You might see the title of this blog and think "eh, what's she on about?! You just grab a stuffed toy mouse and dangle it in front of them! What more could there be?!" ...But, there's a bit more we can do to make playtime more effective, and a positive experience for our feline friends!
Did you know that cats are crepuscular creatures, meaning they are naturally more active at dawn and dusk? Have you noticed they have a 'witching hour' at 'silly O'clock' when you're trying to sleep, and you're forced to get up and hurl some food into their bowl, before dragging yourself back to your bed?!
How about having some play sessions late in the evenings, before bedtime, and perhaps in the morning before you head to work? You may find this lessens their need for 'crazy time' as unsocial hours, if they have that need met.
Having shorter bursts of play can be more beneficial for cats, so they don't get bored, and to help keep the novelty of their toys, try putting them away, and rotating the ones you have out. It's probably similar with children (I don't have any 2 legged children, but thinking back to my own childhood!), when they forget about a toy for a while, then rediscover it, it's often the best thing ever, and becomes their 'number 1' again!
In terms of what toys to use, as with most things, variety is good! We're huge fans of food enrichment toys, such as food balls, licking mats, activity feeders, etc, but that's a whole separate topic! Many cats love 'fishing rod' toys, and there are some really great ones where the 'prey' on the end spins as it flies, which our boy Pino goes wild for! There are of course toy mice, balls, things which jingle and crinkle, things they can crawl through, etc. It may be a bit of trial and error to find toys which suit your cat, but think about their natural instinct to hunt, so anything which mimics prey is often a winner! It's of course important to keep anything inappropriate which cats could see is a play item safety out of reach (hair ties, etc).
Wand or rod toys can be really useful to use for particularly shy cats, as we can stand or sit a bit of a distance away from them, and allow them to focus on the toy part. TTouch wands can also be used for this, and they're over a meter in length, and you could even attach a sterile craft feather to the end.
It's also important to consider who else is around when you're trying to engage your cat in play. They may be worried if your also have a dog, and they're paying a lot of attention to the activity, and the same could be said with other cats or children, etc. If they seem worried by theird parties, consider giving them some one on one time away from the others-they will really appreciate it! If however you have multiple pets who all seem happy to be involved, great!
Many cat toys contain herbs such as catnip, silvervine, valerian, etc, which may drive them wild, but not necessarily for the right reason. Again, and you'll hear me say this a lot, but it's important we give cats a choice, and they could find it frustrating being able to smell the herb, but not fully access it - imagine knowing your favourite dessert is sealed inside a packet which you can't open, no matter how hard you try! Of course, they may pierce the toy with their claws or teeth, but consider offering the herbs as a standalone form of enrichment, and toys without herbs inside.
When we're actually playing with our cats, because they are predatory animals (as well as being prey themselves to larger animals, moreso in other countries), they instinctively want to stalk, hunt, and catch prey, so we can mimic this with toys. So don't just aimlessly dangle a toy in front of them, but drag it away as if it were prey! Vary the movements and speed you make with the toy to make things more interesting and challenging. If you have a safe outdoor space for your cat, try dragging a toy through the grass-this can really mimic prey, and our Pino loves it! Another thing to consider when playing indoors, if the type of flooring you have-avoid slippery wood, laminate, or tiled floors, or put large rugs or runners down so they can get traction, and avoid injury.
It's important we let our cats 'win' and catch the toy prey, and always finish on a positive with them winning in this way, so they don't feel frustrated.
As cats get older, we may have to adapt how we play with them. We may need to slow things down, and make things much calmer and gentler for them. Always talk to your vet if you feel they're struggling with their joints as they age, in case they require any joint supplements or pain medication.
Finally, if your cat isn't in the mood, or wants to do something else, leave them be! Play is a wonderful way to build on our relationship with our cats, benefiting both their physical and mental wellbeing, but it has to be a mutually positive thing.
Amity Cat Care (T/A Amity Pet Care) run a stress-free, in-home cat sitting service in the East Surrey area, specialising in 'Fearful Felines'.
For more information, please visit our website: www.amitypetcare.co.uk
Amity Pet Care hold no liability for any misuse of advice, and pet owners must assess what is safe and suitable for their individual pet. Please seek veterinary advice or attention with any concerns about your pet's health or wellbeing.
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