If you’ve not been around too many cats in your life, figuring out the best way to play with them can be tricky. There have been a lot of times at the cafe where we’ve seen people grab a toy and plonk it in front of a cat or wave it in her face expecting to get some action, only to be disappointed when the cat either completely ignores them or just walks away.
Here’s the thing about cats; to get their attention, you’ve got to be interesting to them. Unlike the majority of dogs who are eager to please you –even though they’ve never seen you before in their life– cats need to be wooed. To help you get the best out of your time at Catmosphere, and even strengthen the bond between you and your own cat, we’ve got some handy tips for you.
Play at a distance
As good as cats’ eyes are, they have their limitations. Their lenses are larger than ours, meaning they let in more light, but unlike our own lenses which change shape to focus light, they hardly change at all. Because of this, cats have trouble focusing on things that are very close to them. If you wave a toy in front of their face, it’s more than likely just going to annoy a cat because they can’t see it properly. Imagine a large blurry fly buzzing around your face and you get the idea.
See the prey, be the prey
All cats have a prey drive, though some are higher than others, and they live for a challenge. The best way to interact with a cat is to manoeuvre a toy as if it were a cat’s natural prey. Imagine a mouse scurrying across the ground or a dragonfly fluttering through the air. These creatures don’t just bob up and down, they go for a mad dash and stop suddenly, only to scurry somewhere else just as quickly. They weave through the wind and land and then launch into the air again.
Rodents especially will stick to ‘safe zones’ like corners, around furniture, under and over things, just trying to stay out of a predator’s eyesight. Remember that cats have amazing hearing so add some interesting taps and rustles to this, ensuring you keep in the “see the prey, be the prey” mindset – you don’t want to make too much noise because you don’t actually want the cat to find you. Once you’ve got this play style down, you’ll be one of the most interesting people your cat has ever met.
Pick your moments
Here’s the unfortunate truth about cats; they sleep a heck of a lot. They’re not like us where we sleep all in one go (although I strongly believe naps are a valid life choice and will hard stare anyone who says otherwise), they take short rests throughout the whole day. Trying to play with a cat that just wants to sleep is not going to get the result you want.
Cats also set aside time to eat, drink and groom themselves. It’s always best not to interrupt them when they’re doing this but once they’re done with those actions, they’re usually in a much better mood and more open to interaction.
A challenge is great but winning is better
Cats love a challenge but their ultimate goal is to catch their prey, so it’s your job to make sure that when you’re playing with a cat, you let her win. Cats are fantastic predators but they will give up if they feel they can’t catch their target. The last thing you want is for her to get frustrated and stop playing, as there’s also a danger she will take out her unfulfilled urges on you.
We get many people asking about laser pointers, as we tend to limit their usage with our cats. Laser dots are something that can’t be caught by cats and without pairing the pointer with a physical toy that they can catch, the risk of frustrating the cat is high. When playing with a laser pointer, you’ll want to place toys around the room and use the red dot as a target, strategically leading your cat to these toys so she can catch something at the end of the chase.
Always use appropriate toys, never your own fingers. It may seem harmless to play with kittens like this but trust us when we say it won’t be when they’re fully grown! We currently have a litter of kittens we’re caring for whose previous caretakers used their hands and feet to play with them and it is extremely hard to modify the behaviour as they get older.
On that same note, if a cat ever swats you away, don’t take it as an invitation to playfully swat back. It’s highly unlikely the cat is initiating play, they just want to be left alone. And if they are initiating play in that way, beware… it probably won’t end well for you.
So if you remember only one thing, remember to be interesting to the cat you want to interact with by using prey-like movements and sounds to grab and keep their attention. Now that you’re armed with some of the basics, book one of our experiences now to challenge our cats and kittens!