Why Do Cats Play? The Science Behind Feline Fun

Most cats love playtime! On their own, with other cats, or with owners, younger cats, in particular, seem to be thoroughly entertained as they relentlessly chase, bat and pounce at their toys.

If you're wondering why cats play and what's the meaning behind their "games," read on to discover the reality behind feline playtime. Understanding the behavior will help you become a better playmate for Kitty.


What Does Play Behavior in Cats Mean?

Play is a natural need in all mammals, especially those that have not reached maturity. Through play, mammals discover the world surrounding them and learn the basic rules that will govern the rest of their lives.


Kittens spend many hours playing games, especially those that simulate hunting and violent competition with other cats.

The ability to play develops gradually once the kittens open their eyes. It becomes increasingly refined as their bodies grow, their muscles develop, and their motor abilities improve.

Kittens are willing to play with other kittens and cats, with other animals, and with humans. You can induce them to play hunting games quite easily.

Watching a playing cat is fascinating. In response to the stimulus of motion, the cat focuses on the moving object, lies down in preparation for a pretend ambush, and, after a few seconds of concentration, intercepts its "prey" with amazing rapidity.

Cats are naturally skillful hunters, and the level of these skills can be observed most notably when they play.

As they grow up, cats' need for play significantly decreases. They become calmer and are not as often excited by stimuli. That said, pet cats retain some kittenish behavior patterns, so most of them are willing to engage in some play even when they are older.

Read more: Are my cats playing or fighting?

The Science Behind Play and Cat Welfare

Recent studies have found that play behavior in cats is not only a way for them to learn and develop their hunting skills but also plays a crucial role in their overall well-being.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge conducted a review of the current literature conducted in the University of Cambridge on cat play and welfare. According to their study, play behavior has been linked to improved welfare outcomes in cats, such as reduced problem behaviors and stronger human-cat relationships.

Kitten with cat toy

Play can also serve as a form of environmental enrichment for our feline companions. The review highlights the importance of engaging your cat in play activities to not only satisfy their natural instincts but also to promote their overall welfare.

With What Kind of Toys Do Cats Play?

There is an excellent assortment of cat toys displayed in pet shops. These often include:


Cats find it very hard to resist a ball as it catches their eye, rolling or bouncing on the floor. These colorful balls are usually made of such materials as plastic, rubber, or sponge. Many of the balls have a small bell in them or otherwise make a sound as they roll.

Click here to see this pet ball on Amazon.

Toy mice

There are wind-up toy mice with spring mechanisms that will run in circles on the floor. Cats are fascinated with any object that moves on its own and may continue playing with such a toy long after it stops moving. Also, there are simple toy mice, some containing catnip that the cat can easily throw in the air to catch again. Some cats love fur toy mice. Others prefer a setup where the toy mouse a stand with a spring holds out the toy for them to pounce at.

Click here to see these toy mice on Amazon.

"Fish rods"

This popular type of cat toys (already mentioned above) resembles a fishing rod, with a small toy on the end of a string in place of the bait.

Click here to see this fish rod on Amazon.

The great advantage of these "fishing rods" is that you can hold them while standing at some distance (approximately three feet) away from the cat. That way, the game is interactive, while the human participant cannot be scratched or bitten in the excitement of the play.

What these toys all have in common is that they mimic a cat's natural prey. Bird, mouse, or small fish, these types of prey would attract a cat's attention in the wild, so our pampered pet cats find their artificial counterparts irresistible.

Homemade Cat Toys: Safety First!

You can make great cat toys at home. In fact, your cat will probably find worthy toys for itself, such as a plastic plug that can be rolled on the floor, a paper ball, etc.

It is essential to check these "toys" to make sure they do not contain small parts that the cat might extract and swallow.

Other dangerous toys are balls of thread or knitting wool - the threads can be swallowed and become tangled in the cat's intestines. Plastic baggies, in which the cat can become entangled and suffocated, and plastic containers hold potentially harmful beauty or skincare products or medications.

Such hazardous items should be put in cat-proof boxes or into cupboards and drawers in the same way that you would child-proof your home for curious toddlers. Better safe than sorry!

The Joy of Feline Playtime

Embracing the joy of feline playtime is a rewarding experience for both cats and their owners.

Engaging in play activities not only satisfies cats' natural instincts but also contributes to their overall well-being by reducing problem behaviors, strengthening human-cat relationships, and providing environmental enrichment.

With an array of exciting toys and creative homemade options, there's never been a better time to join your furry friend in some playful fun.

So, let's get playing and enjoy the many benefits that come with understanding and appreciating our cats' playful nature!

Need more help? Post your questions about cat play in the cat behavior forum where experienced c

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