Playing with your cat – Part 4 (of 4)

Sunday – KITI Fun Day

Sunday Fun Day – Playing with your cat

This post is written by ICatCare | @ICatCare

Playing with kittens
If you have a kitten it is important to teach basic good manners – cats should be discouraged from scratching, clawing or biting. This may be fine when little but as its ‘weapons’ become larger and the cat stronger it can cause damage and certainly pain.

Children can be frightened by cats that do this when they haven’t learned to be gentle or to hold back in play. Small feathers or toys dangling on the end of a rod and wire or string keep your hands a safe distance from the claws.

Play and the older cat
Don’t forget the oldies too; even elderly cats will enjoy the stimulation and gentle exercise of a game that is adapted to suit their level of mobility. Even if your cat lies down to play it will still be beneficial, both physically and mentally.

Multi-cat households
Playtime is more complicated in multi-cat households where one cat may be more motivated to play than others or any tension is present within the group. If a cat is suffering from stress due to social conflict then play, deemed a leisure activity, will be avoided due to the need for heightened vigilance. It is therefore essential to monitor each individual in a multi-cat group and consider factoring in some time in the day to play individually in isolation.

Encouraging social play between cats
Cats are more likely to indulge in social play with each other if the environment is conducive to doing so safely. If observed, cats enjoy the opportunity to play in environments where there are obstacles and varying levels to give camouflage, hiding opportunities and the chance to access high places for ‘timeout’.

It appears that the opportunity to break the stare in social play fighting diffuses tension and avoids the arousal from escalating to agonistic levels, inappropriate for play.

Areas indoors that are designated for play therefore should contain some or all of the following to get the maximum benefits:
• Cardboard boxes with entry/exit holes
• Furniture at various heights
• Tables
• Cat activity centres

All objects should be positioned in such a way that each cat can move around it and approach from any angle.

It may be necessary on occasions to intervene in social play between cats that has escalated and risks injury to either party. It is advisable not to physically intervene using arms or legs as, in a heightened state of arousal, the cats will not distinguish between you and each other and injury is inevitable. If the escalation has not progressed to physical fighting but has reached the stage of direct staring then an opportunity to break the stare, and therefore the view of each other, can be sufficient to diffuse the situation.

A suitable intervention would be to use distraction with a fishing rod toy, laser pointer (leading the cat towards a favourite toy) or kick toy (one large enough to be held in the forelegs and kicked with the hindlegs) to gain the cats’ attention by triggering the peripheral vision with rapid movements.

If the encounter has escalated beyond this point then physical contact can be interrupted by using a blanket or towel thrown over the cats. If the problem persists it may be necessary to seek advice from your veterinarian who may refer you to an animal behaviourist or pet behaviour counsellor to assess the situation and recommend action for long-term management.

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