Spending time with a cat is always surprising thanks to the many different sides to its nature: the domestic feline is a sleepyhead; it captivates with the hypnotic movements of its tail and communicates with us through its expressive eyes.
However you are in for a real treat if you are present when it’s time for a game, an essential part of being a cat. But with so many shops stocking such a wide assortment of cat toys, which toys and games do you pick to best satisfy their needs? Not all toys on the market suit every cat, as Dr Maria Grazia Calore, veterinary surgeon, and expert in pet behaviour, explains.
The importance of games for a cat: how to satisfy its playful inclinations
Playtime is of great importance to a lazy housecat: it decreases stress, disperses energy and keeps it physically and mentally active. If our four-legged friend does not want to play however, perhaps the problem lies in the games we have provided.
First, we need to remember that cats by their very nature are part wild; and are inclined to hunt. Some cats prefer to hunt animals that fly, like birds or butterflies, while others are more attracted to ground animals like lizards or mice. The former will probably play more happily with objects that hang and dangle like feathers on a stick, while the later will be more attracted to balls or mice.
The movement and noise of prey are also elements of fascination for the little feline. That’s why some toys are equipped with wind-up mechanisms so they can move independently: in this case, we need to assess if the cat is scared, annoyed or amused by its clockwork plaything.
A multitude of games for the multifaceted cat
No self-respecting feline would finish a hunt without consuming its prey; this is therefore something consider when choosing a game for your cat. Catering for this hunter-killer instinct, balls or toys that distribute food might be a good option. The feline will relish solving complex puzzles just like in nature, where to capture prey they must understand their target’s habits, lie in wait, stalk with stealth, and sometimes search inside dens or shelters. Games created specifically to stimulate this cognitive area of the cat, range from simple ball and box dispensers, specially designed with holes so the cat can grab the hidden kibble, to more complex mazes that the cat has to move the kibble from level to level before being able to access the food reward. It is important, however, that the game of mental activation is solvable by the cat so it is probably a good idea to have the owner close by, at least for the first few attempts, this will make the game a source of satisfaction and not frustration in case it fails to master the enigma.
Last but not least, you can buy toys that stimulate a cat’s senses – in particular toys that prompt behaviour like facial marking. Products that contain catnip made from the catmint plant work in this way and can prove irresistible to your feline.
Are you newly inspired to stimulate your kitty with an overwhelming number of toys? It is probably best to restrain your enthusiasm and opt to rotate 2-3 toys or games a week while keeping the others hidden, so they will always appear new and interesting for your cat!