Pet health is about more than diet and vet care - cat play is vital, and is one of the most important aspects of owning either a kitten or cat. You should play with your cat every day, if possible, and most vets and studies, including one from the PDSA* recommend two sessions of around 15-20 minutes play as a minimum. If you're in need of some ideas for cat toys and activities, take a look at our guide to the best cat toys.
All cats prefer different types of play, and will change as they age, so while kittens prefer to run around the home and to scratch and bite, older cats will like to stalk, pounce or climb. It’s likely that your own feline will have a distinct personality, which will determine what kind of cat play you should choose.
Why is cat play so important? Inactivity is one of the main causes of feline obesity, which can then lead to other physical health problems, you can read more about these in our vet's guide to healthy weight loss for cats . Overfeeding is the other - and cats tend to eat more when they are bored and understimulated, so you can actually solve both problems with regular play. There are other advantages too, which we’ll detail below.
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It keeps your cat healthy
It may sound obvious, but if your cat is inactive it will gain weight and become unhealthy. Just like in humans. Play not only encourages your cat to move, and not just lie around and sleep, but it also stimulates their senses and improves their mood. A happy cat tends to be a healthy one, and pets that are played with and loved tend to avoid over-eating, stress-eating, or feeling insecure about their routines. Not only that, but it has benefits for your cat’s wellbeing. Cats that scratch regularly, for example, sharpen their claws and remove excess nails to keep their feet healthy. Cats that climb and explore learn the limits of their abilities, and are less likely to overbalance or fall from objects. There are so many health benefits to general play.
It creates a better bond
Cats that are played with tend to be more attached to their owners, and will therefore be more rewarding pets. If you don’t interact with your feline on a regular basis, they will lose interest in you, or simply view you as a provider of food. Not only could this lead to your cat to avoid sitting on your lap or allowing you to stroke it, in extreme cases it could lead to them choosing to leave home, if they feel insecure about their environment. Most owners will leave their cats at home while they go to work, or leave the home, so packing in play time not only shows your cat that you care for them, it also becomes part of your daily routine and can help you to de-stress when you have finished work or come home from school.
It socializes cats
Cat play not only exercises cats, it can also help to make them better behaved. A bored cat will explore on their own; it’ll climb curtains, scratch sofas, and knock items off shelves. If you don’t play with your cat they will make their own fun, and will exercise curiosity, so if you’re concerned about your furniture and the general appearance of your home, socializing a cat through play is essential. While cats can’t be trained, you can use toys like laser pointers and teaser toys to stop your cat (or kitten) from doing things like biting and scratching humans, and to play in more acceptable ways. This is especially useful if you have children, who can be badly scratched by bored or stressed cats.
Cat play is fun
It’s easy to focus on the sensible benefits of cat play, but don’t forget that cat play is fun for you too. Watching your cat backflip if they’re surprised by a teaser, or charge after a laser dot, is pretty funny, and can be beneficial to your mental health as much as the cat. While we’d never recommend exploiting your cat for silly videos, it can be fun to play and record your cat, to share with friends and family. There’s a reason cat videos are among the most watched footage on the internet.
Indoor cats need it
Many cats are allowed to roam freely, but some cats - especially those in cities - are expected to stay indoors all their lives. Exercise is vital for indoor cats, as there is no other way for them to be active. It doesn’t matter how much space you have - there is always a type of toy that works for indoor cats. We have a guide to the best cat toys for indoor cats, but would thoroughly recommend laser pointers, flipping fish, and other toys that encourage stalking and pouncing. These activities are what your cat will usually do outside, and these instincts don’t lessen if they stay indoors, so you need to find ways to let them behave naturally. Boredom and stress can be rife with indoor cats, as they live within the same space all their lives, so play is essential for them.
Play comforts cats
Life changes - it’s inevitable. Cats are creatures of habit, and when change happens (even if it’s temporary, like when you rearrange the furniture in a room for a couple of days), they get stressed out. Play can create a routine to help them cope with change, or it can distract them and make them feel more comfortable, helping them to overcome temporary stress that arises from change. If your cat is shy or hiding for some reason, a familiar toy can bring them out again, or allow you to get close enough to pick them up or comfort them.
What does your cat really need?
If you’re unsure whether or not your cat is in a healthy condition, you can check this handy guide from Purina, who not only make some of the best cat food, but also commission research and studies into cat health. Generally speaking, you will know if your cat is unhappy or overweight just by sight, and while it’s often obvious if they’re hungry or over-fed, you should also consider if a little play and human contact would benefit their physical condition and mental mood.
For more ideas on how to keep your cat amused, have a look at our guide to the 10 best interactive cat toys.
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