RSPCA gives its tips for playing with cats

The RSPCA gives its tips on how to play and train your cat to keep them fit and healthy.

Cats are active animals and many, even as adults, enjoy playing. Play can be great exercise both for your cat’s brain and body – preventing them from getting bored and keeping them in shape.

Depending on their age and temperament, play can last anywhere between a few minutes up to about 15 minutes. Cats will usually play with items that resemble their prey for longer and with more intensity, whether they prefer feather toys, smaller mouse-size toys, or bigger, challenging toys.

It’s a great way to bond with your cat and spend some quality time interacting with them. Here Sam Watson, RSPCA cat welfare expert, gives her tips on playing with your cat successfully:

Cats enjoy playing with their owners and not only is this great exercise, but also great for bonding with your feline friend. Some cats will enjoy playing on their own as well so make sure there are always suitable, safe toys available. Cats tend to like small multi-textured toys, but they will all have their favourites – take time getting to know which toys your cat most enjoys. Making time to play together with your cat is really important for adding variety and fun into their day.

“Playing together can also help to strengthen your bond. There’s a bit of an art to playing with cats and if you’re a first-time owner it might take a little practice to master your skills. Cats like to chase objects which are moving in rapid and unpredictable ways, just like a mouse or bird.

“Use a stick and string toy to encourage your cat to stalk, chase and grab the toy. Many cats get very curious if their toy ‘hides’ out of view for a few moments. Be sure to always let your cat grab and hold the toy during play to prevent them from getting frustrated. For this reason, laser pen type toys and onscreen tablet games are probably best avoided unless the game can end with a physical toy to avoid them becoming frustrated.

“No matter how irresistible it is, in particular with sweet, gentle kittens, always avoid using your hands and feet as targets during playtime. It seems harmless, especially with young cats who can inflict little damage, but it can form the basis of a potentially injurious habit later in life. Cats who wrestle human hands as kittens are more prone to sudden, unprovoked ‘attacks’ on humans later in life, and it can be a tough habit to break.

“Toys for your cat don’t have to cost very much and there are some things you can make yourself to keep them entertained. Cats can become habituated to toys and seem bored of them, so it’s a good idea to swap which toys are available every few days.”

Although cats may not need to learn how to sit or walk on a lead like dogs do, they can still benefit from training and despite the myths – it is possible. Cats respond well to clicker training and with a small tasty treat as a nice incentive they can be trained to get inside their cat carrier or come when called, making those trips to the vets much less stressful for both the owner and pet.

Sam added: “Learning new behaviours is an excellent form of physical and mental exercise and teaching a few tricks like giving a paw or rolling over can be a great way to get them thinking and moving. Some even learn to play fetch, most likely because we reward them with praise or by throwing the toy to chase again. All training should be reward based which will motivate them to show this particular behaviour again. This may be in the form of a chin or head rub or could be a treat such as some dried fish or small pieces of chicken. The key is to choose a reward that your cat will enjoy.

“The treat should be small – about half the size of a small fingernail and will count towards your kitty’s daily food intake. Train your cat at a time when they are most active and awake in a room where they feel comfortable. Practice makes perfect and training can take time, so don’t expect results immediately. It’s also a good idea to break up training into short but regular sessions to keep their attention.”

For more information visit www.rspca.org.uk.