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How to play with your kitten

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Discover the best ways to engage your kitten in playtime.
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Playing with your kitten isn’t all fun and games – it’s essential for helping your feline friend with their coordination, social skills and mental and physical development.

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kitten enjoying playtime

The importance of playing with your kitten

Kittens are born with strong instincts that help them survive in the wild. However, domesticated kittens that may never have to rely on these instincts for hunting or hiding will use them for play. Playtime is often an outlet for these instincts, taking the form of stalking, pouncing and capturing “prey” such as a mouse-shaped toy.

A kitten that is separated from the litter when too young may not have learned appropriate play behaviour, so it’s up to you to teach them how to play nicely.

Games to play with your kitten

Kittens love chasing, climbing, hiding and pouncing, so try to incorporate these actions into the games you play. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Use feather teasers, fishing rod toys and laser beams for swiping and chasing activities. (Never shine a laser into any animal’s eyes and always let your cat catch a toy at the end of the game.)
  • Introduce a climbing frame to help your kitten develop better balance and mobility.
  • Offer a scratching post to satisfy your cat’s natural instinct to sharpen their claws – and to keep them from ruining your furniture.
  • Provide toys your kitten can treat as prey so they can practice perfecting their pouncing technique.

Popular kitten toys

Your young cat will enjoy toys nearly as much as does a human child. Here are some of the most popular cat toy choices:

  • Plush mice or balls: These are fun to bat around, chase and carry. Make sure the toys you offer are designed for cats, to avoid a choking hazard.
  • Puzzle boxes: These toys are designed to stimulate your cat’s curiosity and mental acuity. A treat inside may help entice them to interact.
  • Feather teasers, yarn and ribbon: These toys encourage your kitten’s natural instinct to chase and pounce. Use caution with yarn and ribbon, as they could become tangled around your kitten’s neck, and if ingested could cause a blockage in the intestine.
  • Cardboard boxes, tunnels and paper bags: These are great for playing hidey. Avoid plastic bags, which pose a suffocation risk.

One word of caution: avoid using your fingers or toes as a toy during playtime. Establishing this boundary now can prevent your kitten from forming a painful habit when grown up. If your kitten starts to show aggression towards you – by hiding and pouncing on you as you walk past, for example – you should stand still and distract them with a toy.

When to play with your kitten

Kittens are often most alert early in the morning and then in the evening, making these the prime times for play. Use a favourite toy and keep play sessions short: 10 to 15 minutes a couple of times each day will engage your kitten enough that they’ll be content with solo exploring, playing or sleeping for the rest of the day.

The dos and don’ts of feline fun

Do:

  • Play for a few short sessions every day – 10 to 15 minutes will do the trick.
  • Allow your cat to catch and grab the toy at the end of each game to satisfy their predatory instinct.
  • Provide a variety of toys, especially those shaped like prey (such as a mouse).

Don’t:

  • Never use your fingers or toes as a toy during playtime. If you do, your kitten could develop a bad habit – painful for you.
  • Never hit or yell at your kitten when they nip or pounce. This will make them fearful of you.
  • Never force your cat to play or be trained. Some kittens prefer less play; some prefer more. Find the right balance for your pet.

Teaching your kitten how to engage in friendly play not only helps you and your family avoid painful nips and scratches, it also encourages proper social skills while developing your cat’s reflexes and coordination. Keep activities short and positive, and your kitten will grow into a happy and healthy cat.

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