Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cats love interactive play: 4 steps to get started

Fergus the kitten resting on my lap

How do you get a zany cat to rest nicely in your lap? Play is the answer. And if the cat is as rambunctious as little Fergus here, not just any type of play will do. He needs a very focused, very vigorous form of play. And that means he needs me to get involved.

There are tons of cat toys out there that are made to stimulate a cat's hunting behaviors, and many of those toys rely on cats to get creative. They must bat balls around or pounce on paper or chase after a toy that pops in and out of a cube. They must choose to play and they must play alone.

Fergus can and will play like that from time to time. But what he really loves? Interactive play.

Fergus the cat playing
He loves play so much you can't see him doing it.
These are play times when someone human in the house is involved in the action. That makes the play a little less predictable. And to Fergus, that makes the play more fun.

If you haven't gotten involved in play like this before, here are a couple ways to get started.
  1. Look for very simple toys that you must operate. Skip over the battery-operated toys and the fancy, self-directed bits. Look for toys operated by wands or sticks or elastic. These are the things you move and the cats chase. That makes for better interactivity. 
  2. Move the toy very slowly at first. If your cat has never been offered an interactive toy, that kitty could get scared by your fast, whipping movements. Try gliding the toy across the floor slowly, or try waving it back and forth very gently. 
  3. Let kitty catch the toy from time to time. It's tempting to keep the party going by continuing to whip the toy around. But that kind of play can frustrate the cat. Allow kitty to win from time to time, and then start over again. 
  4. Pay attention. Cats can give subtle, hard-to-interpret signals during play. Fergus does. Notice that his paws are folded and he's not touching the toy. At first glance, he looks done with play. In reality, he's just planning the next attack. The more you play with your cat, the more you'll learn to interpret these signals (and the more fun everyone will have). 
Fergus the kitten with his toy

Fergus is still young and very crazy, and he needs play sessions in order to burn off energy. That allows him to be nicer to his roommates. When you're using play to help with these energy issues, the sessions can go on for much longer than you ever thought possible. Fergus, for example, will play for at least 45 minutes at a stretch. I've had 90-minute play sessions with him a time or two.

If you need to cut down on the amount of time you spend, look for ways to make the play more vigorous. If I have something else that must be done after the play so I need to speed things up, I incorporate more leaping into the play, and I make him run from one room to the other. Things can get so crazy that even the dogs get a little worried.

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier
"Please make it stop."
But this kind of play suits Fergus. How do I know? Because he would simply walk away if he wasn't having fun. He doesn't, so I know I'm on the right track.

Do you play interactive games with your cats? Share your tips in the comments!


  1. We kinda like the interactive battery toys because then we don't have to worry about the mom getting tired out and we can play for awhile.

  2. Mudpie loves her battery operated toys but toys we can play with together only strengthen our bond :)