Want your cats to live a better life? Play with them

a woman lying on the bed with her kitten while kissing him on the head

High quality cat food and regular vet checkups are important for your cat’s health — but that may not be enough, according to research out of The University of Adelaide in Australia.

The study, published in Animal Welfare, proves what we already know: playing with your indoor cat leads to a better quality of life. But it also confirmed that playfulness itself is an indication that your cat is living its best life. In other words, if your cat likes to play, she’s doing well.

The study also said the most important factor in a cat’s quality of life is the relationship they have with you. So the easiest way to improve your cat’s quality of life is for you to play with them. Whoda thought? 😉

Benefits of playing with your cat

The same Animal Welfare study concluded that outdoor cats generally have a higher quality of life than indoors cats. Of course, outdoor cats are more likely to die young because of threats like cars, predators, and animal control. So while I don’t recommend letting your cat roam freely, it’s important to look at what gives outdoor cats such a high quality of life: opportunities to play, hunt, and explore. 

The American Humane Society says cats thrive when you give them a routine with enrichment and exercise. Enter: play time.

torti cat laying on a blue Magic Carpet

Exercise improves your cat’s health

Exercise is a very important benefit of play for your cat. Staying fit and active will reduce your cat's chance of developing conditions such as diabetes, obesity and arthritis. 

Exercise is also important for your cat's mental health – it prevents boredom and allows them to express natural behaviors. Cats who don’t get challenged or entertained get bored. Boredom can lead to depression. Depression can lead to health problems. You get where we're going, right?

Play releases excess energy

Play also helps cats burn off energy that might otherwise be used for behavior humans would consider less than desirable. Setting aside time to play with your cat can reduce a variety of behaviors such as:

a black and white cat is hugging an orange tabby cat

Social interaction help cats form strong bonds

Playing with interactive toys is a wonderful way to increase the bond between you and your cat. Cats that form attachments with their owners feel more safe, secure, and exhibit fewer destructive behaviors. 

If you’re a pet parent to several cats, encouraging them to play with each other can improve the relationship between them. Play helps cats relieve stress and produce pheromones that may help to calm other cats. They also have better social development, which makes them better pets. 

Quality is more important than quantity

While playing with your cat is highly important, it’s worth noting that play sessions can be relatively short — as short as 5 to 10 minutes. What matters is the quality of that play. 

However, your cats will play longer and more often if you keep them engaged and give them options. Keep your cat happy and healthy with:

  • Toy rotation — Provide your cat a variety of toys (e.g., wand toys, plush, tunnels, play rugs, silver vine) and rotate them regularly. This gives your cat lots of opportunities to rediscover old favorites and keeps play from getting stale. 
  • HuntingPlay should mimic hunting for your cat. Provide them with toys that mimic real prey, create secure spots where they can hide and stalk, and add climbing surfaces where they can observe from afar. 
  • Outdoor time — Open your windows, build a catio, offer supervised outdoor time — whatever gets your cat sniffing the air and lounging in the sun.
  • Foraging — Let cats sniff out and find their food, toys, or silver vine in different hiding places. They’ll have fun finding it and you’ll keep them entertained for longer. 
  • Challenges — Create mazes out of cardboard boxes and hide treats for them to find. Use food puzzles to keep meal times interesting.
  • Success — Don’t tease your cat; she should cat should catch her prey about a third of the time (just like it'd be in the wild). 
  • ScratchersCats need to scratch. Provide a variety of surfaces, like sisal, carpet, rope and cardboard, to encourage your cat to scratch the right things. 

Is your cat’s quality of life on life support? 

If your cat is seeking your attention through increased vocalization, destructive behavior, or clinginess, they’re probably frustrated and need something to occupy their mind. We firmly believe the best remedy for curing kitty boredom is always play. 

Playing with your cat not only improves your bond and makes your cat healthier, it also improves their quality of life. Playing is the bare minimum you can do for your cat to thank them for bringing so much joy to yours (but we know you do more than the min).

What are you waiting for? Grab that wand toy and get your kitty hunting and enriched!

1 comment

  • jmuhj

    “Indoors only!” is the rule here, as it is with educated, caring cat experts in almost every case. As we do not have a catio and there are wild creatures and dogs in the environment which may carry fleas, my beloved cat stays inside in our large home, which has lots of windows, cat perches, lots of cat furniture and rotated toys, regularly refreshed catnip, silvervine, and blend, and lots and lots of LOVE. As he has become an “only cat,” he is lonely, and I hope to adopt a feline friend for us soon.

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