Never underestimate the power of play for your indoor cat: Cats not only need but enjoy regular play sessions. Just don’t expect your Persian to revel in a game of fetch, and forget trying to engage your Siamese in a friendly game of tug-of-war.
What games do cats enjoy the most? Ones that harness the true hunter inside them, says Joan Miller, a veteran all-breed cat judge and vice president of Cat Fanciers’ Association, the world’s largest registry of cat breeds.
“Cats are farsighted animals who really don’t see that well close-up,” says Miller. “But they can detect even the slightest movement that is, say, 120 feet away — even in dim light. And their ability to hear is way beyond that of humans and dogs.”
So how do you play with your cat? Miller identifies four feline-preferred game styles: bird, pounce, rabbit and hide-and-seek.
Games that tap into their inner hunter
1. Bird Games: These games involve waving feather wand toys or other cat toys that require your cat to leap in the air and try to capture the flying object in her front paws. Select a safe, spacious area of your home so that your cat does not fly into any furniture.
2. Pounce Games: To play pounce properly, provide your cat with a way to be able to leap on an object moving on the ground. Create a target by moving your fingers under a bedspread or a throw blanket on the sofa. “Many cats seem to appear whenever you try to put on fresh sheets on your bed — you want to make the bed, but they see this as a great opportunity to play,” says Miller.
3. Rabbit Games: These games bring out a cat’s natural instinct to pull a toy into her belly while on her back, kick with her back legs and shake and bite a toy prey. Catnip-filled toy mice and lightweight fur toys with feathers are popular choices. You toss the toy across the floor for your cat to grab and deliver a few punches with her back legs.
4. Hide-and-Seek Games: These exercises unleash the predatory nature in cats, many of whom delight in the ability to hide and wait for their prey. That explains why your cat may hide under a skirted table or under your bed, and then spring out and make a surprise attack on your feet. Ouch! Save your toes by flushing your cat from her hiding spot by tossing a paper wad or cat toy for her to attack.
Why dawn and dusk are the best times to play
Cats also have preferred playtimes: dawn and dusk. “Early mornings and early evenings tend to be when cats have the most energy and are in playful moods,” says Miller. “Unfortunately, those often are the times of day when you are rushing off to work or just coming home and are tired.”
Still, Miller urges cat owners to spend five to 10 minutes a day in purposeful play with their feline companions. The benefits are many: Not only will you keep your cat mentally sharp and at a healthy weight, but you can possibly save your sofa from being shredded, or eliminate a host of other unwanted feline behaviors.
“Face it, cats don’t demand that you take them for long walks like dogs do,” says Miller. “Playing with them in the morning or evening — at the time when they want to play — pays off in so many ways. Your cat will be more contented and far less apt to misbehave out of boredom.”