Playtime is part of a daily routine for most cats. Your cat will relish the chance to interact with you in this way. Some cats are also content to play with smaller toys alone. Your cat may approach you with its favorite toy and meow, seeking your immediate attention.
Your cat may just be sharing its toy or presenting it as a trophy. Play with toys replicates the hunting experience for cats, so your cat could be trying to teach you how to hunt.
Learning how your cat communicates with and without toys will give you an insight into what this behavior means. Your cat invariably wants something from you. It would not approach you otherwise.
What Does It Mean When a Cat Brings Me a Toy and Meows?
Playtime is a highlight of the day for many cats. It’s a chance for your cat to interact with you one-on-one. In addition, some cats will play with small toys independently.
Sometimes, you’ll find your cat meowing loudly while carrying a toy. This has many possible meanings. Your cat could be:
- Showing affection by sharing
- Asking you to look after the toy
- Inviting you to play
- Presenting you with a trophy
- Teaching you to hunt
- Asking you to repair or inspect the toy
- Looking to trade the toy for food or attention
If may require a little trial-and-error before you understand your cat’s thought process. Sharing does not come naturally to felines. You have clearly earned the trust and affection of your cat.
1/ Demonstrating Affection
Cats are not taught to share toys. Territorial instincts dictate that cats like to claim everything they can as their own.
If your cat presents you with a toy, it may be sharing a precious treasure. The cat clearly likes you enough to be bestowed with such an honor. Reward your cat for this benevolence with food and/or attention.
Ideally, play with the toy in question too. This will please your cat no end. Not only is a display of affection being returned, but you are both enjoying the toy. This cements the idea that it is something to cherish.
2/ Protection of Toys
Cats do not view toys through a human lens. To a cat, a toy is a trophy and a treasured possession. This encourages cats to hide toys.
You may find cherished toys in your cat’s food bowl or water dish. In the cat’s mind, this is safe, claimed territory, so its toy will not be stolen.
If your cat trusts you, it may present you with the toy for safekeeping. Cats move toys for the same reasons they move kittens. The cat wants to keep the toy safe. The cat considers you responsible enough to do this.
It’s advisable to keep the toy somewhere your cat can access it. If not, the cat will bother you every time it wants the toy. Get a basket and keep your cat’s toys within. Let your cat watch you place the toy in this basket.
As The Pavlovian Journal of Biological Science explains, cats are natural imitators. Cats are no exception. If your cat watches you place toys in a basket, it will do the same. Before long, the cat will automatically tidy its own toys away.
3/ Invitation to Play
Your cat may present you with a toy because it wants to play. Check your cat’s tail when it does this. If the tail points upward and curls like a question mark, the cat is feeling playful.
Do not ignore this request, even if you are busy. The Journal of Veterinary Behavior confirms that cats who regularly play with toys show fewer behavioral problems. Play serves many purposes for cats, including:
- Entertainment, as cats loathe being bored
- Exercise, as playing with toys requires physical movement
- The satisfaction of hunting instincts as the cat stalks the toy
- Focused attention from a favored human
If your cat presents you with toys, it’s a subtle reminder that it is playtime. It’s advisable to schedule at least two daily playtimes into your cat’s routine. In this case, the cat will usually wait.
Learn how your cat likes to play. Cats are stimulated by different toys. Some like to chase plastic balls with bells inside. They like the noise this makes and enjoy chasing and catching the toy. Other cats prefer traditional hunting games, such as fishing rods or clockwork mice.
Regular playtime can make a big difference to a cat’s quality of life. If your senior cat seems to have lost interest in toys, don’t give up. Your cat may just be looking for a new, less energetic play style.
4/ Presentation of Trophies
As play replicates hunting for cats, successfully capturing a toy provides the same sense of achievement. Your cat is showing you that it managed to capture its prey. Your cat is boasting about its hunting prowess and wants to be praised.
Try to understand this behavior from the perspective of a cat. Most felines do not hunt for sustenance. Domesticated cats know that food is coming. Hunting for sport remains part of a cat’s instincts. The cat will enjoy batting and tossing the toy with its paws.
The cat may also be presenting you with the toy as a gift. The cat expects to be rewarded for this, so offer a little petting. If you ignore the gesture, or toss the toy side, you will hurt your cat’s feelings. This will damage the bond between you.
Make a show of picking up the toy, thanking your cat for it. Be sure to smile and praise your cat while you do this. You don’t need to carry the toy around. Placing it back into the toy basket will be sufficient.
It may be a little distracting if your cat does this too often. It may misunderstand your irritation and start hunting live prey. Being presented with a toy is surely preferable to receiving a dead mouse or bird.
This is also why it is advisable to use tangible toys that your cat can actively capture. Laser pointers have their place. Many cats love chasing them. This is a game a cat can never win, though, as there is nothing to catch. Eventually, the cat may turn its attention to live animals.
If you’re really struggling with your cat’s search for approval through gift-giving, divert its attention elsewhere. Access to a window is often helpful. The Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science confirms that cats spend up to five hours a day looking out of the window.
5/ Hunting Lessons
A mother cat imparts many life lessons to her kittens. Among the most important of these is hunting. Cats bring live prey to their young, showing them how to hunt if needed. If a cat presents a toy to you, it may be trying to teach you how to hunt.
Don’t be offended if your cat tries to teach you to hunt. Your cat does not think you are incompetent. This is a sign of affection. Cats view humans as fellow felines. The cat has bonded with you and considers you its equal.
When two cats bond, their solitary nature is put on the backburner. The cats will trust each other to take care of mutual interests. You may find one cat watching over a sick friend while it sleeps, for example.
Hunting lessons for humans serve this same purpose. The cat is ensuring you’ll be OK if it is ever unavailable to look after you. If you play with the cat, it will feel as though its work is done. The cat has imparted wisdom, and you have gained a new survival skill.
6/ Broken or Odd-Smelling Toys
Cats draw comfort from familiarity. Your cat will have favorite toys that it returns to time and again. As cats have poor close-up vision, these toys are not always recognized by sight. Smell and touch are equally important, if not more so.
Many cat toys are stuffed with catnip. This is designed to appeal to the cat and encourage play. This scent does not last forever. The cat may be informing you that something is wrong with the toy. It wants to know why it no longer smells ‘right.’
You can replace the smell of catnip on a toy. You can sprinkle flakes or spray a liquid catnip. Don’t go too far. Your cat will be pleased with any replenishing of the catnip smell.
It is not just a lack of catnip that could make a toy smell odd to a cat. If you live with multiple cats, another feline may have played with the toy. This means your cat will think that it no longer belongs to them. Your cat is asking what happened to their property.
Beyond scent, the cat may be informing you that the toy is broken. Stitching may have loosened from a stuffed animal, or a clockwork mouse may no longer move. The cat is presenting you with the toy to fix it.
If you’re unable to do so, replace the toy with a like-for-like alternative. Do not be surprised if the cat ignores this substitute. It may be deterred by the lack of familiar smell. Try a different toy instead. This will stimulate your cat’s senses and desire to play.
7/ Trading Toys for Food or Attention
It is possible that your cat is attempting to bargain with you. It is presenting the toy in return for food or attention.
A study published in Behavioral Processes confirms that many cats value food and attention even higher than toys.
The concept of quid pro quo doesn’t come naturally to cats. Felines prefer to simply take what they want. This is not always possible with food or petting. The cat understands that it is at your mercy.
The cat will likely start with simple meowing. A long, elongated meow is a request. If you do not react, the cat will improve its game. This will involve presenting you with a gift to exchange. The cat will expect its toy back afterward, though.
There are many reasons why a cat meows with a toy in its mouth. Most of the time, these are complimentary. Think about your cat’s general demeanor and vocal patterns. Ordinarily, a cat presenting toys is an extension of these behaviors.