Interactive Play with Your Cat
While your new kitten may seem to have the whole play routine down to a fine art: zooming ninety miles an hour around the house in pursuit of a dust ball, your participation is still greatly needed. That’s where interactive play comes in.
Many people assume the outdoor cat who “plays” with his prey after injuring or killing it, is being cruel. In reality, though, the behavior is most likely a displacement due to the excitement and anxiety of the hunt. During the hunt the cat must deal with the fear of getting injured himself in the process.
Interactive play is so powerful throughout a cat’s entire life—from the day you bring her home as a kitten to her golden years as the geriatric queen of the house. If you’re just starting out with a kitten, establishing an interactive playtime schedule may help develop the bond you share, will teach her what is and isn’t acceptable to bite, and will help avoid many potential behavior problems.
If you have an adult cat, especially a troubled one, interactive playtime can redirect her negative behavior toward something positive and help correct many problems. Interactive play involves you participating in the game with your kitten or cat, using a fishing-pole type toy. Now, you may already feel that you engage in lots of playtime with your kitty, but what toys do you use? Your hands? Little furry mice? Unfortunately, many owners use the most readily available toys—their fingers—to play with their kitten. While it may not be bad now, as your kitten grows, a bite from her adult teeth will hurt. You’re also sending a very bad message to the kitten when you use your fingers as toys—you’re telling her it’s okay to bite skin. Never encourage biting, not even in play. If you start a kitten off correctly, you’ll avoid having to retrain her once she has grown.
Okay, so maybe you’ve never allowed your cat to bite your fingers but you use those furry little mice or a light spongy ball for playtime. What’s wrong with that? First, it puts your fingers and the toy in close proximity so you stand a greater chance of being accidentally scratched or bitten by an excited kitty. Also, you can’t control the movements of the toy very well. Fishing-pole type toys give you greater control and you can create a more preylike movement. The concept of an interactive toy is simple: pole, string, and a toy target dangling on the end.
What I love about these toys is that you can make the toy move as prey naturally would. If you’re going to think like a cat, you have to understand how they react to prey. The problem with all of the cute little toys that are strewn about the house is that they’re essentially dead prey. In order to play with them, the cat must work as both prey and predator. She has to bat at the toy to make it move. Once it slides a little on the floor it dies again and remains lifeless unless the cat pushes it back into motion. An interactive cat toy lets you create the movement so the cat can just enjoy being a predator.
There are many interactive toys on the market. Some are pretty basic and others are very elaborate. When shopping for one, again, use your think like a cat approach. Look at the toy and imagine what kind of prey it resembles and how your cat, based on her personality, would react to it. Because cats are opportunistic hunters, which means they hunt whatever is available, look for several different types of interactive toys.
Try to cover the various types of prey such as: birds, mice, insects, and snakes. Your cat will be more interested if you vary the toys, because she’ll never know just which prey to expect. Several interactive toys have feathers on the end to make them resemble birds. My all-time favorite is called Da Bird by Go Cat, available in most pet supply stores and online.
This fishing-pole type toy has a swivel device at the end of the string where the feathers are connected. As you wave the toy through the air, the feathers spin around, so it looks and sounds like a bird in flight. Cats go crazy for it. This toy will make even the most sedentary cat dust off her hunting skills.
For simulating the movements of a cricket or a fly, nothing beats the Cat Dancer by Cat Dancer Products. It has been around a long time and for good reason. The toy consists of a wire with a small, tightly rolled-up cardboard target on the end. If you just move it subtly, the Cat Dancer darts and moves as unpredictably as a fly does.
This toy makes your cat use her concentration skills and best reflexes.
WHY DO YOU NEED INTERACTIVE PLAY WITH YOUR CAT
- Helps her bond with her new family
- Helps coordination and muscle tone
- Helps her become comfortable with her environment
- Reduces fear
- Helps teach her what is and isn’t acceptable to bite or scratch
- Prevents damage to items in your home
- Reduces tension in multicat households due to addition of the new kitten
- Eases discomfort after a traumatic episode
- It’s a natural part of a kitten’s daily life
There are many interactive toys for cat out there on the market. You may find one that fits your cat’s personality or play skill even better. Before buying it, though, make sure it is a good match for your cat. Sometimes it takes a couple of toy purchases to find the one your cat prefers. A shy, timid cat might be overwhelmed by a large toy that makes lots of noise, and a cat who lives to air hunt may not find the slithery movements of a snakelike toy very appealing.
Bubbles and Lasers
A popular game is to blow bubbles and let your cat run around after them. Some bubbles are even catnip scented. Some cats love this.
My problem is that she doesn’t actually get to capture anything. The bubbles always pop and she’s left with nothing. A cat is a very tactile creature and she wants to feel the “captured prey” underneath her paw. If your cat enjoys the bubble game then move into an interactive play session right afterward, so she gets to achieve an actual capture.
If you have children who enjoy blowing bubbles for the cat, instruct them not to blow the bubbles at her, especially at her face. Laser toys for cats are extremely popular. I think their success is based on the fact that they require minimal movement from the owners. You can sit in your chair, watch TV, and point the laser all over the room. For some owners the pleasure comes from the comical scene of watching their cats almost body-slam the wall in an attempt to reach the little red light pointed half way up the ceiling.
As with the bubbles, the cat never actually “gets” anything. A major component of interactive playtime is capturing the prey under her paw and letting her carpal whiskers detect movement. Using laser lights regularly may also lead to potential compulsive behaviors in some animals. Some become reactive to other forms of flashing light. There are also differing opinions on whether the lasers are actually even safe or not.
To be sure, NEVER point the laser in your cat’s face and don’t allow children to play with laser toys. If you really want to use the laser light with your cat, start with it, then continue the game with an actual interactive toy. Point the laser at the target on the end of the interactive toy and then let the tactile part of the game begin. Since the purpose of interactive playtime is to create stimulation and leave the cat happy and confident, it’s important to provide your cat with opportunities to succeed.