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In nature, cats are constantly on the hunt. That’s how they survive. In our homes, cats don’t need to hunt to survive – but understanding their instincts can help us make them as happy as they can be, especially during playtime. When we engage a cat’s instinct to hunt, we help them live their happiest life. Try out these tips for making the most of playtime with your cat:

Simulate the hunt

Cats are wired to hunt.  Their instincts and their physiology are designed to help them chase, stalk, pounce, and catch.  So the best way to get your cat engaged and playful is to simulate the sights and actions that would get their attention in the wild.  As you play with your cat, you’ll notice that he or she gets most excited about objects that move across or away from them, rather than towards them.  And they especially can’t help but chase something that has disappeared into hiding.  Explore different types of toys and actions to see what interests your cat the most, and what kinds of movements spark your cat’s instincts for the hunt.

Put “prey” on a string

Have you noticed how cats crouch down when they see a small movement? When they do that, they’re getting ready to stalk and pounce. When you’re playing with your cat, simulate the kind of experiences he or she would have in the wild. Get a small object to be the “prey” – a toy or another small, light object on a string – and drag it across the ground, pausing every once in a while and varying in speed from slow to fast. Your cat will be mesmerized by the thrill of the hunt – and if you play like this often, his or her speed and agility will only improve. 

Hint: keep the toy hidden, and only take it out at playtime – this will help keep your cat interested!

Make eating more like hunting

At your pet store, there are plenty of options for eating that go beyond a simple dish. Try out a puzzle feeder or a food distributor ball. With these contraptions, cats have to work for their food, by hunting and pouncing and solving a puzzle. Remember to account for the food inside one of these feeders when you’re determining your cat’s daily nutrition allowances.

Go fetch

We tend to associate playing fetch with our dogs, but plenty of cats love a good game of fetch. To your cat, a ball being thrown through the air feels a lot like catching sight of prey moving quickly and unexpectedly. A special treat for your cat: get a ball with a bell inside to get your cat’s attention. 

Surprise them and play often

Cats are naturally athletic and agile. If you play regularly with your cat, his or her natural impulses to hunt and be active will be satisfied. Have fun with it and keep your cat on his or her toes. Remember that playtime doesn’t have to be routine like grooming or check-ups are. You should be having fun too!