Are you playing with your cat right? Behaviorist reveals the most enriching ways to play with your feline friend

Woman playing with her cat
(Image credit: Getty)

As cat owners, we cherish those playful moments with our feline companions, but are we truly engaging them in a way that satisfies their natural instincts? 

Mastering how to play with a cat isn't just about fun and games – it's a vital aspect of their well-being, providing mental stimulation, exercise, and a chance to express their natural hunting behaviors. 

Feline behaviorist Shani, the owner of Wild at Heart cat behavior solutions, took to TikTok to shed some light on the art of feline play and its significance in keeping our kitties entertained and content.

"If they're not treating their toys like prey, they will absolutely treat you like prey," Shani emphasizes. Understanding and fulfilling a cat's natural instincts are essential in avoiding undesirable behaviors or other signs your cat isn't getting what it needs to be happy. Engaging in play that mimics hunting activities helps channel their energy positively and enrichingly.

Shani holds a CFTBS (Certified Feline Training and Behavior Specialist) Certification from the Animal Behavior Institute. Her expertise in feline behavior has led her to recognize that proper playtime is key to a cat's physical and emotional health.

You can watch her TikTok video below or continue reading to learn her expert advice on playing with cats.


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In the video, Shani begins by enticing her 15-year-old cat, Sweetpea, with an energetic chase, mimicking prey behavior. Introducing Sweetpea's favorite wand toy (similar models can be found in our best cat toys roundup), she matches her energy, moving the toy sporadically to pique her interest.

To further engage Sweetpea, Shani incorporates the use of a blanket, using the end of the wand toy to create movement underneath it which she says cats love. Shani shares that her cat Sweetpea enjoys playing under doors and over beds, indicating how essential it is to explore a variety of play scenarios.

During the play session, Shani observes Sweetpea going through the prey sequence, a series of stages cats follow during hunting: staring, stalking and chasing, pouncing and grabbing, and performing a "kill bite." Cats may not follow the exact order of the sequence, but allowing them to go through all the stages, especially the "kill bite," is crucial to satisfying their instincts.

Shani advises not making the toy too easy to catch, as it diminishes the fulfillment of the prey sequence. She recommends finishing the play session with a meal, some of the best dry cat food or best wet cat food, mirroring the hunting experience in the wild. In the wild, cats hunt, kill, and then eat, and incorporating this ritual into playtime offers a more satisfying and complete experience for our domesticated pets.

Understanding your cat's play style and preferences is essential for an enjoyable play session. Shani stresses the importance of offering a variety of toys and switching them up during playtime to keep cats engaged. 

"If your cat is bored with a toy have two to three ready on hand to re-engage your cat," she explains, "Because you want them to be super excited and you want them to have that energy output so they can relax and calm down and get those predator instincts out of their system".

Ultimately, investing time in purposeful play with a cat allows them to exercise their predatory instincts, expend excess energy, and develop a stronger bond with their owners.

Jessica Downey
Staff Writer

With over a year of writing for PetsRadar, Jessica is a seasoned pet writer. She joined the team after writing for the sister site, Fit&Well for a year. Growing up with a lively rescue lurcher kindled her love for animal behavior and care. Jessica holds a journalism degree from Cardiff University and has authored articles for renowned publications, including LiveScience, Runner's World, The Evening Express, and Tom's Guide. Throughout her career in journalism she has forged connections with experts in the field, like behaviorists, trainers, and vets. Through her writing, Jessica aims to empower pet owners with accurate information to enhance their furry companions' lives.