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The Importance of Play for You and Your Cat

By KristenSeymour on Oct. 10, 2017

There’s little that will put a smile on a cat parent’s face like the sight of their kitty batting a toy around with abandon. Watching a frisky feline fly through the air after a feather on a string or pounce on a crumpled up piece of paper is pure delight. These playful activities aren’t just amusing—they’re also important for your cat’s health and for bonding with you, too. Read on to learn why playing is so important, plus discover the different types of play you can try with your cat.

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3 Reasons Play is Good for Your Cat

1. Exercise
Most cats have it pretty easy. They sleep whenever—and wherever—they want, they’re fed on a regular basis and they typically have nothing to fear (other than maybe that dastardly vacuum). While a life of leisure sounds enviable, it can easily lead to weight gain, which can lead to numerous other serious health issues such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. Encouraging play encourages movement, and the more active your kitty is the better!

2. Instincts
Even though your cat probably doesn’t have to hunt for food, but they still need an outlet for that unspent energy. A great way to expend this extra energy is through play such as stalking, chasing and pouncing. If not provided the appropriate outlets, a cat may release their energy though undesirable behaviors such as scratching furniture or shredding curtains. Wouldn’t you prefer your cat scratch a post instead of your curtains?

3. Bonding
Some cats are innately affectionate with humans, but others may not be so trusting. Short play sessions—especially when paired with positive reinforcement such as yummy treats—provide your kitty with a predictable and enjoyable way to interact with you. Seeing your cat come running when you grab their favorite toy is gratifying—even if she recently left a present in your favorite shoe.

games-to-play-with-your-cat (1).jpgGames to Play With Your Cat

There are a few basic types of play that tap into cats’ instincts.

Pounce games
If your cat ever pounces on your moving feet when they are covered by your comforter, he may have an affinity for pounce games. This type of play involves moving an item under something soft, such as a blanket or towel, so your cat can leap onto it and attack. Your cat may prefer pouncing on a moving object as it glides past a favorite hiding place (such as under the bed or behind a door) or chasing it before pouncing. Be careful if you use your hands or feet since claws can easily penetrate the blanket and your socks aren’t likely to provide much protection. A wand toy or a small ball fastened to a string works too; just pull it around beneath the covering or past the hiding spot. You may also try rolling a ball and your cat may retrieve it for you. You’d be surprised by how many cats love to fetch!

Leaping games
Got a high-flying feline who loves to leap in the air after a toy? Then you want to have a wand or fishing pole toy at the ready. Make sure the area where you play has enough clear space for your cat to leap and land without danger. And let your cat catch it once in a while! Be gentle and try not to tug on a toy your cat’s claws grab ahold of.

Kicking games
Some cats couldn’t care less for a toy in the air, but a toy on the ground they can grab with their front paws and kick with their back feet is utter bliss. Some cats love to wrestle with these toys by holding with their front paws and kicking with their hind paws. The best toys for this type of play include catnip-filled mice and lightweight, soft toys like kickaroo toys. Give it a toss so your cat can chase, grab and kick it for an even more fun, interactive playtime.

Food puzzles
Food puzzles help satisfy your cat’s need for mental stimulation and enrichment. You can make your own using a plastic container with a few holes cut out for the kibble, or purchase one that best suits your cat’s needs and problem-solving abilities. There are many levels available, but it’s a good idea start out with an easy option. Measure how much food you put in the toy to ensure your cat gets enough to eat. Some cats may struggle to get all their food out of a puzzle, so it may be best used as a supplement to meals at first. If you make your own toy, watch for any sharp edges and monitor the container closely for signs of chewing or wear.

Cat Toy Safety Tips

Whether you make your own toys or buy premade toys, there are a few common hazards. Embellishments including strings, ribbons, eyes, bells or any small parts that seem like they could come loose or be chewed off should always be checked for wear and tear before you let your cat play with the toy. Remove any pieces that have become damaged or hazardous and ensure the cat is supervised when playing with any toy.

Dangerous household items that are popular play things for cats include paper clips, string, ribbon, yarn, rubber bands, pins, milk jug rings and anything else that’s small enough for your cat to choke on or swallow. Never let your cat play with or chew on these items. Instead, choose toys that are specifically made for cats to reduce these risks.

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About the Author
  • Kristen Seymour brought her passion for both pets and writing to the online space nearly a decade ago, working as an editor at AOL’s Paw Nation and then She’s also a regular contributor to HealthyPet Magazine. Additionally, Seymour covers fitness, food and healthy (and yes, sometimes pets!) on her Fit Bottomed Girls website and podcast. Based in sunny Sarasota, Florida, Seymour shares her office with her husband and a small menagerie of rescue pets: a snuggly senior Lab mix, a mouthy hound mix and a cat who loves to be petted exactly seven times—but never eight.
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