60% of cats are overweight according to a study published in the Journal of Animal Science.
The sad truth? In the absolute majority of cases, this is totally preventable.
With a balanced diet and plenty of playtime, you will have a happier, healthier cat that lives longer. In this blog post, we explain why cats need to play and how you can become a better playtime partner with proven tips and tricks from other cat owners!
Why should I play more with my cat?
The reasons cats play
While avoiding obesity is reason enough to play, it’s not why cats play. Cats, both wild and domestic, share much of the same DNA. The playfulness you see in your cat is a direct descendant of survival instincts honed by their wild ancestors. In nature, play is a critical part of survival, teaching young cats essential skills like stalking, pouncing, and hunting. These instincts are so deeply ingrained that they continue to manifest in domestic cats, even though they no longer need to hunt for food.
Beyond physical exercise, play serves as vital mental and emotional stimulation for cats. It helps them to exercise their minds, keeping their brains active and engaged. This is one of the reasons why playtime is especially important for indoor cats, who get less natural stimulation from their environment than outdoor cats.
Play also helps them release stress and excess energy. I’m sure you’ve seen your cat, with a wild look on their face, dart from room to room in your home running around like a lunatic. This is most commonly known as the “zoomies”, but it’s also known as Frenetic Random Activity Periods, or FRAP for short. With consistent playtime your cat will be calmer and less anxious, and won’t need to frantically run around due to pent-up energy bubbling over.
Get a stronger bond through play
Playtime isn't just about physical or mental exercise; it's a key element in the social bonding between you and your cat. Through interactive play, you build a deeper understanding and trust with your cat. It’s a way to communicate and connect on a level that transcends the basic needs of care.
Kittens will play for hours with their parents and siblings, wrestling and stalking each other. Joining your cat in safe and engaging play mimics this natural bonding phenomenon that cats exercise and ultimately lets your cat know that you are family.
If you’re jealous of all the cuddles your partner has been getting from your cat lately, then spend more time playing with them. I can almost guarantee that your cat will choose your lap instead of your partners the next time you sit and watch your favorite Netflix show.
Timing Matters: The 'When' of Playtime
Aligning Playtime with Your Cat's Natural Rhythms
Timing is a crucial aspect of play that often goes overlooked. This chapter explores the importance of understanding and adapting to your cat's natural active periods, ensuring that playtime aligns with their built-in preferences.
Cats are crepuscular animals, meaning they are most active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk. This behavior is rooted in their wild ancestry, where such timings were optimal for hunting. By scheduling play sessions during early morning or late evening, you are more likely to see enthusiastic participation from your cat, making playtime both enjoyable and effective.
Consistency and Routine in Play
Just like humans, cats thrive on routine. Establishing a consistent play schedule provides them with a sense of predictability and security. Here are some tips to create an effective play routine:
- Regular Timing: Try to play at the same times each day. Consistency helps your cat understand when it’s time for fun and when it's time for rest.
- Adapting to Your Cat's Preferences: While dusk and dawn are generally the best times, pay attention to your cat's individual habits. Some cats may have different periods of activity and adjusting your schedule to suit their preferences can lead to more engaging play sessions.
- Duration and Frequency: On average, adult cats benefit from around 15 minutes of play at least twice a day. Kittens, being more energetic, often require shorter but more frequent playtimes.
While regular play is essential, it's also important to balance it with periods of rest. Overstimulation can be just as detrimental as a lack of play. Observing your cat's responses will help you find the right balance between active play and relaxation.
Enjoy a Full Night’s Sleep
Many cat owners, especially new cat owners with kittens, have a common problem - not getting to sleep through the night. Many cats will lick the face of their sleeping owners or nibble at their toes to wake them up. Other cats will run rampant through the house at 3 AM, making it impossible for anyone to get those much-needed hours of sleep.
Often this behavior can be stopped, or drastically reduced, by making playtime a part of your nightly routine. Playing for 10-15 minutes before bedtime can be all that it takes to make your cat sleep soundly through the night, allowing you to sleep undisturbed.
Understanding the Power of the Right Toy
OK, I’ll play more with my cat - but what toy should I choose?
Just like humans, every cat has its own likes and dislikes. Some cats may be fascinated by a feather dangled on a string, while others might prefer chasing a quick-moving mouse. Paying attention to how your cat reacts to different toys can guide you in choosing the right ones.
Getting the right toy for your cat is like unlocking a secret door to their happiness. However, you might not have found your cat’s kryptonite yet! It’s all about figuring out what makes your cat tick. That’s why we recommend using the reusable and modular wand toy “Forever Stick” by repounce. Don’t buy 50 different teaser wands to find a few winners that your cat actually appreciates. With the Forever Stick you can easily switch between baits and attach basically anything with its universal quick clasps to find your cat’s unique kryptonite!
Your Best Bets
While all cats are different, there are some toys that have stood the test of time and can engage even the most stubborn cat. We set out to find these toys to be able to give you the best playtime advice for your cats.
Instead of looking at which toys are most frequently bought by cat owners, we wanted to know which toys were most appreciated by cats! We asked over 100 cat owners about their cat’s favorite toy. We’ve compiled the results and we have 3 clear winners!
In first place - the classic textile/plush mouse, but we also included votes that mentioned bird designs of similar kinds and sizes. The important factors are that the baits are supposed to be small, around 1-2 inches (3-5 cm) and have a tail of some kind.
Silver medal goes to the one and only Feather bait! Here people also mentioned that smaller was better, something that we have noticed with our own cats as well. Some cats enjoyed them more when there was a bell attached while others wanted a more realistic look and feel with natural colors and no bells.
3rd place is the textile/plush string, often also called snake or tail. People mentioned that their cats go crazy for these toys, especially kittens but older cats as well. A big benefit with these toys is that they’re very durable so they don’t need to be replaced very often.
On the lower half of the list, we can see some common household items that evidently make perfect cat toys! It's great to use stuff that would otherwise be thrown out instead of only buying new toys. One man’s trash is another cat’s treasure.
We can’t vouch for how safe all of these are so use your own judgment and only use toys under observation, but some popular mentions were cotton swabs, hair ties, pipe cleaners, bobby pins, toilet paper rolls, bag ties, cable ties, plastic bottle caps and even ear plugs.
To the Fun Part - How Do I Best Play With My Cat?
Crafting an engaging play experience for your cat involves more than just presenting them with a toy; it's about creating a game that stimulates their natural instincts and provides mental and physical exercise. Some cats may prefer a vigorous game of chase, while others might enjoy a more strategic and mentally stimulating hunt.
Mimicking Natural Prey Movements
Once you have selected the right toys, the next step is to engage your cat in play effectively. You need to put effort into playtime - if you’re not engaged your cat likely won’t be either. So don’t scroll on your phone while dragging your wand across the carpet and expect your cat to be excited.
I want to share a story of when a fellow cat parent reached out to me with a common problem. She noticed that her cat was anxious and had a lot of pent-up energy, but she didn’t know how to release it.
I asked if she had a teaser wand at home. She did, but “he doesn’t seem to like wands”.
My cat-senses started to tingle, so I asked “If I may ask, how do you actually play with your wand?”
Her response: “Since I don’t live so spaciously I usually just drag it back and forth on the carpet”.
My suspicions were correct. She didn’t know how to actually play with her cat. Your cat has a heart that beats with wild, ancestral instincts. Imagine being a curious, smart creature and having no challenges.
Cats need to hunt. We just happen to call it “play”.
I told her “act like a mouse would. Don’t let him even see the toy to begin with."
Hide it behind the curtain and rattle the wand like a shivering mouse. When he leaps, immediately dash away and “hide” behind the table leg. When he pounces again, run it along the wall to under the couch. Make it hard.
When he finally catches it, let him have it. Let him run away with it for a couple of minutes and enjoy his victory. He deserved it.
She wrote back the same night.
“He has been running around like a maniac chasing the wand now. He apparently loves wand toys!"
She later posted a picture of her sleeping cat with the caption “Tonight Gizmo got properly activated”.
I was so happy that I could help her activate her cat - strengthening their bond and keeping him in tip-top shape.
She’s now getting a Forever Stick to keep playtime interesting. Being able to quickly switch between different baits, and then detach the string to further change-up the playtime makes all the difference.
Remember: Make it hard. Keep it interesting. Change it up.
You can pick up your own Forever Stick on www.repounce.com or ask your local pet store if they have it in stock.
Some additional tips on how to mimic natural prey-like movements are:
- Slow and Stealthy: Slowly moving a toy, like a mouse creeping across the floor, can trigger your cat's stalking instinct.
- Quick and Erratic: Sudden movements, similar to a bird or bug, can entice your cat into a playful pounce.
- Using Different Environments: Play in different areas of your home to provide varied experiences. For example, toys that slide smoothly on hard floors or ones that can be batted around on carpeted surfaces.
- Hide and Seek: Hide toys under blankets or behind furniture to create a hunt-like scenario. This not only entertains but also stimulates their natural hunting instincts.
- Brain Toys: Puzzle toys that require your cat to think and maneuver to get a treat can provide both mental stimulation and physical activity.
Playtime Rule Number 1: Don’t Be Boring.
Variety is crucial in keeping your cat's playtime engaging and stimulating.
Cats, much like people, can grow bored with repetitive activities. Even the most fun game gets boring after a while if it’s always the same. Introducing variety into playtime can keep your cat curious and eager to participate:
- Different Types of Toys: Rotate between different kinds of toys and baits – from balls and feathers to mice and strings. This rotation prevents boredom and keeps each play session fresh and exciting.
- Changing Play Styles: Alternate the style of play. One day, focus on toys and movements that encourage chasing; another day, use toys that promote stalking and pouncing. This not only keeps your cat physically active but also mentally sharp.
Keeping Playtime Unpredictable and Challenging
Keeping playtime both unpredictable and challenging is essential in maintaining your cat's interest and excitement. Introducing toys at unexpected times or hiding them in new places adds an element of surprise that can significantly pique your cat's curiosity and encourage exploration.
While having a stable routine lays a solid foundation for regular play, sprinkling in these surprise elements can truly enhance the overall experience. Additionally, creating play challenges such as setting up mini-obstacles or play circuits adds another layer of engagement. Imagine the delight your cat might show when discovering a toy hidden inside a box or under a cup, turning a simple object into an exciting puzzle.
Remember to adapt to your cat's changing interests over time. Just like humans, cats can grow bored with the same activities over time. What was fun yesterday might be mundane today, and what was exhilarating as a kitten might bore a grown cat. It's important to observe your cat's reactions to various toys and play styles closely. Being flexible in your approach to play is key.
7 Tips to Maximize your Playtime
I hope that you’ve learned some new playtime tips and tricks, essentially becoming a better cat parent. I’ve distilled 7 key tips for you here below to ensure an enriched playtime experience!
1) Safety first - smaller toys can pose a choking hazard for cats.
Prioritizing safety during play is vital. Choose toys that are safe and appropriate for your cat, and always supervise play sessions. Remember, each cat is unique – what works for one might not work for another. Consult with veterinarians for tailored advice on play and health, and establish a safe play area and routine.
2) Aim for at least 15 minutes of interactive playtime twice a day.
Understanding your cat's playful nature is key. Their instincts, stemming from their wild ancestors, drive their love for play. This play is not just physical exercise but also crucial for their mental health and emotional well-being. By engaging in regular play, you're not only keeping your cat physically fit but also nurturing a deeper emotional connection.
3) Play during early morning and late evenings to adapt to their natural rhythm.
Cats are most active during dawn and dusk. Aligning playtime with these natural active periods often leads to better engagement. Establishing a consistent routine, adapted to your cat's habits and preferences, ensures a balanced mix of play and rest while teaching your cat to know when it’s time to unleash their inner energy reserves.
4) Keep your cat interested by switching between toys often.
Keeping playtime interesting is essential. Variety in toys prevents boredom and keeps your cat intrigued. Experiment with different toys – plush mice, feather baits, and strings are among the most common favorites. Opt for reusable toys where you can switch out the bait, such as with the popular Forever Stick.
5) Avoid the boring sea of sameness - change up your playstyle.
Introduce unpredictability in playtime by changing play styles frequently. Use varied movements to mimic natural prey and stimulate your cat’s instincts. Switch between long runs and high jumps with a string wand, and quick dashing movements of a mouse with a solid stick. This is the reason, why the Forever Stick is modular, to satisfy all playtime, needs in one convenient and unbreakable forever-product.
6) Make it challenging. We call it play, they call it hunt.
Playtime should be challenging. Remember that this is the domesticated cat’s version of hunt. Allow them to stalk, pounce, sprint and jump, just as a lion would in the wild. If playtime is too easy (or impossible) then it often becomes mundane and boring.
7) Make it fun for you!
Your cat responds to your energy levels. I’m sure you’ve seen how they often seek you up for a cuddle when you’re feeling down. The same kind of response can be seen when you’re truly enjoying playtime and having fun with them! Invest in premium products and toys that you like and can feel proud of. Be present and see how much fun your cat is having chasing that mouse or wrestling with that feather bait. Enjoy that moment and appreciate that you’re enriching your cat’s life.
Wrapping It Up
So, to sum it all up, don't underestimate the power of play when it comes to your cat's well-being. It's not just a game; it's a lifeline to a healthier, happier cat and a stronger bond. By recognizing their innate instincts and rhythms, you can supercharge their playtime. Remember, cats are crepuscular, so aligning your play sessions with their natural activity peaks makes a world of difference.
The choice of toys is paramount, and the "Forever Stick" by Repounce, with its adaptability, is a top pick for keeping playtime exciting (bonus points: it’s sustainable!). Playtime isn't just about physical exercise; it's a journey into their hunting heritage. So, mimic those natural movements, challenge your cat, and make each session memorable.
Here’s the last tip I’ll leave you with: enjoy the playtime as much as your cat does. Your enthusiasm adds that extra spark. So, invest in quality (sustainable) toys, relish the bonding moments, and bask in the joy of enriching your cat's life. The rewards? A healthier, happier kitty who adores you even more. So, let the play begin, and watch your cat thrive – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
About the Author: From Head of Strategy to Crazy Cat Dad
This summer I left my corporate job of 6+ years and stepped off the career ladder. I replaced strategy slide decks with cat groups on facebook. I stopped managing a team of senior project managers and started trying to manage my cats into being tiktok stars.
I hate unnecessary single-use products.
I love seeing how happy my cats are during playtime.
I got tired of all the flimsy, single-use cat toys that quickly got worn-out and discarded. I figured there must be a better way.
So I created Forever Stick.
The Unbreakable, Reusable and Modular Premium Cat Wand.
Now I’m on a mission to enrich playtime for cats, owners and the environment.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post on cat playtime. If you have any tips and tricks yourself, please share them in the comments! If you want to contact me, then send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Anton and cats Gorba and Tolstoy