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Cats International

Play Therapy

We can take the cat out of the jungle, but we can’t take the jungle out of the cat. There is a little tiger in every house cat; a solitary predator that needs to exercise its hunting skills on a regular basis. We may have confined this little tiger within four walls, provided them with the finest of feline foods, but we can’t ignore their basic need to do that for which it was so perfectly designed – to HUNT.  Fortunately, it is not always necessary for the prey to be alive, but it must move.

Two cats playing on white backgroundOwners are often frightened by the playfully aggressiveness in cats and kittens because they look quite intense when they play. They silently ambush feet and ankles as they pass by surprising, upsetting, and sometimes, even hurting a family member. In some cases the cat owners have not intentionally trained their cat to be a feline terrorist by playing with it as a kitten with their hands or feet. Now that the cat is bigger and stronger, those playful pounces and bites can puncture skin and become more painful.   The solution is to direct the cat’s playful, predatory, energies toward toys instead of moving hands or feet.


Two kittens playing and fighting

Of course, the easiest solution, and perhaps the best, is to get another cat or kitten of the same sex and approximately the same age and activity level as a playmate for them.  Although you will now have two mouths to feed, the wear and tear on you and your home will be greatly reduced, or eliminated. If getting another pet is not possible, then it will be your responsibility to provide your playful cat with scheduled sessions of controlled play.


Schedule two or three (more, if necessary) interactive play sessions a day for times when Kitty is most rambunctious.  Cats love routine, so try not to change the play times. Depending on how athletic your cat is, the sessions may last 10-20 minutes each; every cat and kitten will be different and require more or less time.   A fishing pole type toy enables the pet parent to be stationary while controlling the cat’s activity level with a wave of the arm. Some of the best commercially sold toys for this purpose are the “Da Bird”, and the “Cat Charmer”.  The play sessions should not stop until the cat is exhausted, lying on his side and batting at the toy because he is too tired to jump or chase after it.



During the play session make the toys move as wild prey-a little mouse or bird. Don’t dangle it in the cat’s face. It should hide behind objects in the house and occasionally jump into the air. Build up Kitty’s confidence and enthusiasm by allowing plenty of “captures”.  Fishing pole toys should be carefully stored out of the cat’s reach after the a play session, as kitty could become entangled in the toy which could cause great harm.

As kittens mature, the play patterns of male and females change. The rough-and-tumble, pounce-and-play sequence of male play behavior will continue and may not be appreciated by the female.  When she is older he may be greeted with hisses and spitting, this is normal, she is simply telling him to slow down and back off.

What to do if the Little Monster still Attacks you Playfully…

First of all, playful attacks are not bitting with hissing and growling. A natural reaction to being grabbed or bitten, even playfully, is to swat at the cat. Don’t do this! Physical punishment may cause your cat either to fear you or to engage in even more aggressive rough play, where they will think they are being attacked and challenged. If your cat becomes afraid of you, you may face a bigger problem – that of defensive aggression. If the attack can be anticipated, a blast of air from a compressed air can (obtained from any office supply store), a squirt from a water gun, or a shaker can (empty soda can with pennies in it) may discourage the behavior if produced at the moment of the attack. Timing is everything. If “used” a second or two after the incident, the means of distraction will not be connected with the attack in the cat’s mind and no training will take place.  The cat will be frightened of you and confused.  You can also carry a supply of soft toys to be given to the attacker, to redirect the play aggression from your skin to a toy.


Playful Ginger Cat Biting Cat Toy


Perhaps the best means of distraction  is the one that is always at hand – one’s voice. A loud and shrill “Eek”, followed by a sharp “No!” can be very effective with some cats. The next step is to shun the cat for the next ten minutes. This means paying absolutely no attention to the cat. Don’t lecture or scold the cat and don’t pick them up to put it in a separate room. Any attention at this point can be reinforcing the bad behavior, so totally ignore the cat. This is precisely the way a kitten learns to inhibit his biting when playing with another kitten. If one becomes a little too rough, the victim will squeal and run away. The aggressor will watch his playmate run away and wonder what happened. Eventually he learns that if he wants to extend the play session (which he always wants to do), then he will have to be more gentle.

The Benefits of Play


Physical fitness

Mental stimulation

Physical coordination

Bonding with owner

Relief from stress and boredom

Distraction from behavior problem (e.g. aggression)

Cure for behavior depression

If only one cat in house – gives cat play stimulation otherwise achieved with other cats

Fun for both cat and owner

While playing with the owner the cat exercises the following hunting

skills or behaviors:

stalking. chasing, pouncing, batting, catching, throwing, fishing and communication

 To Make Kitty’s Life More Interesting:

Get a companion/playmate

Train kitty to walk on leash

Provide or build an outdoor enclosure

Buy “Catnip Video”

Hide toys for kitty while you are at work

Get an aquarium (with cover top)

Rotate kitty”s toys – keep small soft toys not being used in an airtight container filled with catnip

Devote 10 minutes before leaving for work and 10 minutes after returning, exclusively to kitty

Give kitty a massage, or grooming session

Provide kitty with his own furniture – scratching post, cat tree condo, etc.

Occasionally put something new on the floor for kitty to explore (e.g. paper bag, cardboard box)

Plant an indoor garden just for kitty

This training method works well – if you are patient and consistent ……… Just go SLOW !!


For any other information on cat behavior please visit our web-site

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