housecat can become a skilled huntress at the sight of a tiny mouse. It is not at all uncommon for cats to stalk hands or legs or to pounce forcefully onto a long braid. Even with absence of malice, harm can be done. An ounce of prevention will serve you well. Encourage your cat to play with appropriate toys.
Select an Appropriate Toy
First, a toy must be safe, not only for the cat but for other household pets (and children). Since many cats are tempted to ingest long strings, do not encourage your cat to play with spools of yarn or necklaces. If there is a dog in the home, small plastic toys should be picked up when cat playtime is over.
Second, a toy must be interesting to the cat. Just because your cat does not play with the toy inside a package labeled “cat toy” does not mean that your cat does not want to play at all. Trial and error will reveal your own cats preferences. Prepare to donate a few rejected toys to a local animal shelter. Keep in mind that some cats will prefer the wrapper to the contents inside.
Indeed, cats often prefer to play with non-traditional toys. Experiment with large and small stuffed toys. Offer paper wrappers and toilet paper cylinders. If your cat is generally calm and gentle, a hair scrunchie may be offered. Use discretion – you dont want your cat pouncing onto your childrens heads while they are doing their homework.
Let your cat choose the name of the game. Some cats like to stalk; others prefer to chase. Some cats seek moving targets on the ground, while others prefer to leap through the air.
Once you have discovered your cats pleasure, the next challenge will be to insure that you have enough time for play. It may be convenient to simply incorporate games into your routine.
The office game. Dont recycle that crumpled up piece of paper so quickly. Paper balls make wonderful toys. Experiment with the texture and color of the paper. Vary the size of the ball. Toss the paper for your cat to chase or even fetch. Attach the ball to a pencil wand and let your cat dance about while you check your Email.
The shopping game. Cats find paper bags and cardboard boxes intriguing. As you empty the groceries, hide a catnip mouse or tiny treat-filled ball in each bag. For the cat that prefers larger prey, hide a stuffed animal. Punch some holes in the boxes to create a maze leading to a prize.
Playing House. While you walk through the house, straightening or checking for dust bunnies, carry some ping pong balls in your pocket. Toss them about randomly. You might even roll one under the bed. (If your cat comes out dusty, you had better clean some more!) If you are concerned about losing the tiny balls, use a whiffle ball instead. Tie it to a rope and bounce it about for your cat to chase.
The Joy of Dishwashing. Buy a bottle of bubbles and save the wand. Let your cat bat bubbles while you wash your dishes.
The possibilities are limitless. Get to know your cat. Be creative. Playing enriches the lives of all participants.