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Playing With Your Cat: Toys and Games

Guidelines for Play

To satisfy your cat’s natural instincts, think of each play session as a mock hunt for prey. Start enticing your cat by moving the toy in a way that her prey might move. Once you have your cat’s attention, remember that prey moves away from the hunter, so make the toy flee from your cat in short bursts to activate the chase. Eventually, let your cat win by allowing her to catch the toy and “kill” it. Your cat might grab the toy with her front legs, bite it and make little kicks with her back feet. Letting your cat “finish the kill” is very rewarding to her. Some cat experts recommend ending the game with a small treat.

For maximum enjoyment, keep these additional guidelines in mind when you play with your cat:

  • Go at your cat’s pace. Offer several types of toys to find out which are her favorites and what style of game your cat prefers.
  • Your cat’s instincts motivate her to bite toys while you’re playing. This is normal behavior—but be sure you don’t encourage her to bite your fingers or hands as well. Rough play in a small kitten can be cute, but it becomes painful and dangerous when the kitten matures into an adult cat. For this reason, avoid gloves or mittens with toys attached. They might teach your cat that it’s okay to scratch and bite human hands.
  • If your cat gets overexcited, she might redirect some of her energy at your hands and feet or at other animals. Encourage play, but take a break if things get too rough. Let your cat rest a bit, and start back up when she’s calmer.
  • Avoid using laser lights during play, because some cats and dogs become frustrated or obsessed with chasing a light that they can never catch. Instead, use something your cat can catch and bite.
  • Try scheduling play time with your cat both in the morning and in the evening on different days throughout the week to find out when she’s most receptive and inclined to play. Some cats enjoy a stimulating game right before bedtime. Other cats enjoy playing just before meal times. If you play with your cat before feeding her, you mimic a natural sequence of cat behaviors: she gets to “hunt” and eat, and then she’ll likely groom herself and end with a nice nap.
  • Choose a place to play where your cat feels safe and distractions are minimized.
  • Give all of your cats a chance to play. You might need to separate them in different rooms and play with them individually if one tends to dominate play time.
  • Avoid allowing your cat to play with sharp objects, Christmas tree icicles, curling ribbon and any small items she could accidentally swallow. Don’t allow your cat to play with rubber bands, paper clips or plastic bags. All of these things could be dangerous to her.
  • Finally, keep in mind that it’s always wise to supervise!

To read about more great ideas for keeping your cat active and content, please see our articles, Enriching Your Cat’s Life and Training Your Cat.

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WebMD Veterinary Reference from ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist

The ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist specializes in the resolution and management of pet behavior problems only. Please do not submit questions about medical problems here. Only licensed veterinarians can diagnose medical conditions. If you think that your pet is sick, injured or experiencing any kind of physical distress, please contact his veterinarian immediately. A delay in seeking proper veterinary care may worsen your pet's condition and put his life at risk. If you are concerned about the cost of veterinary care, please read our resources on finding financial help.

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