How to Play with Your Cat to Prevent Behavior Problems

cat-playing Tips on playing with your cat might seem out of place on a site about preventing litter box problems, but there is a clear connection. Just like in dogs and for that matter, people, boredom can lead to behavior problems.

Keeping your cat busy helps reduce the risk not only of inappropriate urination, but also furniture scratching, nighttime trouble-making, excessive meowing, and even aggression.

First things first, though: if your cat is exhibiting any unusual or problematic behavior, she could have a health problem. Consult your vet and make sure your cat is healthy before you look for other causes.

Why Cats Need Play

Cats are bright, energetic creatures. They have the intelligence of a 2-year-old child and can sprint at up to 30 miles an hour. For as much as they nap, they’re not designed to laze around all day staring out the window.

When they don’t have an outlet for their curiosity and energy, they become bored. Chronic boredom causes stress, and a stressed cat is highly likely to have behavior problems.

Playing with your cat not only helps her burn off energy, it also helps strengthen your cat’s emotional bond with you. She’ll feel more secure and be less likely to misbehave. For this reason alone, it’s a good idea to play with your cat, rather than just toss her a few toys and walk away.

How Often and When to Play

Try to have a minimum of two 15-minute play sessions with your cat every day. You might have one in the morning before you leave for work and another when you get home. Of course, this depends on your cat, too. Trying to make her play when she’s not in the mood will just stress her out.

If you can, have one a little before bedtime, too. Remember, cats are hunters. In nature, they expend energy chasing down and catching their food, then eat what they caught, then take a nap. You can use this pattern to your advantage by leaving the last meal of the day before your own bedtime. Have a brisk play session before the meal, then feed your cat and chances are she’ll go to sleep when you do.

How to Choose Your Cat Toys

Visit any pet supply shop, especially online, and you’ll find a seemingly endless assortment of cat toys. The reason there are so many is that different cats like different types of toys. To get an idea of which ones will go over best with your cat, pay attention to how your cat likes to play. Does she like to chase things? Bat things around? Watch things?

You don’t necessarily have to spend money on toys, either. A little googling will turn up plenty of ideas for safe, homemade cat toys that cost little or nothing.

You’ll need two basic types of toys. Those you pull, dangle or otherwise move around for your cat to play with and those your cat can play with by herself. Some of the latter, such as electronic toys, will need your supervision. The rest should be things your cat can enjoy while you’re not around.

Here are a few possibilities just to give you some ideas:

Toys for Two

  • Laser pointer
  • Wand toys
  • Thing in a Bag by Happy Dog Toys
  • Electronic crawling toys

Toys for Solo Play

  • Paper bags and cardboard boxes
  • Single toys like catnip mice, squeaky toys, and wool or plastic balls
  • Interactive scratching post/play center
  • Ball-in-ring (a ball semi-enclosed in a plastic ring)
  • Pop-up tunnel
  • SmartCat Peek-a-Prize Toy Box

Like kids, cats will get bored with any toy, no matter how much they loved it when they first got it. To avoid this problem, rotate the toys regularly. Divide the toys into two or three groups and put one group away for two weeks at a time.

Catnip toys eventually go stale and should be replaced. If you have a cat who goes crazy for catnip, use catnip as a rare treat no more than every two weeks. There’s some, largely anecdotal, evidence offering it too often will get you a cat who begs you for ‘nip.

A Few More Tips

For safety reasons, all toys should be durable and free of small parts your cat could swallow and choke on. Never leave your cat alone with toys that have long strings, such as cat dancer fishing-pole type toys. The cat could become tangled in the strong. As a guideline, if you wouldn’t leave a 2-year-old child alone with the toy, don’t leave your cat with it.

If you use treat-dispensing toys, wash them after eat use and take care not to overfeed using the toy.

Anything you use as a toy your cat will continue to think of as a toy. This is why it’s a very bad idea to use your hand as a toy. If you do, your cat is likely to attack your hand sometime when you least expect.

When Macho was a kitten, I used handkerchiefs as toys for him. Then as an adult, he would routinely hunt down handkerchiefs in the cupboards and drag them out to play with. He didn’t do this with any other article of clothing. He’d just learned to think of handkerchiefs specifically as toys.

For other ways to keep your cat happy and check out Cat Urine Problems Eliminated