by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Playing is an important part of life for a domestic house cat. He doesn’t have the opportunity to catch his own meals, yet he is built for hunting, chasing, and the reward of the kill. He needs to use his mind and his body to keep in shape, and games are a good way to do this, as well as strengthening the bond between him and you. Even senior cats should be encouraged to play daily, even if only for a few minutes at a time. Blind and other less-abled cats may need some modification to their games to make it possible to be successful; they should not be excluded from playing.
Each cat has his own preferences for types of games, running, chasing, leaping and searching. Experiment with different games to see which he likes best. Does he like to leap for ‘birds’, chase ‘squirrels’ along the floor and up the scratch post, wrestle a ‘rabbit’, or hunt out a ‘mouse’? Does he like to play fast games or slow ones? What size toy does he like, large or small? Does he have a preference for texture or colour?
Cats, like their larger Cheetah cousins, have bursts of energy then they need to rest and recharge. Keep active game time to around 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Not all cats are good at stopping when they are tired. Watch for signs of exhaustion such as panting or uncontrolled behaviour and stop playing immediately.
His eyesight is meant for far vision; he can’t see what is under his nose but he can see movement accurately up to about 35 metres. Find a distance that is interesting for your cat, keep experimenting, as he becomes more flexible and more involved in the games he may change his preferences.
His hearing is excellent, and he can hear the rustle of a favourite toy from quite far away, depending on the environment and any other noises. This is a great way to engage him initially without showing him the toy, let him become curious and start investigating.
When playing interactive games, it is important to remember that prey tends to run away from the predator; this is the beginning of the chase. For cats that seem uninterested, the prey toy should move across their path at a distance just at or beyond paw-reach. Timid or nervous cats can be frightened by toys coming straight towards them.
Cats are most active early morning and early evening; when they would be hunting for food. This is the best time to play with them as they are at their sharpest and most active before eating. Ending the game session with a meal, or at least a treat, will complete the game with a reward, almost like a real hunt and kill session.
Once you have an established routine, try to stick to it as much as possible. Vary the game, the intensity, the place, and the reward to keep up this interest.