Kittens are such adorable daredevils, aren’t they? They have no fear and a boundless sense of adventure.
When they’re tiny, they lie in wait for you behind doors and jump out. They climb curtains, pounce on your toes and chase pieces of string – as well as their own tails.
Why are kittens so playful?
No doubt you remember those days when your cat was a kitten and fondly think of their endless appetite for fun and games.
Kittens play for two reasons. First, they have a huge amount of energy stored up in those tiny, furry bodies. Second, they’re following their natural instinct to hunt for prey by practising pouncing, stalking, jumping and biting. They may mostly be practising on your ankles or their siblings but, in their heads, they are miniature heroic hunters.
Ageing and the impulse to play
These bursts of playful activity tend to lessen when your kitten is around four or five months old. Although some cats retain kitten-style antics well into old age, many will start to prefer the allure of a cosy lap to the distractions of a toy mouse.
However, play is important for cats of all ages. Your cat may have less energy and be less mobile than when they were a kitten, but there are still many reasons to keep the games going with your furry feline friend.
Why play is vital for older cats
By playing games with your senior cat, you can:
- Help reinforce the bond between you and your pet.
- Help your cat to stay physically fit.
- Help stimulate your cat’s brain, keeping them mentally active and interested in life.
- Help your cat maintain a healthy weight.
- Help your cat’s joints to stay supple.
- Help your cat to maintain their agility and stamina.
Games to play with your senior cat
Here are our top five suggestions for ways to maintain your older cat’s zest for life by playing games.
1. Play on your cat’s prey instincts
Your cat might have stopped pouncing on your toes long ago, but you can still use your kitty’s hunting instincts to entice them to stay active.
For example, encourage your cat to play stalking and hunting games by dragging a feather toy along the ground. Use short, sharp, darting movements to mimic the way that a mouse or similar prey would move. And make sure that you reward your cat with a treat at the end of the game.
2. Go low-tech
You don’t need to buy expensive new toys. Cats are frequently as delighted with a paper bag as with any shiny high-tech toy you could find in an online pet shop.
If your cat is fascinated by scrunched-up paper, roll up some balls of old wrapping paper or brown kraft paper and flick them across the floor for your cat to chase. Or you could embrace the old-fashioned fun of a brown paper bag that’s big enough for your cat to hide in. Take the handles off first, so there’s no danger of your cat getting caught, and watch as your cat enjoys investigating this mesmerising object and hiding inside it.
3. Play hide and seek with food
Food games will help to stimulate your cat’s brain and are guaranteed to motivate cats of any age. You could hide treats in different places around the house and ask your cat to sniff them out. You could even give your cat the task of hunting out their daily YuMOVE capsule.
Plenty of cat food puzzles are available online, but you can also make your own. One simple version, shown here, involves putting treats in an egg box and letting your cat use their claws to scoop out their edible prize.
4. Go catnip crazy
If your elderly cat has lost their enthusiasm for playing, a catnip toy could reignite that fire. Catnip, a member of the mint family, is renowned for its effect on our feline friends. One sniff, and they’re rolling around in ecstasy.
Play on your cat’s love of this sensory trigger by using toys that are infused with catnip. The Kong brand has a range of catnip toys, from fuzzy bunnies and hedgehogs to caterpillars. Alternatively, you could grow your own catnip and use it to attract your cat to play with existing toys.
5. Aim for the sky
Cats like nothing more than perching on top of a high vantage point where they can look down on the world or out at the birds in the garden.
As long as your cat is reasonably mobile and agile, you could play games that encourage them to explore their inner mountaineer. This will help your cat to stay fit and will help keep their joints supple. Perhaps you could persuade them to climb a cat tree or tower by placing a treat on top. Or, if your cat is more of a foothills kind of feline, you could create a low-level playing field by luring them from the floor to a footstool to the sofa with a treat or a feather toy.
A bit of advice
Whatever kind of games you play with your senior cat, you can be sure that they’ll help the two of you to bond, as well as helping to keep your four-pawed friend fitter and more flexible.
We recommend avoiding jumping games if your cat has stiff joints, and watch out for claws getting stuck in toys if your cat takes up a particular game too enthusiastically.
Also, make sure that your cat’s in the mood for playing. Don’t force it – go at your cat’s place. Change toys around frequently, and add an air of mystery to playtime by hiding favourite toys and bringing them out for special occasions.