Some form of play is found in all species of mammals. People play card games and video games, they jump out of airplanes just for fun, and engage in a host of other stimulating activities. Dogs and cats need to play for the same reason – it helps to beat boredom!
I have a cat named Pogo who was born with one back leg shorter than the other. Because of this he has a pronounced limp, but you would never know it to watch him play. He began to walk at the same time his siblings did, but instead of walking, he bounced across the floor on his back legs hopping like a kid on a pogo stick. He is now almost 5 years old and still bounces while he plays. No string, ball or cat toy can escape his clutches as he leaps and strikes at the exact right time to capture his prey. All of my cats are expert acrobats and clowns when it comes to play, and I’ve spent hours watching, laughing and playing with them as they learned important skills and life lessons through play. Dogs and cats need to play to keep their minds active and their bodies in good physical shape.
Cats need play in order to hone their skills as hunters, to learn how to socialize with us and other pets in the home, and develop good mental skills. Playing with your dog or cat is one of the best ways to bond with them. They love having their favorite human interacting with them and any moving stimulus will grab a cat’s attention. Even an older cat that has become a couch potato can’t resist something moving.
Dogs need play for many of the same reasons as cats. Puppies learn about social order in the pack by playing with their litter mates. Play gives both dogs and cats confidence and helps them lead happy and stable lives. Like cats, dogs learn important hunting skills through play. As puppies and kittens grow, the lessons they learn from playing teaches them what they need to know as adults.
Even though most dogs no longer need to depend on predatory skills, they are still learned and instilled in a dog’s mind during play. Every time they chase a stick or ball, they are learning how to chase prey. Each leaf or toy that is caught teaches a dog or cat how to pounce and attack. To them, these activities are just plain fun, but the specialized skills they are learning will never leave them. These skills are stalking, patience, sizing up their “prey” and knowing when and how to attack.
Play gives dog and cat owners an insight into their pet’s health. As dogs and cats age, most will continue to play even though it may require some coaxing from us at times. A pet who doesn’t play and doesn’t respond to a stimulus can indicate a health problem that may need to be addressed. It can also tell you if your pet is unhappy or depressed.
Just like kids, dogs and cats need to play to keep them out of trouble and help burn up excess energy. A bored pet can do a lot of damage to a garbage can, recliner or couch cushion. I had a bored cat who took on a couch pillow all by himself one afternoon. Of course he tried to blame the dog, but the dog had been confined in the basement that afternoon, far from the scene of the crime.
Dogs and cats need play to maintain a healthy mind and body. The skills they learn are invaluable as they mature. A puppy or kitten who doesn’t play will still develop normally, but they could be at a disadvantage to others their own age.
A dog will show you they want to play with a “play bow.” They lower the front part of their body to the ground and stretch out their front legs. Their back end is in the air with their tail usually wagging. Cats are always ready to pounce on anything moving and all it takes is a crumpled ball of paper to get them into a game.
Dogs and cats that play together learn how to interact with each other. The best time for puppies to be socialized is around 8 to 16 weeks and kittens between 5 and 12 weeks. Don’t be afraid to romp on the floor with your pet. Playing is fun for them, and for us!
Read more articles by Linda Cole
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