How to Play with Your Cat

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By Alana Stevenson

Many people are under the impression that their cats do not like to play or that they get bored easily and have little interest in playing with wands, feather toys, little balls, or toy mice. But it just might be how you are playing with your cat that is causing the problem.


Young kitties naturally want to play and are inquisitive. Kittens will keep you up at night, climb the drapes, and decide you make a great tree limb. At about 4 months of age, inter-kitty play can start turning into spats and over time, toy and object play will become less interesting. Although many cat owners lament that they try to play with their kitties, they often are using the wrong approaches. Older kitties, depending also on temperaments, have less interest in playing with toys, especially playing solo i.e., chasing a little ball or toy mouse by themselves. However, when they see real birds along a window sill, little mice along a floor board, or a butterfly flitting in the garden, extra enthusiasm abounds!

It’s really important to play with an indoor cat. Not only does it encourage bonding between person and kitty, it also is mentally stimulating for your cat and fun. It prevents boredom, restlessness, and depression and makes your kitty happy.  Here are some tips that will get your tubby kitty motivated, your lazy kitty interested, and your bored and resigned kitty, possibly even enthusiastic.

Avoid playing with your hands. Never encourage your cat to chase your hands or fingers. Don’t wrestle with your hands. Moving your hands or feet underneath a blanket is okay and acceptable since your kitty is encouraged by the hidden movement and not your actual hands or fingers. Just don’t do this if you then get upset with your kitty when he or she pounces on you at night as you move under the covers, especially if you are restless sleeper. (But if it’s too late and you already encouraged this behavior, rest assured, cats do tend to outgrow this as they age).

Avoid tickling the belly, especially on young cats. The belly is a sensitive area. Many cats will respond by grabbing your hand with their front claws and kicking your hand or wrist vigorously with their back legs. This is an instinctive and automatic response. Tubby kitties tend to like their bellies rubbed.

How to Play with a Cat

  • Always play gently with your cat. Play with toys, not your hands.


  • Incorporate interactive play sessions with your cat into your day and into your lifestyle. This means using toys such as feather wands, shoe laces, dragonfly toys, or playing games such as ping pong (rolling small balls with your hand towards your cat, and then your cat bats them back to you).


  • Keep interactive play toys hidden until play time. Your cat will remain interested in the toys. Don’t leave them hanging out on the floor. They will become boring.


  • Get the right toys or modify them so they are more appealing. Most cat toys are too big for cats. The feathers, stuffed mice, or tinsel pom poms on pole toys are too large. Plastic balls are too heavy or too loud. Cats like small toys. They like the end of the plastic pole on the pole toys (not the toys at the end of the string). They like very small glitter balls, or diving into paper bags. If you have a pole toy with feathers at the end of it, cut the feathers off. Play with your kitty using the pole toy with just the string at the end. You kitty will love to play. Go to a crafts store and buy a dowel and put a shoe lace at the end. Your kitty will most likely enjoy that too.


  • Think small when it comes to cat toys, and make sure the wands on toys are long enough so that you don’t get into your cat’s personal space when playing.


  • Make movements of toys resemble prey. (I use this phrase with clients; “Make play mimic prey.”)  Most people attack the cat with the feathers or fly toys. People sit in front of the kitty, hoping for high jumps or action, as they dangle the toy in the kitty’s face, or slide it away from the kitty a few inches only to swing it towards him again. Prey rarely, if ever, chases, taunts, or flies at the cat. Cats usually walk away feeling annoyed or discouraged. Only young cats or truly boisterous cats enjoy tackling toys that fly at them.


  • Most cats will enjoy playing and get entranced by a toy, if you move it away from them. Cats hunt by watching, hiding, stalking, waiting; then pouncing and waiting, watching, hiding and stalking again. Finally, they pounce a few more times, truly capture the prey, and eat.  So get a shoelace or use the end of the wand on a wand toy and move it away from your cat. Make it stop and quiver. Then make it hide behind a corner. Your cat will want to hide behind furniture or props while playing. You can use boxes or paper bags for this purpose if you have an open floor plan. Continue to move the toy away from your cat until your cat stalks, follows, and pounces on it.


  • Let your cat frequently attack and catch the toy. If your kitty can never catch the toy, he or she will get frustrated and give up.


  • Always end play sessions with your kitty winning the game. Let your kitty catch the toy a few times, and then after the last catch or pounce, give your kitty a handful of treats or a mini meal. This way your kitty will not be left hanging or frustrated by your stopping play sessions too early. It will signify the end of play and your kitty will feel accomplished.


  • If your kitty is active at night, engage your cat in a play session in the evening. Feed your cat a meal after the play session. Cats tend to hunt, eat, and sleep – in that order.


Older cats love play. By following these tips and making play time resemble the behaviors of hunting and stalking, your cat will be more motivated, and both you and your kitty will be more entertained.




Copyright © Alana Stevenson 2012


Alana Stevenson can be contacted through her website She provides consultations by phone and Skype.

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