Posted by: secondchancehumanesociety | August 22, 2006

Cat Play

Dear Pet Column,

I just adopted my first young cat.  He is usually friendly unless I try to play with him, at which point he usually ends up scratching me.  I am wondering if it is ok to roughhouse with cats or does it trigger their hunting instincts?

Sincerely, Perplexed About Play

Dear Perplexed About Play,

 My name is Tux, my sibling Midnight and I know all about playing – as at 6 weeks of age – it is our passion.  Along with receiving affection from the Second Chance folks, playing is rated high amongst our favorite things to do, that and a nice bowl of caviar.  So let me set you straight on a few things.  First off, playing does trigger our hunting instincts – but this is a good thing.  It lets us connect with our often hidden and neglected inner purposeful natures.  Yes, the thrill of the hunt would be likened to the thrill of the completed painting for the artist, a tasty gourmet dish for the cook, or a record-breaking victory for the athlete.  It is in our blood and bones and needs to be tapped into on a regular basis. 

Now that you understand the theme of our play – hunting, you can focus on how to simulate a hunting experience for your cat – in a manner that keeps your skin intact.  So how do you prevent getting scratched during playtime?  Keep your skin away from your cat’s claws.  Use toys – again – that most simulate the hunting experience.  Fishing pole toys are particular favorites for the frisky feline.  They can imitate the noise of bird wings flapping and soar about the room for your cat to chase or they can simulate a rodent and scurry about the floor for non-airborne hunting.

It is important to be considerate of your cat’s self-esteem and feelings of competency and allow the cat to catch the object of prey from time to time.  Let your cat knock it about with its paws on occasion, then with a quick jerk let the bird/mouse escape and the chase is on! (My tail is twitching just thinking about it…)  The thrill of the catch is an important reason to play with items that are animal-like and not with laser lights or hands.

I can also suggest that you play until your cat gets tired (15-20 minutes depending on the age/health of the cat) and then give your cat a yummy snack/treat that would mimic the end result of a true hunt – eating of the catch…

For the happiest of cats, several play sessions a day is ideal.  You will likely also be surprised by significant behavioral differences if you make this a regular routine, just like the dogs here at the shelter – cats become much more happy and relaxed after being exercised and allowed to flex their muscles and instincts.

A final note of caution should be made on safe and unsafe pet toys.  In fact, with a new cat you should overhaul your house and put away things that are attractive yet dangerous to cats.  Things like paper clips, rubber bands, needles, yarn & string, and other non-ingestibles.  Just ask your local Vet about the damage they have seen these items to do cats.  Also inspect “cat-toys” to make sure there is nothing ingestible and easily removable from them.

We most like active toys such as balls, empty cardboard rolls, unfolded paper bags, catnip filled or plain soft toys.  We also, like many dogs, enjoy comfort toys in the form of stuffed animals.  We like to baby and carry around the little ones and pretend “killing” the bigger ones – especially ones with legs and a tail.  I know of more than one kitty who stopped attacking people’s legs once given its own stuffed animals to attack. 

In closing, my brother and I are more than willing to serve as volunteers to help you learn how to play appropriately with cats.  We are available any day of the week, just come by the shelter and we will gladly show you how it is done… 

Pet Questions for next week’s column can be sent to: or to Pet Column, c/o Second Chance Humane Society, PO Box 2096, Ridgway, CO 81432.  SCHS offers animal humane services to San Miguel and Ouray Counties.  Contact Kelly at 626-2273 for more information on volunteer and community education programs.  For information about adopting, reporting a lost pet, or other pet questions, contact 626-2273  (SCHS Animal Hotline).


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