Playing with your kitten is more than fun and games — it’s essential for helping your feline friend with their coordination, social skills and mental and physical development.
The Importance of Playing with Your Kitten
Kittens are born with strong instincts that help them survive in the wild. Domesticated kittens may never have to rely on these instincts for hunting or hiding, but they 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 their litter when too young may not have learned appropriate play behavior, so it’s up to you to teach them how to play nicely. When your kitten reaches seven weeks of age, they’ll likely begin showing signs of playfulness. Learn more about your kitten’s early stages of development.
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 pointers 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 a human child does. 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 —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 hide and seek. 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 biting habit when grown up. If your kitten starts to show aggression toward 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 favorite toy and keep play sessions short. Ten to 15 minutes of play 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 Do's and Don'ts of Kitten Play
- 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 overdo it. Play for a few short sessions every day.
- 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.