Perhaps the most endearing characteristic about kittens is their propensity for play; every kitten seems to be hard-wired to appear especially cute and to play unabashedly. It isnt until youve been awakened at midnight with little kitty claws batting at your toes, however, that you begin to realize the very real need kittens have
Its not just something they do to fill the time; they will set their alarms two hours early to ensure that they have plenty of play practice time! And, just like any small child, if a kitten is not given plenty of appropriate ways to play, he will find even more inappropriate ways.
Dr. Julia Albright, Resident in Animal Behavior at Cornell Universitys College of Veterinary Medicine, explains why play is essential for kittens. “It provides social interaction, exercise and appropriate expenditure of energy. Cats are very good at finding inappropriate means of expending exuberance (i.e. attacking your leg!) if not given object play. It also allows them to learn bite inhibition; orphaned kittens are often very aggressive and bite very hard as adults.” Dr. Albright relates that, “Play involves components of adult behavior such as hunting (stalking, pouncing, biting, etc.) and is hypothesized to be practicing of these skills.” So it is extremely important to provide appropriate outlets for a kittens seemingly endless desire to play if you want a well-adjusted addition to your family.
At the pet store, you will undoubtedly be faced with not only hundreds but perhaps even thousands of choices. No one wants to waste money on a cat toy that just sits around collecting dust bunnies. Dr. Albright offers some direction when making out your shopping list: “There are lots of great toys out there – feathers on poles or strings, fishing pole-type toys, battery-operated mice or moving toys, catnip-laced toys (for those cats that respond to it), and, my favorite, treat-dispensing toys.” Treat-dispensing toys for small dogs (Kongs, Premiers Twist n Treat) can also be used for cats, although they may be too big for kittens. “I tell people to save their money on all those little balls and mice; most adult cats could care less about stationary items. They really need you to interact or make the toy move,” says Dr. Albright.
Dr. Albright explains, “You dont have to spend a fortune, though. Homemade toys like empty paper towel rolls stuffed with kibble (just cap the ends with masking tape and poke a few holes so the kibble can fall out when its rolled around) and even hiding food around the house so the cat can hunt are great ways to entertain.” A simple piece of tin foil or paper wadded up into a ball can provide hours of fun for many kittens, and a makeshift pole toy can also be made with common household items.
There are a few toys that should be avoided, however. Dr. Albright warns against using human body parts as toys: “There is something in the genetic makeup of some people that makes them take their hand and grab and shake a cats head and neck. The cat then goes into the bite-grab-back-leg-bunny-kick thing. This is not an appropriate way to play with a cat. They should not learn that human skin is an appropriate target! Always use toys to get the cat to chase and pounce.”
Some Dangerous Playthings
Dr. Albright also warns against the use of any loose string, tinsel, yarn, or thread. “Cats can swallow the string and it can cause a nasty type of blockage that pleats the intestines like an accordion; then the stringy item can slice through the intestinal walls,” she says. So be vigilant about picking up pieces of string and tinsel – especially during the holidays with tinsel, ribbon, and Easter grass – and you may save yourself an emergency visit to the veterinarian.
While it may not eliminate your kittens midnight wake-up call, offering plenty of appropriate outlets for play will help ensure that you have a healthy, happy, well-adjusted kitty. And that is truly one of the simple pleasures in life.