Although we see our cats as our beloved family pets, we often forget that they are born as one of nature's best predators. In the wild, a cat may hunt up to 30 times in a single day. Although many of our house cats don't need to hunt for their meals, it is important to understand that their body still needs to engage in regular hunting behaviors. Without adequate opportunities for these behaviors, our cats may start to seek out less favorable options to help suit their instincts. Play is an essential part of your cat's overall health, as it provides fulfillment of their natural predatory instincts. Play also helps with mental stimulation, exercise, decreasing stress, building confidence, and strengthening relationships. Stuffed toys, catnip mice and krinkle balls are simply not adequate stimulation for even the least playful cat. These items, although fun for some, do not provide the same satisfaction as one on one play does. Self play toys like these are best used when combined with enrichment and individual play.
Our recommendation is to play with your cat daily for about 10- 15 minutes depending on the age and health of your cat. Playtime should be calm and balanced, so refrain from whipping the toy off the walls or at unreasonable speeds. Remember play is equal to hunting in your cat's eyes, so your play style should resemble that of "prey". While you watch your cat in action, let this time be fun for both you and your cat!
Some cats especially those who are still adjusting may be too fearful to play initially so may they require some additional time and patience to adjust. To help them, try interacting with toys of different sizes and textures. You can also use some catnip to help get their senses going. Never force your cat to interact with a toy as it can cause them to be MORE fearful of interactions. **It's important to note that cats that don't engage in play may be feeling unwell or may be in pain, be sure to consult with your veterinarian if your once "playful" cat now takes little to no interest in play time.
Written By: Amanda Caron - CFVP, Cat Behavior Counselor