Feline fun!

cat play tips for felines

Cats love to play! Here, Sarah Millsopp explains how to ensure you and your feline friend both enjoy playtimes.

Play allows cats to practice hunting. The urge to hunt and the urge to eat are totally separate in cats. This makes sense: if cats in the wild were to wait until they were hungry before they started searching for food, they might not find anything in time! It’s much better to be hunting regularly, and have a regular source of food. This means that even the best-fed family cats will have a desire to hunt. Providing an outlet for this drive is important, and while it provides great stimulation for your cat it’s also fun for the human family the cat lives with and undoubtedly improves the bond and understanding between cats and their owners.
Here are a few dos and don’ts to get you started!

Do: Play at dawn and dusk. Cats are crepuscular (rather than nocturnal) which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. This is because the rodents they would be hunting in the wild are most active at these times too. Your cat will be more likely to want to play at these times. 
Do: Use toys that move a lot. Cats are stimulated to play by movement in straight lines, similar to the movement a rodent would make when running from cover. However, cats are all individuals, and some willprefer particular toys to others.Try fishing rod toys, ping pong balls, or even rolled up newspaper to see what your cat enjoys!
Do: Use puzzle feeders. Cats in the wild would be hunting for their food, so a little work before mealtime stimluates cats physically and mentally. You can use Kongs stuffed with food or some of the puzzle feeders designed specfically for cats! You can even make your own: see our blog on enrichment for cats for more information.
Do: Train your cat. Cats, like any other animal, will do what's rewarding. Find a treat your cat really likes, and start training that feline! The same reward-based techniques we use for dogs will work with cats too. 
Don't: Let play be a source of stress. Look out for stress-related body language e.g. bottle-brush tail (hair standing on end), hissing or dilated pupils. Avoid play that scares your cat. It should be a source of fun, not fear.
Don't: Let your cats pounce and play with human hands or feet! This is cute when cats are babies, but it can become a real problem when a fully grown cat is attacking family members, especially babies or the elderly. Cats should NEVER think it is OK to attack people.
Don't: Use laser pointers. Laser pointers were once a popular toy for cats, but more recent research highlights that cats need to stalk, pounce and "kill" toys, and can feel frustrated chasing something they can never catch. This can lead to shadow chasing or misdirected predatory aggression; your cat might attack you or another household pet.
Don't: Spend too much! Toys are often designed to appeal to humans, afterall, we have the money, not the cats! Make some cheap toys with cardboard boxes, string, newpaper, old socks, use your imagination. Figure out what your cat likes, and invest later knowing your cat will actually use what you've bought.
Dr Sarah Millsopp PhD BSc (Hons) PG Dip Lecturer in Animal Management, SERC (www.serc.ac.uk) Provisional Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. www.drsarahtalkspetbehaviour.com