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Posted on Mon, Nov 26, 2012 : 6 a.m.

Understanding different play styles in cats can help manage weight & enhance mental fitness

By Lorrie Shaw


Flickr photo by flikr2554

One of the first things that I say to a person who calls me about caring for their pet is, "Tell me about them! What do they like to do?"

This holds true not just for dogs and birds, but cats as well.

Sure, most people find it easy to think in terms of individual personality and preferences when it comes to our canine friends, but for felines, it can seem more challenging to hone in on what kind of activities and interaction not only captures their attention, but what keeps them engaged.

This is especially true of indoor-only cats.

As a caregiver I find it invaluable to understand that, so that a pet's time spent with me is nothing but positive and enriching.

Obviously those sharing their everyday lives with cats want to do that as well, but for some, it's hard to know how to where to begin when trying to figure out just what makes their furry friends tick to keep them happy.

This is vital for two reasons: it's good for the body and the mind.

Keeping a cat's eeight under control is essential to ensure their overall health, but it can also help with addressing the pain of arthritis: less weight, less strain on tender joints.

As for the mind, in the past I've talked about what researchers now know about the feline brain, and how keeping cats mentally stimulated throughout their lives can help them retain optimal cognition into their senior years.

So what are the best ways to get or keep your cats mentally and physically active?

It depends on the cat!

Cats — yes, even couch potatoes — have different play styles. Here's a quick primer to help you identify your pet's preferences, and how you can indulge them:


Cats in this category favor feather wand toys or other cat toys that requires them to leap in the air in an attempt to capture the object their front paws.

You can simulate this activity easily by attaching a toy to a shoelace and dragging it around the house. (If you have a senior cat or one who has exhibited lameness in the limbs, use care when channeling this type of play.)


Some kitties like to stalk bugs on the ground — or to even jump in the air to try and catch a flying insect. You can replicate this type of play this way optimally by providing your furry friend with a way to be able to leap on an object moving on the ground. Create a target by moving your fingers under a blanket or a throw that's on the couch - or use laser pointer. A wand toy works well in this case, too.

Bunny games:

During play, do you ever see your kitty pull a toy into their tummy while on their back, kicking with the back legs and shake and bite a toy? The ever-popular toy mice and lightweight furry toys are good choices. Simply toss the toy across the floor for your cat to grab and then kick with their rear legs.

Hide and seek:

Some cats have an affinity to hide and wait for their prey. If you have a kitty that likes to hide under your bed skirt or something similar and then jump out and make a surprise attack on your feet, you can indulge your feline's penchant for play in a safer way: an empty cardboard box or paper bag will suit them just fine.

Most cats exhibit a liking for a combination of these styles, so it's easy to give variety in their playtime.

It's important to remember that cats are crepuscular — they are naturally most active during dawn and dusk. This can be problematic for most of us humans, as we are just getting our days started or finished up at those times. But, by incorporating regular play times in the day-to-day schedule, you can help reduce the crazy behavior during those times — and you develop a stronger bond with your pet. Added benefits include reducing behavior issues like separation anxiety and inappropriate biting/rough play and you help foster healthy brain function throughout their life.

For more on how to increase your cat's activity level safely, click here.

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for and is a professional pet sitter. Connect with her on Google + or e-mail her directly.


Sarah Rigg

Mon, Nov 26, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

Agreed on putting toys away so they don't have constant access to them. They're more special and exciting when they're only available some of the time. Both my cats seem to like all those styles of play, but the first three the most. I've heard some animal behaviorists say that laser pointers "frustrate" the cat because they can never catch it. I solve this by running them around with the laser pointer and then tossing them a milk jug ring or a toy mouse to bite and play with at the end, so they have something substantial to chew on.


Mon, Nov 26, 2012 : 9:47 p.m.

The laser pointer was a big hit with my crowd! But my 110 lb pooch also wanted to chase it and I couldn't afford to have him trash all the furniture while chasing the lil' red dot. I gave our automatic laser pointer to a dog-free home.


Mon, Nov 26, 2012 : 12:40 p.m.

I love playing with my cats! We have several different activities we enjoy so it's a different game every night. Yes. I said "we". Playing with and watching my cats is just as much a de-stresser as walking with my dog in the woods. I have a large cardboard box filled with crumpled up newspaper. I tip the box over and watch the younger cats (about 1 & 1 1/2 years old) dash through the pile and chase paper balls through the room. When we're done, the paper goes back in the box and the box is put away. My more mature cats like old socks sprayed with liquid cat nip (kitty crack). Everyone loves chasing the feather toy ('Da Bird) or mouse on a string (Cat Catcher) from Go Cat. When we're done, everyone gets a treat and I put the toys away. Putting the special toys away helps keep them special.