Cats need to play, and they enjoy it just as much as dogs do. Outside cats have nature provided “toys” like dried leaves blowing around on the ground and bugs crawling through the grass. Inside kitties depend on their owners to find interesting and exciting toys to play with – when they aren’t napping in a sun puddle, that is. However, not any old toy will do, from a cat’s point of view, and there are specific toys cats really like to play with.
Because felines are true carnivores and hunters, every aspect of the hunt is important to all kitties whether they live inside or outside. If you’ve ever observed a cat watching a bird sitting on a tree limb, you can see her excitement level grow as she sizes up her prey. The tail twitches back and forth, her intense eyes are focused, the whiskers are pulled forward, and her body is taut with anticipation. The intricate process of stalking prey is a cat’s ultimate toy.
The best toys for cats are those that allow them to use their predatory skills. It’s the act of hunting that entertains them. Toys that allow them to stalk, pounce on, bite, claw, grab and hug against their body, and simulate a bite to the neck of their pretend prey is a good toy. When you watch a cat play, everything about how they entertain themselves is connected to hunting. This is true even in cats that have never been taught to hunt.
When cats play, it’s how they practice and hone their skills as the perfect hunter. Once she detects movement, her instincts take over as she watches her “opponent” and waits for the right time to pounce, which is usually spot on. Toys that mimic the movements of natural prey, even if they don’t look like a mouse or bird, are ones cats find intriguing. A piece of string wiggling along the floor or held up and dangled in front of a cat will get her attention – as long as it keeps moving. Once it stops, however, a cat will quickly grow tired of it. Their brain is hardwired to detect the slightest movement of a mouse, and movement is what draws their interest to a toy.
Sometimes it’s the simplest toy cats enjoy the most. Ping pong balls or crumpled up paper that can be picked up and tossed or batted around. A catnip-filled toy that can be attacked, held with both paws and bunny kicked. Cats are easy to entertain, and have a knack for finding things to play with, even if it isn’t a toy. From a cat’s point of view, pens, spools of thread or other small items are fun to knock off tables and bat around the floor.
Catnip toys are favorites for some cats, but not all felines like catnip. The pungent plant can also cause some cats to become aggressive. A member of the mint family, catnip is a natural flea repellent and is safe for cats. Young kittens under 8 weeks old don’t play with catnip toys, and older cats may not play with them like they did when they were younger.
The best time to play with your cat is before a meal while she’s hungry. This is when felines are more intense and interested in “prey.” Most cats are ready to curl up in a comfy spot after filling up on their favorite CANIDAE food, and not as interested in playing when they have a full stomach.
When dogs play with us, it’s a social way of interacting with their owner. Cats, on the other hand, use play as a way to practice hunting skills. Toys that remind them of prey are more likely to entice them to play. Anything that has feathers or is furry, and about the same size as their natural prey, will be a hit for most cats. When playing with your cat, make sure she has opportunities to catch her “prey” so she doesn’t get bored and give up.
Playing is one of the best ways to bond with your pet, and toys that satisfy a cat’s natural instinct to chase prey helps her keep her hunting skills sharp, gives her a way to work off excess energy, and helps to maintain a healthy weight.
Top photo by R. Berteig
Bottom photo by Paul L. Dineen
Read more articles by Linda Cole