Play therapy can be an important activity for cats that are bored, fearful, stressed, or overly active. This type of therapy can be used to decrease problem behavior and increase positive behavior in almost any cat. It is important that play therapy be done in way that mentally and physically stimulates your cat for it to be successful. I will go over the most important techniques and methods to play with your cat in this article.
First we will identify what an interactive toy is and what self play toys are. An interactive toy is one that you can use to play with your cat by hand while a self play toy is just left out all day. An example of an interactive cat toy is the cat charmer wand toy.
Always abide by the play like prey rule when playing with your cat. Move the toy like prey would normally move in the wild. Avoid dangling the toy in front of your cat’s face or in front of their paws as this is not mentally stimulating and is insulting to them.
Boxes, cat tunnels, and cat towers work best for play time. You can maneuver the cat toy up to the tower and back down so that they have to work to get it. Using toys on and around scratching posts or cat trees can also teach the cats to scratch them instead of furniture. You can hide the cat toy in the cat tunnels, in and behind boxes, and so on. Play time can become really fun and creative for all parties involved.
Allow the cat to catch the toy about 50% of the time so that they can build their confidence level. Do not use laser toys as the cat never physically catches the toy. Not being able to physically capture a toy can lead to confidence loss and an increase in stress for your cat.
Ways to play with interactive cat toys:
- Move fast then slow
- Move slow then fast
- Suddenly freeze up when being watched
- Hide behind an object and slightly dangle
- Hide inside of an object and slightly dangle
There are both bad and good interactive cat toys. My list of favorite cat toys that I use as a certified cat behaviorist can be found at this link. I prefer to use a different interactive toy every day or at least switching them every week so that they remain novel.
I like to leave self play cat toys out so the cats have an opportunity to play while I am at work. My favorite self play cat toys can be found at this link. Self play cat toys should be rotated every week to remain novel. The only self play cat toys that can be left out at all times is a water fountain or a track ball toy.
Play sessions should last 10-15 minutes each time and end with a final capture. Do around 3-4 play sessions a day for best results. Make sure to slowly increase the intensity of play time near the end so he winds down gradually so he is not still hyper once play is over.
Award your cat with a treat after every capture and canned food at the end of the capture of a great hunt. If you are limited in how often you can play with you cat, I would prioritize night time before you go to sleep so your cat is not up late at night prowling the house.