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How Do Cats Play with Humans? Vet-Reviewed Feline Behavior

Written by: Brooke Billingsley

Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat playing with owner

How Do Cats Play with Humans? Vet-Reviewed Feline Behavior


Dr. Luqman Javed Photo


Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Watching two cats play together can be a ton of fun because of the spirited and silly antics they get up to. However, these playful actions often don’t carry over to playtime with humans. It can be difficult to determine if your cat is playing with you. Some cat behaviors are somewhat mysterious to us, while others are more straightforward, but it’s extremely uncommon for a cat to attempt to play with a human as if they’re another cat.

If you’ve ever wondered how cats play with people, keep reading for more information.


How Do Cats Play with Humans?

Believe it or not, recent studies have begun working to debunk the long-held belief that cats don’t form bonds with their people. These studies have indicated that cats can form close bonds with humans, often seeing them as a source of comfort and stress relief. One of the ways you strengthen the bond you have with your cat is by participating in activities that are enjoyable for your cat.

This means determining which activities are most enjoyable for your cat and when they enjoy them. High energy cats may do well with random games at any time of the day, while lower energy kitties may prefer more set playtime schedules. Some cats may want to play chase or leap for a teaser toy, while others may be content to “help” you solve a food puzzle or participate in a laid-back game with a simple toy. Laser pointers, teaser toys, and fetchable toys are all great options for interactive playtime with your cat.

Remember to work to incorporate a variety of fun and interesting toys into playtime with your cat. Use a variety of shapes, sizes, textures, smells, and sounds to stimulate your cat’s senses and encourage healthy play. Get creative! Some cats love playing with something as simple as a balled-up piece of paper or a bottle cap. Just make sure to avoid toys that can be swallowed by your cat, like rubber bands and small pieces of plastic.

cat playing with woman owner
Image by: Oleg Ivanov, Unsplash

How Not to Play with Cats

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when finding ways to play with their cat is playing with them in a way that is stressful for the cat. This can lead to you unintentionally telling your cat that you are not a source of security and safety for them, which may even lead to a breakdown in the trust level between the two of you.

One of the most common inappropriate forms of play people attempt with their cats is roughhousing. Cats are predators by nature, and they are not fans of being manhandled by another predator, like a human. It can be very stressful for your cat to be tackled, grabbed, or pinned down by you, even if your intentions are playful.

Another mistake that people often make is using their hand or forearm as a cat’s “target.” When cats engage in what we call play, they are in fact honing their hunting skills. If you associate your hand as a target for a kitten, they may grow up to take pleasure in “hunting” your hand during playtime. A cat’s claws and teeth are more than capable of drawing blood if they decide to wrestle with your hand or forearm. Instead, you should hold something that your cat can play with, like a feather toy.

Toys like laser pointers can be lots of fun for cats, but they’re best used in a rotation of fun and interesting toys since your cat will never be able to “win” the game by catching the laser light.

One of our preferred scratchers, the Hepper Hi-Lo Modern Cat Scratcher, is a surefire way to keep your kitty out of trouble (or at least away from scratching the things they should not!). It's not only stylish, but it's functional as well. It's made of sturdy cardboard with a durable plywood and metal frame and can be set up in three different ways – high, low, or lower. The different positions encourage maximum engagement, exercise and stretching, and of course, intense scratching (they can throw their whole body into it). 

Hepper Hi-Lo Cardboard Cat Scratcher with Real...
  • Premium Materials - Hepper's cardboard scratcher is made with dense, B-flute cardboard, and a metal...
  • High, Low and Lower - A single cat scratch pad won't keep your cat engaged. 3 unique positions keeps...
  • Activates Muscles - The Hi Lo isn't just a cat nail file to stop the chief cat couch scratcher. The...

With the Hepper Hi-Lo, your cat gets to have a blast scratching like a maniac, and you don't have to worry about them causing so much chaos or scratching your stuff. There are even replacement cardboard pieces available, so you really can let your cat go to town on this, and know that it will be long lasting. Click here to learn more about this awesome scratcher.

At Catster, we’ve admired Hepper for many years, and decided to take a controlling ownership interest, so that we could benefit from the outstanding designs of this cool cat company!

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In Conclusion

There are a variety of ways you can play with your cat, but you should always keep in mind that play should be entertaining, not stressful for your cat. Stressful playtime can lead to increased stress levels for your cat in the long run and reduced trust between you and your cat.

Your cat is likely very bonded to you, and they will be extremely happy to find games you can play together. By using a little creativity, you’ll be able to put together a stash of fun and interesting toys on rotation for your cat. You’ll also be able to come up with various games the two of you can play together that help strengthen your cat’s association with you and positive feelings and situations.

Featured Image by: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

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