Frolicking Felines: The Importance of Daily Play

The importance of exercise becomes clearer every day, whether it’s for children, adults or seniors. Just like people, our feline companions also benefit from daily exercise and activity. In fact, it’s an essential need for them. For your cat, those 3:00 am living room laps are their sprints. Batting a toy around the kitchen is their tennis match. Scratching their posts? That’s just a bit of kitty yoga – with some territorial marking thrown in. 

So what’s a caring cat parent to do to ensure their cats experience all of the benefits that play and exercise have to offer? We’ll walk you through why cats need play, share some ideas for indoor activities for your cat, and dive into how much activity your cat might actually need. 

Why Play?

In the wild, cats are on the prowl throughout most of the day. Typically, they’d hunt for 8-10 small meals every 24 hours, but not every pounce yields food. For every successful catch, there are 10-15 failed attempts. Those bursts of energy required at each hunt are short and frequent. Think of it as doing a 100 metre dash every single time you wanted to open the fridge or pantry. After a successful meal, cats usually groom and rest, while maintaining alertness for new chances at a tasty morsel and staying out of harm’s way. 

Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is, especially when you consider that it might not even end up in a meal. But those instinctive bursts of physical and mental energy have benefits, too. Cats that don’t get that exercise and mental stimulation can end up lethargic, unfit, overweight, and sadly, even depressed. All those #chonky and #thiccboi pics on Instagram are cute, but it isn’t great for any cat’s health to pack extra pounds. Cats without adequate mental and physical stimulation can develop physical illnesses and ailments including cystitis, diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and more. It can also lead to aggressive behaviour, spraying or scratching—things we’d rather avoid. 

It’s Playtime! 

Ever feel like you bring home a new toy for your cat, only for them to look at it, play for a few minutes (or even less) and then walk away? Don’t take it personally. Your cat isn’t turning up his nose at your toy choices – cats just prefer to play in short bursts. In fact, a minute or two IS a cat’s Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Over time, you’ll come to realize which types of toys and activities are your cat’s favourites. 

Just like how some people hate jogging, while others seemingly live for it, not all toys and activities will appeal to all cats. Some like toys that mimic the jerky start and stop motions similar to mice, while others might prefer something that flutters and resembles a bird. (You can take our “What Your Cat’s Fave Toy Says About Them” quiz here. Help keep things interesting by cycling through their toy collection, and making some available while storing others in a toy box, instead of offering access to all of them at once. 

It’s also important to make sure that all toys are safe. Avoid toys with small pieces that might fall off or be pulled off and swallowed, as well as toys with sharp edges. Cats should never be allowed to play with string, ribbon, or elastics, either. Regularly inspect toys for wear and tear, and supervise your kitty while they play with wands or feathery toys. Playtime is supposed to be fun, not end up with a surgery to remove a gastrointestinal foreign body!

Actively playing and spending time with your cat strengthens your bond with your cat, and you might get a good laugh out of it too. If playing with a laser-pointer, a toy on a string, or just throwing a toy for your cat, offer them a treat at the end of the activity. Point the laser to a treat, or throw a treat with the last toss of the toy. This helps simulate a hunt for your cat. Just be sure that you’re not adding a treat in at every session. Too much of a good thing translates into a whole lot of #chonky.

Tired Out Yet?

You might be wondering just how much play your cat needs to stay healthy, but again, just like people, there isn’t an exact answer that suits every cat. The amount of exercise a cat will need depends on their personality, age, weight and breed, with younger cats needing more stimulation than seniors. Certain breeds also need more play and engagement with you. In the wild, cats spend several hours per day hunting and exploring, so be sure that even when you’re not actively playing with your cat that they have access to toys and stimulating activities. Puzzle feeders, hidden dry food at meal times and access to a cat tree can help keep your cats happy and active while you’re busy. 

As always, if you have more specific questions regarding amounts of exercise and play, toy selection, or benefits of play, your veterinarian can make suggestions.

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