It’s more important than you might think!
The Alberta SPCA strongly encourages cat owners to keep their cats indoors for the protection of their cat and the wildlife they predate. Additionally, many cities and counties have bylaws that prohibit cats at large so allowing cats out to roam outdoors may violate local bylaws. Cats appear to adapt very well to living indoors, however this environment has its own unique challenges that can impact well-being. Although more safe, indoor environments are less stimulating than the outdoors which can lead to boredom, stress and reduced physical activity if not mitigated by their owners.
Domestic house cats have maintained a strong instinct to display predatory behaviours that help them hunt for food. These behaviours are even present when cats are well fed! In the wild, cat species engage in predatory behaviours for a significant part of their day requiring both physical and mental engagement.
It’s our responsibility to provide opportunities for cats to exhibit normal behaviours and one way to do this is through play. When cats hunt they perform a variety of behaviours including locating, chasing, pouncing, stalking, and killing their prey. Think about eliciting these types of behaviours when playing with your cat.
Tips to engage in play with your cat:
Use food: To help with expression of feeding behaviours, scatter cat food to induce chasing, hide cat food to promote hunting and provide food puzzles that encourage cats to “work” for their food.
Provide an assortment of toys: Provide toys in a variety of sizes and textures that cats can chase, bite and pounce on. Cats typically enjoy crinkly paper, balls, soft toys, and toys with feathers or fur that mimic their prey. Just make sure toys do not have string or small bits that your cat might ingest.
Novelty is key!: Cats become habituated to toys very quickly, so rotate them in and out to keep them fresh.
Use play to provide exercise and imitate predatory behaviour: Feathers, fur or fleece on a wand or stick can imitate typical prey. When cats make a “catch” reward them with food or a treat.
Play with your cat daily: Or multiple times a day if possible! Cats typically prefer to interact and play in short but frequent durations so a few minutes at a time can help them get out energy and engage their hunting instincts. Make playing with your cat part of your daily routine.
Play with your cat one-on-one: Cats typically prefer individual play, so if you have more than one cat, give each one individualized attention.
Avoid using your hands or feet: This teaches cats that it’s OK to bite and scratch people which may cause injury.
Age matters: Kittens typically require greater duration and intensity for play than adult cats. Older cats still need play – it’s just less robust compared to when they were younger.
Not only is playing with cats important for their physical and mental well-being, it can also help build trust and strengthen the bond you share with your cat. For more information on providing enrichment for cats, visit our website.
Puzzle feeders: What they are and how to introduce them to your cat.
Food Puzzles for Cats: Resource for information about feeding your cat using foraging toys