Why you should play with your cat, especially now
If you’re like me (and my husband, and my two grown kids) you’re hunkering down in keeping with expert advice about the coronavirus pandemic. We have a refrigerator full of food, some canned goods in the basement, and we’re staying close to home. Our pets, however, are not used to this new routine and are all up in our grill all day long.
There are all kinds of good reasons to find new ways to play with your cat during this unexpected time at home with him.
Play with your cat to tire her out
Are you suddenly working from home? Do you find cats sitting on your keyboard an impediment to productivity? A tired cat is a good cat. Incorporate a few play sessions into your schedule over the course of the work day and you’ll find yourself enjoying your planned “kitty interruptions.” She’ll nap in between bouts of play and you’ll both be happier – and at least one of you will be more productive for it.
Schedule play sessions of 10-15 minutes each, for up to a total of 1 hour per day. Cats are naturally active in short bursts so you don’t need to plan for marathon play sessions.
Play with your cat for exercise
Play is really the only source of exercise for most indoor cats. Play makes being active fun for cats. It helps keep their muscles toned and flexible and helps manage body weight.
It also exercises their minds. Play activities that mimic hunting, a natural cat behavior, help keep kitty intellects sharp. One of the upsides – if you can call it that – about being home under these unusual circumstances is that you can spend even more time engaging your cat in play that benefits her mind and body.
Play with your cat to prevent boredom (yours and his)
Most of us secretly believe our own cat is smarter than the average cat. That can’t be possible, of course (as one of my favorite comedians once said, that’s not how averages work), but we’re each right in crediting our cats with a certain amount of intellect and curiosity.
Wild cats, feral cats, and other cats who live outdoors find that life provides challenges, for better or for worse. They may face struggles that their indoor-cat brethren do not face, but they are probably not bored. Boredom can lead to lethargy and depression and even behavior problems in indoor cats. Play with your cat to keep life interesting for him.
Some of us who are home were not prepared for this dramatic change in our routines. Boredom is a real concern for people as well as cats. Now is a great time to get creative with play. Homemade toys are some of the best toys, and you and your cat are free to make up your own games. And remind yourself of all the benefits of having this wonderful, living being to keep you company during these most unusual times.
Play with your cat to reduce stress (yours and hers)
Cats experience stress and anxiety, just like humans. Stressed cats often express their feelings in the form of behavioral problems that can make them difficult to live with, such as aggression and urine marking. Sometimes stress in cats is manifested in compulsive behaviors, like obsessive grooming.
Play is one of many techniques you can use to help a cat deal with stress. Play helps a cat burn off nervous energy, while providing her with the social interaction she craves.
Playing with a cat is also a great stress reducer for humans. You can let the world’s troubles slip away for a moment while you are engaged with your cat.
Play with your cat to bond with him
You’re home and you can’t go out. The restaurants you like to frequent may be closed, and the gym, too. You might miss your weekend worship or other community activities. Maybe you miss the camaraderie at the office.
During this time we are all worried about the health and safety of humanity. But it’s OK to also think about ways to make the best of a bad situation. Use this time to strengthen the bond not only with the people closest to you in your life, but the cats who are your family, too.
Bonding is a way of describing a mutual relationship based on love, respect, and trust. One of the ways cats bond with their people is through play. Cats have a biological need to play and you can become a resource for filling that need.
Bonding with other living things provides provides benefits to humans, too. We are only just beginning to learn about emotional and social benefits of human-animal relationships, but there are many scientific studies that point to the emotional, social, cognitive, behavioral, and health benefits that pet ownership confers on people.
9 Fun ways to play with your cat
Teach your cat a trick
I know she’s not a dog. But cats are smart, and food-motivated cats are especially easy to train. If you don’t think it’s possible, watch this video:
Blow some bubbles and watch your cat bat and chase them. You might want to restrict this activity to the kitchen or the catio since it can be kind of messy. Look how much they love it:
There are catnip scented bubbles on the market to help your cat get interested in playing this game.
Walk the dog….err cat
You may have gotten a cat instead of a dog because you DON’T want to walk him, but you might find you both enjoy the activity more than you thought you would. Order a special leash designed just for cats online, and gradually introduce your cat to the idea of leash walking outside.
This excellent video shows you what kind of leash to buy and how to present the concept of leash walking to your cat.
Mouse in the Leaves
Attach a string or stick to any cat toy or even a large ball of stiff paper. Show the cat this silly apparatus and then pointedly put it under a blanket or sheet. Wiggle it around, then bring it back out again. You cat will love “hunting” this “mouse” as it disappears into a pile of “leaves.”
Fishing for cats
Tie a long string to a “lure” (a feather will do, or a small plush cat toy). Hang the string over a door and hide behind the door so he can’t see you. Encourage the cat to reach for the toy with little tugs on the string. If he gets really excited he might leap into the air to grab at the toy. Be sure that you let him catch it at least once before ending the game.
Get the treats out of jail
If you happen to have an old wire dish rack, turn it upside down on the floor. Drop high-value treats (like cooked chicken) between the “bars” of the dish rack and watch as your cat figures out how to slide the treats out from the center with a paw, or grab and pull the treat through the top wires with a claw.
No DIY, and no fancy equipment needed. But your cat will like it just as much as an expensive toy from Amazon.
Pull an ice cube out of the freezer and slide it across the floor to your cat. With any luck, she’ll bat it back to you and the game will continue until the cube is no more!
A few ping pong balls, a bathtub, and a cat. Need I say more?
The Shell Game
Put a treat under one of three paper cups. Let the cat watch you do it. Then shuffle the cups around a watch to see if your cat chooses the right one!
This list is far from exhaustive. Use your imagination to come up with new games for you and your cat to play together. The possibilities are endless!