There’s more to playtime than just being a fun break for you and your cat; it’s also an essential part of your cat’s life. If you own a cat, you know that a quick game can help make even the worst day a bit better.
Stress relief isn’t the only reason that playtime is important. Regular playtime can keep your cat healthy, develop essential hunting skills, and have many more benefits.
Although we all get busy sometimes, even when we’re at home, setting aside time to play with the cat is necessary to keep them happy. Here are a few reasons that playtime is so important for our feline friends.
The 6 Reasons Why Play Is Important for Cats
Building a strong relationship between you and your cat is one of the best things about owning a pet. It can take a while before the bond between you is as strong as possible, and maintaining it is just as important. There are ways to help speed up the process, though. Regular mealtimes and grooming sessions can help, as can regular playtimes.
Playing with your cat enables you to get to know each other. Your cat can show off their hunting skills and bring you their “prey,” while you can help them stave off boredom and stay active, even on rainy days. Cats build bonds with other felines this way too, even if it might seem alarming when they start play fighting.
At times, cats can be quite lazy. Many are more than happy to find a sunny spot and nap the day away or just sleep through bad weather. While outdoor cats can get exercise by exploring outside, indoor cats are more likely to find a comfortable spot and stay there. Unfortunately, this inactivity can quickly lead to boredom. It also increases your cat’s risk of obesity because they’re not burning off the calories from their meals and any treats.
A play session every day is the perfect way to get your lazy feline moving. It might be more of a challenge to convince your aging cat to move around as much as your kitten, but there’s bound to be a favorite toy that they love, like a laser pointer.
3. Developing Hunting Skills
Cats don’t just play because they enjoy it; playtime is also a way for them to develop their hunting instincts. They might be natural hunters, but even the best mouse-catchers wouldn’t be nearly as successful without practicing their craft.
Lying in wait around a corner to pounce on unsuspecting toes or batting a ball around the floor are activities that promote your cat’s hunting skills. Playtime enables them to develop their muscle memory and learn the best ways to take down prey.
If you have multiple cats, they will teach each other by playfighting, or your solitary cat will learn on their own with their favorite catnip mouse. You can help them out by attaching a toy to a cat-safe fishing rod and seeing how long it takes your cat to catch it. To keep them interested, remember to let your cat win sometimes.
4. Having Fun
There are plenty of important reasons that cats should play, but sometimes the simplest is the best. Playtime might help your cat develop their hunting skills, alleviate boredom, and stay at a healthy weight, but when all is said and done, it’s simply fun!
Boredom is something that we all suffer from at times. Cats aren’t nearly as interested in taking up a hobby or watching a movie to entertain themselves. Playtime is their way of engaging in something fun, and it’s an activity that everyone can join.
Chasing a jingle ball down the corridor or pouncing on a ball of mashed-up paper might seem strange to us, but cats love it.
5. Promoting Mental Stimulation
As curious creatures, cats are constantly finding new and often weird ways of getting into mischief. They’ll be sitting on your lap one minute and leaping halfway up the wall to catch a moth the next. Unfrequently, sometimes, they can end up injured.
Keeping them out of mischief requires giving them something else to focus on. If your cat is bored, they’ll be more likely to find ways to entertain themselves. If they do this, you’ll likely have to say goodbye to those breakable collectibles lined up on your shelf.
Playing with toys gives your cat a safer and more house-friendly way to alleviate their boredom. It helps stimulate their brain and challenges them to think up new ways to outsmart whichever toy they happen to be playing with.
6. Reducing Stress
Playing is a simple activity but a super effective one. When you’ve had a terrible day, coming home and watching your cat chase around after a laser pointer is a great way to relieve stress. It is very important to allow your cat to “catch the laser pointer” from time to time by tossing it a treat, otherwise, some cats can develop anxiety.
No matter what game you play together, your cat is bound to do something that makes you smile.
Stress doesn’t just affect us, though. If your cat’s routine has been interrupted recently—for example, due to a new kitten in the household—playtime can help them relax during all the uncertainty. It might take longer to encourage them to join the fun, but when you finally coax them out of their hiding spot, you can help them focus on more positive things. You’ll be showing them that despite all the strange things going on, they’re still your number one.
How Much Play Does a Cat Need?
Routine playtime might be a good thing, but you should be careful not to overdo it. Too much stimulation can lead to a stressed-out cat, or they might get frustrated or bored with the endless running up and down the hallway to chase a ball.
Usually, short play sessions throughout the day are perfect for both you and your cat. The length of play will depend on your cat’s personality. This is also a great way to give yourself a break if you work from home. A 5–10-minute pause for a snack and a chance to play with your cat works wonders at keeping your stress down and ensuring that your work day is productive.
What Happens If You Don’t Play With Your Cat?
Now that you know why play is so important to your cat, you might be wondering what happens if you can’t find time to play as much as you want to. There are several problems if your cat doesn’t have enough playtime. Depending on your cat’s personality, you might face several issues or just one.
Many cats love to be challenged, as it can get tedious being stuck inside all day, every day. They can only explore under the couch so many times before it loses its appeal. When your cat has exhausted all the usual ways of entertaining themselves, they’ll find something else to do.
Unfortunately for us and our furniture, a bored cat can get into trouble. Regular playtime can keep them entertained enough that they won’t need to resort to drastic measures to entertain themselves.
If you have a lazier cat, they probably don’t care if you rarely have time to play. They’ll likely just curl up and sleep the day away. This creates the potential for a few health issues, though. Without enough activity, your cat will quickly gain weight, which can lead to an increased risk of problems like diabetes and other serious health conditions.
Some cat breeds are highly energetic, and regular playtime can help manage their desire to run around all day. In this case, a lack of playtime can lead to the same problem as boredom. With too much energy, your cat will be bouncing off the walls and racing through the house at full speed. While this can be fun to watch, it also increases the chances of your cat getting hurt or knocking something over.
Kittens can also be filled with boundless amounts of energy. Providing plenty of new things for them to explore can keep them out of mischief and wear them out enough that you’ll both get a good night’s sleep.
What Do Cats Like to Play With?
Despite all the fancy cat toys that you can find at your local supermarket or pet store, cats aren’t that fussy when it comes to their toys. While you might want to splurge on a set of jingle balls, your cat will likely be just as happy with a homemade cardboard castle or even a big, mashed-up ball of paper.
Your cat may have preferences for certain toys based on their personality. Some will love toys that make a noise, while others might prefer a simple mouse. Catnip is another hit-or-miss option; some cats adore it and others just don’t care. Finding the toys that your cat enjoys the most can take experimenting, but it’s sure to be fun for both of you.
There are two main types of cat toys, and both serve different purposes. When you’re away at work, independent or self-play cat toys are ideal for keeping them entertained. These toys are battery operated or otherwise propelled by your cat so they can play by themselves. There are also toys that you control for your cat, such as a feathered wand toy. These activities work best when you and your cat can play together.
Within these two categories of toys, you have a wide variety to choose from, such as tunnels, jingle balls, catnip mice, and puzzle toys.
It can be difficult to find time to play with your cat, but it’s an incredibly important part of their development. Regular playtime helps keep them out of mischief, manage their weight, and strengthens the bond between you. Many of the benefits aren’t just for your cat, and you can enjoy a good play session too.
Set aside time to dedicate to playing with your cat every day. You’ll both have fun and become much closer as a result.
Featured Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock