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Do I Have To Play With My Cat? Vet-Reviewed Facts & Tips

Written by: Cassidy Sutton

Last Updated on April 18, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

woman-playing-with-her-cat

Do I Have To Play With My Cat? Vet-Reviewed Facts & Tips

VET APPROVED

Dr. Amanda Charles Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc GPCert (Derm) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

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

Learn more »

Playtime with your cat isn’t just a fun activity; it’s vital to your cat’s well-being. Cats don’t want to spend all nine lives chilling on a couch wondering what the neighborhood squirrel tastes like. Instead, they need to feel the stimulation of “the hunt” to really thrive.
If you feel bad because you haven’t been playing with your cat, it’s okay. The truth is, not many people understand that playing with cats is crucial to their happiness and longevity. But it’s never too late to start, right?

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Why Playtime Is Important for Cats

Cats are cute little furballs that we love to snuggle and kiss, but we must remember that our house panther and the panther running wild in the mountains are still similar in a lot of ways, despite the thousands of years of domestication.

Both cats want to scratch trees, stalk prey, and hide behind bushes waiting for the perfect meal. The only difference is that your house cat doesn’t have free access to the wild to release their energy. That’s where playtime comes in handy!

Interactive play helps your cat:
  • Stay tuned with their natural hunting instincts
  • Strengthens their bond with you
  • Manage that pesky house cat weight
  • Relieve boredom

So, what happens when your cat doesn’t get any playtime? Remember when everyone went into lockdown during COVID and went stir-crazy? That can be your cat’s life 24/7.
Cats with no stimulation face serious behavioral and health problems like depression, stress, aggression, and weight gain. All these problems can eventually lead to secondary health issues, shortening the life of your cat overall.

cat-playing-ball
Image Credit: Natalya On, Shutterstock

Signs Your Cat Wants to Play

  • Zoomies
  • Attacking your feet and hands
  • “Talking” to you
  • Increased energy levels
  • Focusing intently on an object

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How to Get the Most Out of Playtime

You don’t need to entertain your cat all day every day, but you do need to play with your cat most days. All you need is a couple of 10–15-minute sessions of quality, interactive play per day. Interactive play means being fully engaged with your cat during the play session.

1. Stalking & Hunting

Cat playtime differs from playing with a dog (although some cats enjoy playing fetch). Dogs react immediately to prey. They run after whatever catches their eye and alert the whole neighborhood of their findings.

Cats, on the other hand, take their time. They lurk in the bushes, waiting for the right moment to strike. Playtime is all about locking them in on a prey-like object and maintaining focus.

This can look like:
  • Dragging a toy behind a wall slowly
  • Letting a toy mouse “get away” just enough for your cat to run after it
  • Using a bird toy to flap vigorously like a real bird

Give your cat time to stalk their “prey” so when the moment is right, they’ll go for the kill. It’s a blast for your cat, but it can be boring for you. Sometimes you’ll be waiting for a while for anything to happen. But that’s okay. This is their time to have fun and your chance to show interest in their cat-like hobbies.

woman-playing-with-her-cat
Image Credit: Oleg Opryshko, Shutterstock

2. The Boil and Simmer Method

When you want a really good sauce, you have to agitate the liquid at high heat for a short time, then let it simmer. The same is true for cats and hunting.
Cats spend most of their time stalking rather than fighting. But when the battle begins, your cat brings out their best moves to capture their opponent. The moment is fast-paced, aggressive, and short-lived. It only lasts for a few seconds.

When you play with your cat, try to emulate this natural way of hunting. Drag the toy around, let your cat stalk it for a while, then bam! Get wild and let your cat go crazy trying to capture the toy.


3. Watch Wildlife Videos

Want to really understand how cats act in the wild? Watch wildlife documentaries and live footage from wildlife biologists. You’d be amazed at how similar your house cat is to the wild cats caught in the footage. Pay attention to how wildcats hunt for their food- then mimic that during playtime.


4. Start a Playtime Routine

Cats love routines. Just look at how well-adapted they are to feeding time! When you incorporate routines in your cat’s daily life, you give them something to look forward to. It also holds you accountable for squeezing in a play session with your kitty.
Start scheduling time to play with your cat, either in the morning or evening, and see how your cat reacts. It seems silly, but your cat will love it.

woman-playing-with-her-cat
Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

5. Avoid Harmful Objects as Toys

As a rule of thumb, avoid these objects when playing with your cat, as they tend to cause more harm than good:

  • Strings
  • Wires
  • Broken plastic
  • Your hand

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The Importance of Cat Toys 

Lack of toys and enrichment in your cat's life can lead to medical conditions and sometimes even depression. Always having a few of their favorite playthings on hand and being ready to engage in activity when the moment strikes are excellent ways of promoting healthy behaviors that will sharpen their minds, build strength, and increase their energy.

Our Favorite Cat Toys Right Now

Here are a some of our favorite toys, each catering to a variety of senses and play preferences. Which one will your feline fancy? 

Hepper Mouse kicker toy Hepper Furballs
Hepper Plush Mouse Kicker Toy Hepper Furball Toy Set
Multisensory
Multisensory :
Multisensory :
Encourages self play
Encourages self play:
Encourages self play:
Large
Large:
Large:
Durable
Durable :
Durable :
Lightweight
Lightweight:
Lightweight:
Set of 2
Set of 2:
Set of 2:

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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Filling Your Cat’s Time With Fun (Even When You’re Not Home)

The fun doesn’t have to start and stop with you. If that’s the case, you’d be setting your cat up for failure. While interactive toys such as wands and teasers should be put away when your play session is over, cats are independent and we should let them practice this independence with other toys. Have some options for your cat to entertain themselves, like:

  • Cat trees
  • Windows
  • Toys and puzzles
  • Cat-friendly plants
  • Boxes
  • Tunnels
  • Cat scratchers

These will help your cat feel free even if they don’t have free range of the great outdoors.

What to Do if Your Cat Won’t Play

Cats can appear indifferent sometimes, but there’s a difference between feeling indifferent and never having an interest in play, especially if your cat used to love playtime and now doesn’t. If this is your cat, it’s wise to schedule an exam with your vet to see if anything is causing your cat pain and discomfort. Elderly cats may have reduced mobility and energy levels, but they can usually still enjoy more gentle adapted play.
Additionally, stress and depression can cause a lack of interest in play. Cats can develop a “nothing matters, why bother” attitude when they’re depressed. This can come from a death in the family, moving to a new house, the addition of a new pet, and more.
Indoor cats can also be depressed when they have nothing in their lives to stimulate or encourage natural behavior.
The best way to combat cat depression is to find what is disrupting your cat’s life to cause the attitude change. Spend time with your cat, introduce new toys and favorite foods, and seek veterinary help if necessary.

cat playing on the cat tree at home
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Playtime is about letting your cat feel like the natural hunter they are. Without that feeling, cats can feel lost. It’s our job as owners to ensure we are providing the species-specific lifestyle appropriate for our pets. A great way to start is through playtime.


Featured Image Credit: Kmpzzz, Shutterstock

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