If you are cat owner, you know the basics must be maintained – food, water, litterbox. But equally import – ant is attending to cats’ social and physical needs. This should be a priority for you, and for your pet sitter when you travel. Interactive play is a great way to address social and physical needs, but play for cats might be even more important than you realize
The importance of play for cats
Cats evolved as both predators and prey over many thousands of years and it’s only relatively that they’ve been brought inside full time. Indoor cats no longer have to hunt for food or avoid larger predators for survival, and they are given healthy meals and comfortable places to nap in safety. But because of this, cats miss out on a lot of physical activity that keeps them healthy in both body and mind. Opportunities to perform activities that they evolved to do several times a day – explore, run, hunt, chase, lead, and play – have been greatly reduced for most cats.
In most homes, indoor-only cats tend to be under-stimulated and bored. Boredom can lead to stress, and stress can lead to stress, and stress can lead to destructive behaviors, depression, and physical health issues. Stress can increase when guardians disappear for travel, which disrupts the daily routine of cats. And on top of that, having a new person in the house they may not be comfortable with? Stress, stress, stress!
When kitties are given the chance to hunt, they receive mental stimulation, get physical exercises, build confidence, reduce boredom, and generally get to be the small, wild, predatory beasties they are at heart. The result: lower stress, and happier cats.
They prey sequence
All cats, big and small, perform something called the “prey sequence” when they hunt. They prey sequence can be broken down into four steps: 1) staring 2) stalking and chasing, 3) pouncing and grabbing, and 4) performing a kill bite. When you play with a cat, you’re basically recreating a hunt, so the most fulfilling play sessions will allow the cat to go through all steps of the prey sequence
What types of toys fulfill the prey sequence?
Not all toys can fulfill all steps in the prey sequence. For example, a laser pointer, a laser pointer is great for the first two steps of the prey sequence (staring, stalking, and chasing) but there’s nothing to physically grab or bite. Further, self – play toys (like small balls or mice) don’t really activate predatory behavior just by sitting there – they don’t roll or run away on their own). But there’s one type of toy that can fulfill all steps in the prey sequence: the interactive wand toy.
GoCat’s “Da Bird is the best wand toy because it goes a three-foot wand a 3 – foot string that has a clip on the end so you can change lures. This length gives it an excellent range of motion for a good work–out, and also encourages cats who want to play but who are hesitant about coming close to a stranger. So, it’s a great toy for a pet sitter to use with your cat as well.
Speaking of lures, cats have four primary types of prey: birds, rodents, reptiles (snakes and lizards), and insects. It’s always good to have an arsenal of lures that mimic these prey types, cats typically enjoy lures such as feather tufts (e.g, Da Bird refills), Da Rat (made with deer fur), Neko Flies insects and even fuzzy wiggly worms that look like small snakes or lizards.
Playing with your cat
Now it’s time to play! Move the lure like that prey would – birds swoop in the air, mice and rats run on the ground behind furniture. And don’t forget – cats hunt at about a 30% success rate, so let them catch the lure occasionally so that they can work the prey sequence and feel successful.
For younger and more active cats, 15 – 20-minute play sessions are best for providing good work – out. Running cats up and down cat trees or staring and batting at the lure a few times can be rewarding – make sure to gauge the needs of the cat with their physical ability and energy level. Plus, you don’t want to injure a cat who may not be so steady on their feet, or who already has an injury or joint pain.
If your cat stops, after just a couple of minutes, make sure that they haven’t simply “reset” to the staring phase before you quit playing. Give your kitty a 30-second break or change the lure you’re using. You can even try marinating your lures in a little bit of catnip
Finally, what do cats do after they hunt? They eat! Follow play sessions with a meal or a small treat to get cats into their natural hunt – eat – groom – sleep cycle.
Always remember to put any toy with string on it out of cats’ reach when you are not home to supervise the play. Cats can get tangled up in the string, or accidentally ingest the string or lures, which can be very dangerous. If you are worried about transmitting any pathogens between cats, use wands (like the Wiggly Wand) that have nylon lines instead of fabric strings or ribbons. You might also consider keeping individual lures foe specific cats separate by putting them in plastic bags labeled with the cat’s names.