Cats and Kids: A Recipe for Success

Learn some games that will be fun (and safe) for both the children and the pets in your life.

Cats and kids: A match made in heaven? Perhaps. Some cats are shy or skittish, and prefer to retreat to a safe spot, watching noisy, busy children from a distance. Some cats would not hesitate to swat or bite in order to keep a child from coming too close.

Yet, except when distracted by a sunbeam, or by some birds

Bev Caldwell


fluttering outside the window, most house cats stay close to the family circle. Social cats seek the laps of adults and children alike, enjoying a gentle stroke now and again.

Indeed, petting a cat can be a calming experience. Still, many children want more from their companion. Sometimes, that translates into cats being dressed up in dolls clothing. Okay, there are worse experiences than walking around in a baby bonnet. But being dressed up would probably not qualify for environmental enrichment in the mind of a cat.

Consider that it is possible to offer pleasure to kids and cats alike. After all, both kids and cats love to play. Yet playtime generally sends them in different directions. Why not invent some games that both can enjoy?

Hide and Seek

To play this game, you will need to do a little pretraining so that your cat understands how to begin to seek on cue. Find a treat that your cat will enjoy. Then, cover the treat with your hand and wait for your cat to gently pat your hand. As he reaches toward you, say “find me” and immediately uncover the treat.

Once this step is mastered, stand a few steps away from your cat. Kneel down, and again, as he steps forward, say “find me” and when he reaches your closed hand, give the treat. Little by little, move further away. When your cat is willing to engage in “find me” even as you step into the hallway, or turn the corner, then you are ready to begin to play Hide and Seek.

To start the game, you will need to keep your cat busy while you hide. Ask another family member to distract him by petting him for a moment. Or, set out a tiny mouthful of food in a dish. While your cat takes his little snack, tip toe away to hide. Bring a very delicious treat along with you. When you are out of sight, call out “find me.” How long does your cat take to find you? Keep a notebook to track the hiding places you have tried. Keep your cat guessing.

Play Soccer!

For this game, you will need an item that your cat enjoys batting about. Try a crumpled bit of paper or a small ball with cut-out holes. You will need to fasten the toy to a light leash or wand.

Bev Caldwell


Next, you need to create the soccer field. An area rug would do nicely. A broom handle can be used to mark the goal line.

To begin your game, introduce your cat to his new toy by allowing him to bat it about. Now you can join the game by using the rope or wand to pull the toy forward, bouncing it gently. Encourage your cat to tap the toy as you bounce it along the field. Once your cat reaches the goal line, reward him by making the toy come to life. Let him leap about for a few minutes.

Each day, reduce your input and let your cat do more of the work. Keep the wand attached. Hold the ball still when your cat goes off course, then add more bounce as your cat again turns toward the goal. With practice, you should be able to remove the wand. Let your cat bat the ball to the goal line, then reward him by playing along. Your soccer champ is ready for the team.

There are many games to be invented. Of course children should always be supervised with cats to be sure that the play is appropriate. A cat can be accidentally injured if a child gets a bit too enthusiastic. A child could be injured if a cat is suddenly frightened or hurt.

Some cats are just too timid to participate in play with youngsters. These cats might benefit from some structured desensitization lessons to increase their comfort with having active children nearby. Cats that react aggressively when handled, and cats that become very aroused while playing, should not participate in these games.

But most cats will benefit from the extra time and attention that they can receive. Even if there are no children in your home, you can teach your cat these games. Who knows, maybe one of your neighbors kids needs a cat to love.