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How can I have fun with my cat? Four ways to play

white cat with blue eyes sits on scratching post and plays with cat toy held by owner

Engaging in play with your cat will strengthen your bond with them

© Mila Naumova - Shutterstock

Games are a great way to bond with your feline friend, and very beneficial to their welfare. Here we cover all you need to know about how to play with your cat.

By Greta Inglis

Updated on the

Creating a stimulating environment for both the brain and body, is essential for wellbeing, but knowing how to play with a cat can sometimes be confusing. Your cat may seem interested one minute and walk off for a snooze the next, or if you have a kitten at home, you may be wondering how to play with them safely.

Luckily, there are lots of options when it comes to games for cats, both using cat toys and simple materials found at home.

What do cats like to play with?

Cats are usually drawn to toys that have some kind of movement, whether this is created by us people or the toy itself. Studies found that the more the cat toy looks and seems like prey, the more enthusiastic and engaged your cat will be. Movement is therefore very important, tapping into hunting instincts and the sequence of stalking, pouncing and catching.

Household objects such as balls of newspaper, string tied to the end of a pole or even a simple cardboard box, can all provide just as much entertainment for some cats as specially designed toys. What one cat loves, doesn’t always follow with another, and it’s important to consider your cat as an individual with their own preferences.

Check out our list of the best cat toys.

How can I make my cat playful?

When it comes to games with cats, many owners find their cat simply doesn’t seem interested. This can be disheartening, particularly if effort has gone into understanding how to play with your cat. In actual fact, it may not be your cat isn’t interested in playing, but more that you haven’t yet found the best way of playing with them.

Getting your cat to play with toys, will rely largely on finding the one that works for them. Try out different toys, at different times of the day, and make sure you are playing with your cat with the toys. This will help them engage in the game, as opposed to being left alone to work it all out for themselves.

Does your cat live in a multi-cat household? If so, offer some time to play with you alone. Cats can be very shy and are also quite territorial, so relaxing and engaging in play can be challenging for them with other felines in the picture.

If your cat seems lethargic and totally disinterested in the game, it may be worth seeing your trusted veterinarian to rule out any medical issues. Food can also make a difference to energy levels, and low-quality food may cause lack of energy. Check there are the right nutrients in the food.

How can I play with my indoor cat?

If your cat spends most of their time indoors, keeping them physically and mentally stimulated can require some planning. Simple ideas such as these can be great fun:

Ping pong in a bath

Cats love the movement of the lightweight balls, and the shape of the bath keeps them rolling. Supervise your cat at all times, helping them out as soon as they indicate the game is over.

Battery operated cat toys

This is a great option if you’re working and can’t move around to play with your cat. Simply pop some batteries in and the toy will move and change direction. Your cat will have great fun chasing the movement, never sure where the toy is headed. Remember though, while some cats love nothing more than the chase during play, others may prefer your attention and focus.

Wondering how to play with your cat without toys? Cat tricks are a brilliant option for this, ranging from practical exercises, like teaching your cat to use a scratching post to walking on a leash. Whatever you choose, cats love using their brains, so these kind of exercises can be great for the neurological system and overall wellbeing of your cat.

If you feel your cat needs more training, take a look here at our top tips on how to train your cat.

Is it bad to play with your cat with your hands?

Playing with your cat with your hands can encourage undesirable behaviour such as biting or scratching, so this is best avoided from a young age. If your kitten or cat nips, scratches or bites you, get up and calmly stop the game. Offer a toy as a replacement and reward any interaction your cat has with the toy.

In this way, your cat will learn that biting or scratching ends the game. Toys, on the other hand, keep the game going. Be sure to remove any loose bits from the toys you use, such as loose ribbon, small bits of fabric or any pieces of plastic.

Games for cats: How to get your cat to play in four ways.

Aside from cat toys, there are many other options out there when it comes to playing with a cat. Here we take a look at a few of our favourites:

Food games and treasure hunts

Hiding your cat’s food around the house, can be a great way to encourage them to use their brain. Your cat will sniff and explore the environment to find their dinner, tiring out both brain and body. Treat dispensing toys are also a great option. You could, for example, place food inside into a ball which your cat then has to move with their paws to get out. This satisfies a need for movement, whilst stimulating their sense of smell.

Climbing

It’s a commonly known fact that cats love to climb. But what if you’re an indoor cat who can’t go outside? Being an indoor cat doesn’t need to prevent your feline friend from fulfilling their climbing potential. Cat ramps, ledges and climbing trees, will offer your cat a sense of freedom and a chance to use their muscles, all the while staying in the safety of their home. You could also build your cat a catio if you're feeling crafty! 

Scratching

Offering your cat the chance to scratch, can reduce stress and help prevent unwanted behaviours at home.

Agility course

If your cat trusts you and is comfortable being directed, this may be one to try. Start simple at first. Place something thin and small on the ground and encourage your cat to walk over it, with either an exciting toy or a tasty treat. Practice over multiple sessions, always rewarding your cat and making sure sessions are kept short.

Once they have the hang of this, take a small hoop and rest the bottom part on the ground. Encourage your cat to step through it and reward. Over time you can slowly raise this, gradually bringing the hoop higher, until eventually your cat is jumping to get through.

If your cat ever seems reluctant or nervous, you may be going too quickly. Take a step back to build confidence and reassure them.

When you feel your cat is ready, you can add other obstacles such as an A board made from two scratching boards, or some poles to weave through.

Whether playing with your cat involves a battery-operated cat toy, a cardboard box, or the creation of an agility course in your living room, your cat will thank you for putting the time and effort into satisfying their need to move and use their brain.

You’ll find that interacting through play strengthens your bond and understanding over time, and that your cat is more relaxed and contented at home.

Frequently asked questions

How can I stop my kitten from biting?

How can I bond with my cat?

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