When a cat or kitten plays, it is practising its hunting skills.
Any toys that you provide become substitute prey. A domesticated cat no longer needs to hunt or patrol its territory in order to survive, but the instinct and drive for such behaviour is still there. By encouraging your cat or kitten to play regularly with a variety of objects you will keep your pet emotionally and physically healthy and also provide an antidote to boredom.
When choosing a toy, avoid anything that squeaks as cats and kittens have sensitive hearing and the noise is hard on their ears. A ball with a bell inside will be well received by inquisitive kittens.
Cats that are confined to the house may become stressed and bored. In this case a cat gym may help to provide them with the exercise and stimulation they need. Cat gyms usually consist of a scratching post with toys attached. Some have a carpet-covered platform on top. As well as giving them a means to play, they provide cats with the opportunity to keep their claws in trim, a place to clamber and a vantage point from which to survey the world.
Much of kitten and cat play is actually hunting practice. The same swipe he takes at the piece of string being dangled playfully in front of his nose might catch him a bird if used in the wild. Likewise, the patting or scooping actions he uses when he pursues and tackles a tightly rolled up piece of paper or tin foil might reward him with a mouse or fish in other circumstances.
Cats and kittens, like toddlers and young children, are excellent at improvising and are quick to spot the play potential of the objects around them. Their own tails are an excellent example of this, and an immediate source of fun. A bout of tail chasing is a sure sign that your pet is feeling happy and in a playful mood.
Cats derive as much benefit from exploring a cardboard box, getting tangled up in a ball of wool, chewing the end of a pencil or patting at the counter from a board game as they do from purpose-bought toys. Encouraging them to play, therefore, need tax nothing more than your ingenuity.
If you do decide you want to treat your pet to something special, choose a toy that is light and moves quickly and easily. Cats particularly like playthings with such features, which is why ping-pong balls are always firm favourites with them. Don’t choose anything that is likely to be too heavy for them to move – they’ll quickly lose interest.
Cats also respond well to smell, sound and texture. Most love the scent of catnip, a herb that can be grown at home quite easily. Catnip has a powerful attraction for cats, especially when it is dried. The dried herb or an extract of the herb is used to fill toys that are made for cats. These toys cause great excitement and stimulate the cat to exercise natural responses that would be used when a cat catchs its prey. Do make sure that the toys you provide are safe, with no sharp edges or loose parts that can be swallowed.
The colour of a toy means little to a cat. However, you may find brightly coloured items useful since they are easy to find when the cat has lost them.
By giving your cat a toy filled with dried catnip, you will be ensuring that your pet exercises its olfactory lobes.
Cats react to sound and texture. Toys with bells or raised patterns on their surfaces are therefore a good choice.