How to Play With Your Cat

Cats need mental stimulation and exercise just like people

Cat playing with toys
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Interactive playing with cats is not only fun, but it provides valuable exercise for cats of all ages. Just as important, it strengthens the feline-human bond, which is a good thing for everyone's well-being. Interactive playing lets your cat hone its hunting skills, and the exercise from playing helps your cat maintain a healthy weight.

In addition, playing is a positive way for your cat to release negative energy or aggression. Playing can help a shy or nervous cat gain confidence, and a hearty play session is a good way to ease your cat's transition to a new home.

Playing with Kittens

Kittens will play with anything. Remember that your kitten is a baby, and you have to keep it away from sharp objects and small objects it might choke on. The best toys for kittens are usually soft objects they can sink their teeth into but not hurt themselves, such as cotton chew toys.

Ideally, a kitten will have other kittens to play with, but if you're a single-cat household, at the very least make sure you're not training your kitten to "play" with your hands or feet. You'll be glad you set boundaries when your kitten grows up and develops full-sized teeth and claws.

And a word to the wise: For many years, a plastic ball with a small jingle bell inside has been sold as a popular cat toy. If you give this toy to a kitten (or an adult cat for that matter), you can pretty much guarantee the animal will find it and play with it at 2 a.m. Cats are nocturnal and don't care if that jingling bell is disrupting your sleep as long as it's fun for them.

How to Play with Adult Cats

Keep a rotating array of toys on hand. Some good cat toys you can buy are wand toys, catnip mice, and crinkly catnip things. Some great toys you already have at home: wads of paper, straws, and plastic rings from milk or juice containers.

Put the toys away after playtime. If a toy is always out, it can become boring and unrealistic to a kitty, like a mouse that never goes away.

Make the toy act like a mouse or a bird to pique your cat's curiosity. But let your cat set the pace. You can't force a cat into playing, but you can try different approaches to see what generates interest.

You might try dimming the lights since cats like to hunt when it's darker. Match the action intensity to your cat's interest. After a while, you'll get to know your cat's playing style and the look that says "I'm ready to play!"

Don't make it too easy; let your cat enjoy the pursuit. But when it comes in for the big pounce, let your cat score a direct hit and savor the thrill of victory.

How to End a Play Session

Good times to quit the play session are when you've gone for 10 to 15 minutes and your cat has just scored a decisive "victory," and, when your cat has clearly lost interest.

In both scenarios, give your cat some nice praise just for showing up. In the first case, make the victory a little sweeter with a nice treat.