They may have a reputation for being aloof and independent, but cats do love their owners. This means that bonding between feline and owner is vital. Toys help with this, but they’re not essential.
Household items are ideal for playing with a cat. Activating a feline’s hunting instincts is essential, and can be done by providing something to stalk. Cats love crinkling sounds, so you would be amazed by how entertaining they find screwed up paper. You can also play games like hide-and-seek, and conceal favorite treats around your home.
Playing is critically important to cats, and should never be neglected. Picking up a selection of toys is the easiest way to keep your cat entertained. If toys are not available, however, there are alternative ways to play with your pet without spending any money.
Why is Play Important to Cats?
While cats are not considered the most playful of pets, they enjoy toys and games. There are six core reasons why playtime is pivotal for any domesticated feline. They are as follows:
Cats may be domesticated, but they’re still wild at heart. Your feline’s wild instincts never leave them, and they’ll want – need – to hunt.
If you don’t want your cat to roam and hunt prey, play can mimic the experience. Preventing your pet from embracing their instincts will not end well for anybody.
Kittens, in particular, rely upon play to learn how to socialize. Young cats need to learn their limits, and games are a great way to achieve this objective.
If a kitten is not exposed to toys, they may never learn how to play. This means that they will find it difficult to interact with other cats – and humans. Even if you adopt an older cat, playing with toys can bolster their confidence.
Play is the fastest, easiest and most reliable way to bond with your cat. It makes up for the fact that you and your pet do not speak the same language. Cats relish one-on-one attention from their owners, and playtime guarantees this will happen.
If you don’t play with your cat, or do so erratically, they can become lonely and even depressed if they’re not played with.
4) Reduction of Stress and Anxiety
If a cat is bored and under-stimulated, they can become stressed. Stress and anxiety can cause significant issues for cats, leading to a litany of health concerns.
Play is a great way of distracting your cat from anything that may make them uncomfortable. Better yet, it can prevent them from becoming stressed in the first place.
If you have an indoor cat, they’re unlikely to get a great deal of exercise. They may run up and down the stairs, or jump from the closet to the bed. This doesn’t compare to the amount of running and hunting that wild cats cram in, though.
A cat needs to get their heart rate elevated daily. Some of this will occur naturally, while they hunt and amuse themselves. The rest of the time, they’ll need you to get their pulse racing through play.
6) Mental Stimulation
Physical exercise is important to cats, but don’t neglect mental stimulation. Cats are clever animals. If they don’t get to stretch their gray matter, they’ll grow frustrated and potentially destructive.
Also, a cat that never uses their brain will not tire. Considering that cats are nocturnal, that could lead to you losing sleep. Stimulate your cat’s mind enough to tire them out.
As PetMD explains, cats need a minimum of 15 minutes of play each day. If your cat is young and boisterous, they may seek you out for playtime. They’re also likely to want to continue playing long after you’ve had enough. Older and more sedentary felines may take a little more persuasion.
Whatever your pet’s age or energy level, make playtime roughly the same time every day. This will help your cat to settle into a reliable routine. This way, you can rest assured that your cat is happy, healthy and entertained.
Popular Styles of Play for Cats
There are a variety of different play styles. Some cats prefer one to the others, while other cats engage in all of them. The most common include:
Cats don’t just like to hunt – they need it. Your cat will surely love skulking and stalking from the shadows. They may hunt household items, or even you in a game of hide and seek.
Once a cat catches their prey after hunting, what happens next? Some cats want to eat – but others want to bat it around with their paws. This is known as swatting, and it’s fun for many felines.
3) Chasing and Fetching
Think that fetch is just a game for dogs? Think again. Many cats love a simple game of chasing and fetching a ball. You could even make your own with a screwed-up piece of paper.
Some cats want their owners to play a major part in the playtime. This may mean using items that involve back-and-forth, or toys and games that you’ll hold onto. This will also enhance your bond with your pet.
This isn’t just a way of cats keeping their claws trim and to mark territory. It’s also fun. Give your pet plenty of opportunities to scratch to their heart’s content. Failure to do so may see them clawing your furniture instead.
Many cats love to climb. This is another instinctive behavior. Cats in the wild climb trees to survey the terrain, looking for food. Equally, your pet may look for some peace and quiet in an elevated position. Providing new opportunities for your cat to climb can be an enjoyable game.
Some cats have energy to burn. You could create a DIY obstacle course for your pet in such a scenario.
Find out what play styles appeal most to your cat, and build their routine around them. You could use toys for this, or just everyday items that you’ll find in any home.
Household Items Cats Like to Play With
Common household items that can be used to entertain your cat are as follows:
Cats love screwed up paper. You can turn this into a ball, which can be chased, hunted or swatted.
Also, the rustling sound of scrunched-up paper is irresistible to cats. You could use aluminum foil for the same effect. This will not get soggy if your cat bites or licks it, after all.
2) Feathers and String
If you want to get interactive with your cat, attach a feather to a piece of string. Your pet won’t be able to resist hunting it.
This means that you could play from the comfort of your favorite armchair. Alternatively, use the feather to lead your cat all over the house for ‘walkies.’
3) Cardboard Boxes
Empty cardboard boxes are an endless source of fascination for cats. They love to climb inside them and hide, for a start. You can also create a variety of games using these everyday items.
Try cutting holes as doors and windows, too. You could build your pet their very own fort, which makes a great hiding place.
4) Toilet Roll Tubes
Sick of the sight of piles of toilet roll tubes in your recycling? Offer them to your cat. You can attach some string and create something to hunt, or let your pet swat them.
Odd socks that lose their friends in the laundry cycle can be frustrating. Don’t just leave them lying around, however. Socks can make great hand puppets, or covers for bottles and cardboard tubes.
If the sock smells of you, so much the better. Stitch the sock closed, and toss it your cat. They’ll find it comforting while you’re not around, and spend hours rolling around with it,
6) Wool and Yarn
Cats adore wool. They can bat it around, unspool it, chase it, and chew it. It’s a flexible pseudo-toy. Just be careful that your cat does not eat the yarn. Playtime with this item should always be carefully supervised.
7) Paper Bags
Cats have a real affinity for bags. Obviously, plastic bags should be kept away from cats, for safety reasons. Paper bags should be safe, however.
You’ll find that your pet crinkles the bag to enjoy the noise, and hides treasures inside. If you have an enterprising cat, they may even make their own tunnel.
8) Ping Pong Balls
Cats love balls. They move at a high velocity, and can be endlessly batted and pawed. Ping pong balls are cheap, lightweight, and a great size for cats. They’re small enough to work with, but large enough not to represent a choking hazard.
Any of these items can make excellent substitutes for conventional cat toys. Experiment with different items and see what works best for your cat.
Just keep it safe, and obviously avoid anything that could be toxic.
Fun Games to Stimulate Cats
You will need to supervise, and interact with your pet throughout the play. This is fine, though. It’ll strengthen your bond.
Games that you can play with cats are as follows:
- Bird Games. This is a way for your pet to embrace their hunting instincts. Bird games involve your cat stalking airborne prey, leaping to capture them.
- Pounce Games. Tracking prey down is only half the thrill for a cat. They love to leap from nowhere, pounding on their prey. This is a reward for your pet.
- Rabbit Games. These involve your cat lying on their back and dragging ‘prey’ into their belly. From here, they’ll bite and shake the prey, kicking their legs.
- Hide-and-Seek Games. Cats are like little furry ninjas. They love nothing more than remaining undetected before striking from nowhere. Prevent your cat from treating your toes as prey by playing hide-and-seek games.
As you’ll see, all of these games are based around a cat’s hunting desires. Remember, even an indoor cat does not lose their predatory instincts.
There is a balancing act for hunting games. Don’t let your cat capture their prey at once. That means there is no challenge. Equally, don’t prevent your cat from ever ‘winning.’ This means they’ll grow frustrated and bored. Once every three or four times is a good ratio for your cat capturing the prey.
How to Play Bird Games with Your Cat
Find an object that will attract your cat’s attention. This could be a feather, a ping pong ball, or even a toilet roll tube. Attach this to a ball of yarn or string, and create a loose, long string. Imagine that you’re using a fishing rod to get the idea.
Get your cat’s attention, and drag the item along the floor. At first, your cat will watch it move. After a second or two, start lifting the item. Wave it around the air, and watch your cat leap and hunt.
You’ll need to ensure that your cat has space for this. Jumping straight into a door, or breaking ornaments, can quickly sour a game. Cats can leap up to five times their standing height, so remember this and play safely.
How to Play Pounce Games with Your Cat
Pounce games revolve around moving targets. A ball of yarn makes a great pounce game. Drag the wool along the ground, and watch as your cat stalks it from afar.
You should move in short, jerky moments, and keep a safe distance from the yarn. You’ll notice that, before long, your cat leaps and grabs it. This is simulating the experience of pouncing upon a mouse or other small prey.
You could place pounce games using your hands. Put your hands under a blanket, and move them around. Your cat will take pleasure from pouncing on this movement, like a game of feline Whack-a-Mole. Be careful with this, though. Using human hands as cat toys set a dangerous precedent.
How to Play Rabbit Games with Your Cat
Rabbit is one of the first play styles that kittens use. It’s a replication of how they would capture prey in the wild. It involves your pet grasping prey with their front paws, and kicking with their back legs. From here, they’ll roll onto their back and start biting.
As always, yarn and wool is a great tool for rabbit games. You could also use a ball, or screwed up piece of paper though. If your pet can capture the item and it won’t hurt their teeth, it’s fair game.
How to Play Hide and Seek with Your Cat
Hide and seek with your cat is a little different from playing with a child.
Your cat will love concealing themselves and waiting for you to pass. A mischievous feline will then leap from their hiding place, hoping to catch you unawares.
To avoid your toes becoming prey for your cat during hide and seek, carry a distraction. This could be any of the objects that we discussed, or even a treat.
Stop just before where you suspect your cat is hiding, and toss the bait. Even a cat will be unable to resist leaving their hiding place to retrieve it.
How to Make an Obstacle Course for Your Cat
Homemade obstacle courses are fun for a cat, and a great cardio workout. Cat behavioral expert Pam Johnson-Bennett offers many suggestions for DIY cat agility courses. Just some of the things you can do include:
- Tunnels made from paper bags.
- Hoops to leap and hop through. These could be children’s hula hoops, or just cut from card.
- Empty cardboard boxes in climb into, out of and over. You could also cut holes in the box for different access points.
- A favored cushion, positioned just far away that your cat needs to leap onto it. Applying a treat to the cushion will make it that much more appealing.
- Yarn or ping pong balls to chase. These balls, especially, can be tossed up and downstairs for a real feline workout.
Don’t push your cat too hard at once. Ease them into an obstacle course, especially if they are older. You should also ensure that your pet remains motivated by treating them upon completion.
Just don’t overfeed them – that will nullify all the calories they burned during play.
How to Play with a Cat Without Getting Scratched
There is one big risk to cat play without toys. Your cat may see your hands as something to hunt, scratch, and play with.
If this happens, you’ll need to be patient. Never tell your cat off for scratching. They won’t understand what they did wrong. In a worst-case scenario, they may even think that playtime is bad behavior. Instead, make a high-pitched, “ouch!” sound, similar to that of a fellow cat.
If your cat scratches again, stop the game for a few seconds. If they scratch again, stop the game entirely until the next day. Cats are smart. Sooner or later, they’ll learn that scratching puts an end to their fun.
Toys are great fun for cats (and humans!), so they’re not a waste of time. Kittens, especially, benefit from toys and learn from them. As a cat gets older, however, they become less and less necessary. You may also experience difficulty getting a lazy cat to play games.
Many cats ‘outgrow’ toys and lose interest. Some cats never take to toys at all, especially if they’re not exposed while they’re young. This means that learning to play without toys is very important.
There are many ways to keep your cat amused without expensive trips to the store. What matters to your pet is quality time with you. Sacrifice 15 minutes to your day to play, and you’ll have a happy, healthy feline. When we put it like that, it’s hardly a sacrifice at all.