Playing With Your Cat

August 2019

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Play isn't just for kittens; adult cats enjoy play too! Play strengthens your bond with your cat and provides them with needed mental stimulation and physical exercise.Cats are predators, and play time can be like a hunting game for them. Play can be interactive, which involves you moving toys to simulate prey for your cat. Play can also be solo, where your cat plays with toys on their own.

Interactive toys usually feature a fishing pole design, with a toy dangling on the end of a string or wire. When playing with your cat, move the toy to imitate prey, as if it was trying to get away from the hunter. Don't dangle the prey right in your cat's face. On the other hand, don't make it too hard for your cat to catch the toy, especially when you are just starting out. You want your cat to have successes catching the toy so that the play is fun and rewarding.

Cats also benefit from solo play. There are many types of cat toys designed for solo play. The most common types are ping pong balls, catnip toys, food dispensing toys, and fuzzy mice. They should be light enough for kitty to bat around since they will have to"bring them to life" by themselves. Toys should be mentally stimulating and switched out regularly to prevent boredom.

Play Rules to Successfully Play with Any Cat:

  • Provide interactive play at least twice per day, preferably morning and evening hours. Good toys include cat-dancers, fishing pole toys, and string toys.
  • Stick to a regular play routine so your cat has appropriate outlets for play and plenty of exercise. Also leave toys for solo play that they can play with alone.
  • Vary the type of toys regularly to ease boredom. When not using interactive toys, store them out of reach in a cupboard or closet so that they stay novel and exciting.
  • Redirect your cat to appropriate toys if they attempt to play with human hands or fingers. Use fetch toys or toys on sticks/strings to keep your cat away from human hands and feet.
  • Stop all play and calmly withdraw from your cat should they start attacking people.
  • Learn to recognize early signs of play aggression, such as dilated pupils, hiding around corners, and crouching to pounce. Redirect your cat immediately to an appropriate toy at the first sign of these behaviors.
  • Consider adopting a second cat of similar age, energy level, and personality.

Hands Are Never Toys: Never play roughly with your cat, wrestle with them, or move your hands or feet so that your cat chases them. It is very important whenever you are playing with any cat to use a toy instead (for additional information, please refer to handout Cat Toys and Play).

Never teach your cat that body parts are toys to be hunted, bitten or scratched. When playing with your cat, don't jerk away from your cat or vocalize high pitched sounds. This is how prey responds to an attack and this can trigger aggression. Never physically punish your cat. At best, this teaches your cat to fear you, and at worst, your cat can be seriously injured.

This document created by the San Francisco SPCA with a grant from Maddie's Fund®

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