Your previously playful cat has lost all interest in its cherished toys. This transition can seemingly happen overnight, too. One day your pet is bouncing around the house, the next they only want to eat food and sleep. If it’s gaining weight as a result of inactivity, you’ll need to take action.
Appeal to your cat’s hunting instincts, and get involved in the game yourself. Once your cat forges a bond with you, it will associate it with pleasure. Many cats are disinterested in toys when alone, but spring to life when their owner offers to play with them. If you reward them with treats, they are even more likely to come back for more.
With a little encouragement, you can get your pet back to its once playful old self. You will need to find a play style that’s compatible with your pet’s temperament. You can introduce your cat to new and fun things to do.
Why Is My Cat Not Playing Any Longer?
If your previously active cat has stopped playing, you need to find out why. Some possible explanations include:
- Outgrown their toys. Cats can outgrow certain play styles. A young kitten will be a ball of energy that enjoys high-energy games. This behavior typically peaks at around five months of age. Older cats, however, become more docile and placid. Try a less stimulating toy and see if that helps.
- Bored with the same old toys. Also, like children, cats like a variety of different toys to play with. If they are faced with the same games and toys for months, they’ll crave different stimulation. Mix up your cat’s toy collection every once in a while.
- Lazy. As cats grow older, they start to dislike movement and prefer to sleep. This may be feline nature, but it’s also something that needs to be managed carefully. If a cat becomes too sedentary, they will get fat (gain weight) and place their health at risk.
These are the common behavioral explanations for why a cat loses interest in toys and play. There could be an underlying health concern that makes play painful rather than pleasurable, however. Some of the health problems that may prevent a cat from enjoying playtime include:
- Dental Problems. Many cat games involve biting and hunting. If your cat has trouble with their teeth, they may be reluctant to play. Ensure that your cat’s teeth and gums are healthy.
- Movement Issues. As cats grow older, their joints become less supple. A senior cat may lose interest in playing because they are less mobile. If your older cat is also struggling to climb or jump, speak to a vet. They may have arthritis.
- Loss of Sight, Smell or Hearing. Cats are driven by their instincts. They are excited by movement in their peripheral vision, or smelling or hearing potential prey. If your cat is losing access to these senses, it will affect their play behavior.
- Intestinal Problems. If your cat is suffering from a stomach problem, they may not want to move. This could be a complaint such as IBS, or it could be an intestinal worm. Ensure that your cat’s preventative treatments are up-to-date, and monitor their food intake.
- Stress and Depression. Cats are more than capable of experiencing stress and anxiety. This is particularly common when a significant part of their routine changes. Bereavement, rehoming or new arrivals in the house can all spark such a reaction. A stressed and anxious cat will not show any interest in playing.
If your cat is not sick, look at other behavior changes. Is it play they have lost interest in? If so, keep an eye open and monitor their activity levels. Cats are fickle – they may change their mind again after a while.
If your pet also changes their eating, sleeping or elimination habits, however, consult a vet. They may be experiencing a physical or emotional concern that requires attention.
How to Get Your Cat to Play by Itself
You should always set aside at least ten minutes per day to play with your cat. This will strengthen your bond. However, it’s not always possible to devote much more time than this.
Most cat toys can be played with solo, such as ball tracks. These are also usually safe for a cat to play with unsupervised. You could also provide mentally stimulating games that release treats when a cat learns how to operate them. You could even turn your cat’s meal into a game, using a puzzle feeder. This will also prevent a docile and lazy cat from eating to excess.
Battery operated toys may also provide opportunities for solo play. Just don’t be surprised if your cat learns the patterns of such toys and loses interest. Of course, felines also enjoy climbing cat trees and scratching posts. If your pet can enjoy catnip unattended, sprinkle a little on some solo toys.
Most cats will prefer their playtime to involve a human, or at least another cat. Solo play will never take the place of interactive activity entirely. However, it can act as a complement to your own playtime. Leave at least some solo activities around for your cat to enjoy while you are busy.
Will a Second Cat Encourage My Cat to Play?
A human child that grows too used to their own company can become set in their ways. The same can also apply to a cat. If you have more than one cat in the home, they may play together. This will often include wrestling, or chasing each other over the house. This can be noisy. It may also result in a broken vase or two. Overall though, both cats will be happy and well-exercised. This is undoubtedly the most important thing.
This does not mean that it will be easy, though. If you are thinking about bringing a second feline into your home to stimulate the first, think carefully. Does your cat tolerate the company of others well? Is your cat nervous by nature, and potentially threatened by this new arrival? Are their personalities compatible?
The Animal Humane Society offers some advice on bringing a second cat into your family. Some of the critical things that need to be considered are:
- The age of the new cat. Many cats will be less territorial if you bring a kitten into the home. The younger feline will likely be happy to be submissive, and thus less of a threat. Additionally, a playful kitten may inspire your cat to play with Two older cats may resent each other, considering each other to be intruders on their territory.
- The energy levels of the new cat. Remember that an energetic kitten may be infuriating to a sedentary, senior cat. Ensure that both felines are compatible in terms of energy levels, or neither will have their needs met. You want your new cat to encourage your existing one to play. Get the balance wrong, and the new feline will end up too nervous to do so.
- The temperament of the new cat. If your cat is fat and lazy, an equally laid-back housemate may appear the path of least resistance. Ask yourself if this will actually help, though. You’re bringing in a second cat to increase the energy of your existing pet. Having two cats that are equally happy to spend all day dozing is counterproductive.
- The gender of the new cat. The opinion is split on how much this matters. A common school of thought claims that female cats are more territorial by nature, however. Equally, two intact male cats are more likely to fight. A mix of genders, with at least one feline being spayed or neutered, may be safest.
Introducing a new pet to a cat’s home is always something of a lottery. There is no real way of knowing how a cat will react until it happens. If you choose carefully, however, they will forge a bond that benefits both parties.
How to Get a Cat to Play with Toys
As cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett explains, hunting instincts drive most feline play. This means that your cat is most likely to enjoy playtime if it involves stalking prey. A toy on a wand is usually a failsafe here, if you know what your cat enjoys most.
If your cat is a ground hunter, drag a piece of string along the floor. A toy shaped like a mouse is usually a winner. If your cat likes to jump, consider a fishing pole toy or bird on a wire. Give your cat places to hide while they hunt, like they would in the wild. This could be strategically placed boxes, or even room under the sofa.
You should also ensure that the toy acts the way that natural prey would. Don’t just let it lay static. Move the toy around, exciting your cat. The more movement they spot with their peripheral vision, the more likely they are to hunt. Also, mix up the results a little. If your cat catches its prey every time, they’ll get bored at the lack of challenge. If they never catch it, however, they’ll wonder what the point is and give up. It’s all about finding balance.
If your cat is not hunt-focused, find out what does appeal to them. Do they enjoy noise? Then consider a ball with a bell that they can push around. Ball tracks are also great for this. Do they prefer climbing? Get them in a multi-floor cat tree. If they like fetch, which some felines do, use a rubber ball – or even rolled-up paper. Yes, you can play with your cat without toys.
Finally, remember that playtime is not always its own reward. If your cat has engaged in a game with you, offer them a treat. This will cement the fact that play is fun in their mind. This encourages them to engage more often.
My Rescue Cat Shows No Interest in Toys
Playing with toys is a crucial part of a kitten’s early development. It’s through play – with toys, and other members of their litter – that cats learn social skills. If your adopted cat shows no interest in toys, they may have never experienced this.
There could be many reasons behind this behavior:
- If your cat was born stray, they were not socialized in a family environment. The same will also apply if your cat was rejected by its mother.
- If your cat was a nervous kitten, they might have been bullied. This could mean that they were never permitted to play with toys by their littermates. As a result, they will consider toys to be a negative stimulus, rather than positive.
- If your cat was mistreated, they likely focused all their energy on staying safe. That does not leave much headspace for recreation.
- If your cat is stressed or anxious, they will have no interest in playing. Keep an eye on their emotional state, especially if they are new to your home. A rescue cat requires plenty of love, understanding, and patience to adapt to their new surroundings.
A cat that appears otherwise well adjusted can still have no interest in toys. This, in itself, is not necessarily a concern. Some cats are more people-focused, and prefer curling up in a lap and being stroked. If this is the case, however, ensure that your cat is getting exercise another way. Remember, a feline that is too sedentary will not be a healthy cat.
How to Play with Cats Without Toys
Toys offer a barrier of resistance between your hands and your pet. If you play with your cat without external stimuli, it’s vital to do so safely.
Here are some methods that can be used:
- Try appealing to your cat’s prey drives by shining a laser pointer. Many cats will gleefully chase these little light beams for hours.
- Try unraveling a ball of wool of yarn, and allow your cat to chase and bat it. Ensure that this wool is strong and devoid of lint, though. If your cat gets its claws stuck, it may become painful. They may also enjoy kneading the wool once they catch it.
- Trying using an old sock or slipper as prey to be caught. You could even fill it with catnip. Your cat will be intrigued by the familiar smell, and will likely enjoy the game. Just ensure your cat understands the difference between their sock and the ones on your feet.
- If you’re feeling brave, encourage your cat to chase you. This will be fun for the cat. It will come with downsides though. Most notably, your cat may assume that you are always fair game for hunting. Avoid letting your cat nip or scratch your hands and feet, even if it’s playful. Felines can easily go too far without realizing it, and their claws carry bacteria.
- Tickles and strokes are often a winner, especially among cats that enjoy human company. Just make sure that you understand your cat’s body language, though. They may be sending small signals that they’ve had enough. If your cat feels these are being ignored, they may bite or scratch in frustration.
There are also rules when playing with a cat without toys.
- Never touch your cat in areas they dislike, such as their underbelly. Your cat will panic, and assume that you are trying to hurt them.
- Never force them into playing if they seem disinterested.
- Don’t force your cat into a corner, or anywhere else they feel trapped.
- Don’t move too quickly, or do anything to trigger a fear-based defense in your cat.
- If you are appealing to their prey drives, cats like to hunt on the ground.
It’s possible to play with a cat without toys from a pet store. However, it’s also advisable to have safe toys around the home. You can’t supervise your pet 24/7, and these games are best enjoyed while you can watch them.
How to Get a Lazy Cat to Exercise
If toys are a no-go, you’ll need to look into alternative ways of exercising your cat.
Some of these could include:
- Fill your home with towers. Even if a cat does not enjoy toys, they may still relish climbing. If you fill your house with cat towers, they’ll get a real workout. Adding small but cherished treats in each hiding spot will also encourage more exercise.
- Play dates with other cats. If your cat has a feline friend, get them together as much as possible. They may not be able to resist wrestling or chasing each other. However, this is much more likely to be a success if the cats are already friendly.
- Make a DIY agility course. If your cat likes to be challenged intellectually, they may enjoy a homemade obstacle course. Fill your home or yard with barriers that your cat will need their intelligence to overcome. Many felines will relish this challenge when rewarded with treats.
- Offer catnip. Not all cats react to catnip, but some will do anything for it. If you’re struggling to encourage your cat to exercise, have them chase down catnip. Just do so sparingly, and not before anything that involves your cat seeing anybody else. Some felines grow overexcited when under the influence of this plant. That may mean that they act with uncharacteristic aggression.
- Take your cat outside for a walk. Again, not every feline will react well to this. With training, patience, and commitment, however, some cats will enjoy being walked on a harness. If your pet doesn’t take to the activity, however, never try to force them. As cats are independent by nature, being unable to wander all will is anathema to some.
Exercise may not come naturally to some cats, especially those that don’t enjoy playing. It can be an indispensable part of their routine, though. You may also be doing yourself a favor. Remember that cats are nocturnal by nature. The more you exhaust them by day, the less likely they are to bother you at night.
If your cat outright refuses to exercise, consult a vet. This is especially important if it’ a recent development. Cats rarely announce sickness or injury, but a reluctance to move is often a warning sign. Even a lazy and docile cat will have some instincts to get mobile.
They may just be growing old and lazy, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If it does transpire that your cat is unwilling to play rather than unable, take action. By making the whole experience fun again, you can rekindle a cat’s affection for playtime.
How to Play with a Cat without Getting Scratched or Bitten
The simplest solution to avoid scratches is not to make your hands part of the game. If your cat considers your hands and fingers to be prey, they could attack at any time. It’s essential that your cat learns that your hands and feet are not to be hunted.
Cats scratch and bite as part of their play. It’s something they learn as kittens. At this young age, littermates will explain when they are biting or scratching too hard. You may need to take on this responsibility once your cat is separated from their siblings.
- Keep your hands away from a cat’s claws and teeth. Sometimes prevention is better than cure.
- Don’t wear gloves so that you don’t feel bites or scratches. This will not teach your cat that they shouldn’t act in such a way.
- If you’re bitten or scratched, make a high-pitched, “ouch!” sound. This is what a fellow cat would do. Your cat should not repeat the behavior after this. If they do, stop the game at once. Your cat will quickly learn that biting and scratching temporarily ends the fun.
If your cat scratches or bites you, don’t scold them. This will frighten your cat. As a result, they may consider all play to be bad behavior. This can result in behavioral issues as they have no outlet for their instincts.