Type cats and exercise into your browser and you’ll be bombarded with a slew of Grumpy Cat memes mocking the very thought of exercise; “I exercised once, it was awful” and “My favourite exercise is a cross between a lunge and a crunch… lunch.”
While many cats are content to sit on a windowsill all day long, taking naps, this doesn’t mean cats don’t need or enjoy playing games.
What many pet parents don’t know is that when it comes to cats, play isn’t just about fun and games. For cats in the wild, the act of play is a serious business that helps kittens learn important survival skills like stalking, chasing and trapping prey.
This basic instinct to hunt can remain strong, which is why it’s important to give cats the opportunity to express this natural behaviour.
Kittens and adult cats are both stimulated by the same sort of games.
Dr Guy Fyvie, nutritional advisor at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, provides pet parents with these important tips on how to play with your cat or kitten to enrich them mentally, physically and strengthen your bond:
The right toys
The first thing you’re going to want to find is a proper toy to play with your cat. If you’re trying to stimulate prey hunting behaviour you don’t want to use your hands. Even if your cat is gentle, she might bite if she becomes too excited.
You want your cat to associate your hands with petting and feeding, not hunting and killing.
Toys that have bells or squeakers are especially good to give your cat if she is likely to be left on her own as the noise acts as an extra stimulus.
The important point to remember with all these toys is that you need to alternate them to prevent boredom.
• A fantastic type of toy for you and your cat to play with is the kind that has a ball, mouse or feather at the end of a string. Sometimes the string is also attached to a wand. These toys simulate moving prey.
• Scratch posts and cat trees will entice your cats to climb, which uses their muscles and naturally wears down their claws. Cats love to see the world from above and cat trees and scratch posts give them a relaxing spot to nap on or peruse their kingdom like The Lion King’s Simba.
• Put a few kibbles of your cat’s favourite cat food in different places each day (including on top of tall furniture) and bring out the hunter in your cat!
Cats can become very attached to small stuffed toys, and every once and in a while will bring them out to play with. Some will meow and howl over a favourite stuffed toy. There is no conclusive explanation why they do this; however, it is all good fun and part of your cat’s playtime.
How often should your cat play? Two play sessions a day would be fantastic for both you and your cat. You might find having a playtime just before bed (or even adding a third one) will help settle down a cat that gets into trouble at night.
If your cat doesn’t feel like playing the first time, don’t get discouraged. Keep trying. Just like kids, not all cats like the same type of games.
Sometimes if a cat spends too much time indoors they can put on weight due to a lack of exercise. However, exercising your cat is not difficult, along with helping your cat lose weight; it makes a big difference to your pet’s overall, health and happiness.