How to play with your kitten
Play with kittens isn’t all fun and games. Play is also essential to help your feline friend improve their coordination, social skills and mental and physical development.
The importance of playing with your kitten
Kittens are born with strong instincts to hunt that help them survive in the wild. Domesticated kittens, however, no longer need those instincts to survive, so they need a way to channel all that energy. That’s where play comes in. When domesticated kittens play, they are actually going through the motions of hunting, which includes stalking, pouncing and capturing “prey” – even if it’s just as a mouse-shaped toy.
Kittens learn important play skills from their mothers and littermates before twelve weeks of age. If a kitten is separated from their litter too early, they may not know how to play appropriately. In those cases, it is up to you to show them how to play within boundaries, or introduce them to an older, well-socialized cat who will teach them the proper way to be a cat.
Games to play with kittens
Since chasing, climbing, hiding and pouncing are their favourite activities, try to incorporate these actions into the games you play with kittens.
Here are a few fun suggestions:
- Use feather teasers, fishing rod toys and laser beams for swiping and chasing activities. (Never shine a laser into any animal’s eyes and always let your cat catch a toy at the end of the game.)
- Get a cat tree to help your kitten develop better balance and mobility and satisfy their instincts to climb.
- Add a scratching post to help your kitty sharpen their claws and discourage them from ruining your furniture.
- Provide toys that mimic prey so your kitten can perfect their pouncing technique.
Popular toys for kittens to play with
Kittens are very playful and enjoy playing with toys almost as much as human kids do. Luckily, there is a wide variety of cat toys to choose from. Here are some of the preferred choices:
- Plush mice or balls: kittens enjoy batting and chasing these and may even carry them around in their mouths. Make sure all toys are designed for cats to avoid choking hazards.
- Puzzle boxes: these toys are designed to stimulate your cat’s curiosity and mental acuity. You can place a treat or some of their dry food inside so they have to work to get their meal – just like they’d have to do in the wild.
- Cardboard boxes, tunnels and paper bags: cats love playing hide-and-go-seek which satisfies their instinct to hide, then spring out at prey. Never give plastic bags, which pose a serious suffocation risk.
- A word of caution: do not use your fingers or toes as a toy during playtime. Setting this boundary now can prevent your kitten from developing a painful habit as an adult cat. If your kitten starts to show aggression towards you – by hiding and pouncing on you as you walk past, for example – you should stand still and distract them with a toy.
When to play with your kitten
Kittens tend to be most alert early in the morning and in the evening. If you can, make these your prime times for play with kittens. Use a favourite toy and keep your play sessions short. Ten- to fifteen-minute play periods a couple of times each day should help keep your kitten physically and mentally engaged. The rest of the time they’ll be content with solo exploring, playing or sleeping for the rest of the day.
Of course, some people choose to adopt two kittens at the same time. That way, when you aren’t around to play, your kitten will always have a built-in buddy. Plus, no one plays with a cat like another cat!
The dos and don’ts of feline fun
- Play for a few short sessions every day – 10 to 15 minutes will do the trick.
- Allow your cat to catch and grab the toy at the end of each game to satisfy their predatory instinct.
- Provide a variety of toys, especially those shaped like prey (such as a mouse).
- Use your fingers or toes as a toy during playtime. If you do, your kitten could develop a bad and painful habit that will be hard to break. Set boundaries! Don’t let your kitten think humans are toys.
- Never hit or yell at your kitten when they nip or pounce. This will make them fearful of you.
- Never force your cat to play or be trained. Some kittens prefer less play; others prefer more. Different cat breeds may also have different energy levels. Be patient and you’ll find the right balance of play for your kitty.
Teaching your kitten how to play appropriately helps prevent painful nips and scratches, encourages proper social skills and hones your cat’s reflexes and coordination. And, of course, playing together also helps you and your new kitty bond.
Keep activities short and positive, and don’t forget the most important rule of play: have fun!