Dear Ms Kitty,
My cat Avalon isn’t a kitten anymore at 7 years old. She used to be very active but now she just sleeps a lot. Is there anything I can do to keep her from being a couch potato?
Bored on Boulder
Many guardians complain that their cat just doesn’t play anymore. It can also be frustrating for you if Avalon just sits there.
Playing is essential for cats, as it translates to hunting for food in their natural world.
Just like you’d walk your dog every day, playing with your cat every day is good for their mental and physical health. Here are some tips to get Avalon up and at ‘em!
Move it or snooze it
Many people assume that leaving a toy around will be enough to get a cat playing. Unless it has catnip or an appealing texture, a stationary toy is usually boring to a cat.
Cats need movement to pique their interest. The best cat toy is one with you on the other end of it.
Your job is to think like the prey the cat is stalking. Move the toy away from the cat. Hide it behind things. Make it rattle a little. Start and stop randomly.
Don’t let it be too easy to catch, but do let Avalon catch it occasionally.
Back to basics
Some cats are too intimidated to play, especially if they haven’t been encouraged to for a long time. Some are too shy and some may have trouble moving if they’re overweight.
If that’s the case, try the easy Stick Under a Rug. Just get a long stick, like a dowel, or the handle of a cheap wand toy without the toy.
Find a throw or bath rug and gently place it in front of the cat. Insert your stick under the rug, gently moving it around.
If Avalon doesn’t notice, poke out the very end of the stick, like it’s peeking out from underneath.
Don’t be discouraged if Avalon just watches it with her eyes at first. That’s a start! Sometimes it takes baby steps to switch on a cat’s curiosity. Once she gets going, you can lead into other toys and find the one she most enjoys.
Hands to yourself!
There aren’t very many mistakes to make when playing with a cat, but this is the big one: never, ever use your hands for playing!
We get it. It’s just too easy to tease a little kitten with your finger.
But next thing you know, that kitten is attacking your whole hand. This can generalize to your feet, especially in the summer when barefoot.
Soon, you’ll have a full grown cat who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to randomly attack body parts. And why wouldn’t she? You’ve just spent months training her to do so!
Please always use a cat toy when playing with your cat. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive. It can be as simple as attaching a string to a stick. In fact, many shy cats prefer strings. Just make sure the string can’t come off and be swallowed.
One cat at a time
Cats are not pack animals. They almost always hunt solo, eating small prey like insects several times a day. They’re not hardwired to cooperate.
If you try to play with a group of cats, the most play-oriented one will usually take over. Cats know that in serious chasing and pouncing, they might collide with another cat.
That’s why most will back off and wait for the party animal to finish. This often happens when a kitten comes into the home. You might find your older cats stop playing while the kitten takes over.
If you find one cat hogging the whole session, offer other sessions in other rooms to keep everyone else happy.
Finish with a treat
Since playtime mimics hunting, cats love to finish the session the same way they would in the wild: by eating something tasty. Just a small protein treat or two will satisfy.
You’ll probably find Avalon settling in and she may even groom or fall asleep. That’s when you know you’ve done a good job!
Sara Ferguson is the Director of Happy Cats Haven. Ask Ms Kitty is a free helpline offered by Happy Cats Haven and Colorado Cats Boarding. Tap here for other Ask Ms Kitty articles!