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Interactive Play Therapy for Cats

interactive play therapy for cats

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Interactive play is a very powerful tool you can use to help your cat in a variety of situations. It’s great for trust-building, helping two cats become friends, exercise, stress relief, and the list goes on. Even though your cat may be one who is so revved up she can make a game out of playing with the dust bunnies under your furniture, don’t overlook how valuable it is to incorporate interactive playtime into your daily schedule.

You are the key Ingredient

Interactive play involves YOU. The concept is simple. You use a fishing pole-type toy to create prey-like action. If you’re going to truly have a “think like a cat” mentality when it comes to cat behavior, you have to conduct a game that allows your cat to act like the athletic hunter she was born to be. With the interactive toy, you move it so the target at the end of the string can wiggle, slide, dart and creep around the room. When you move the toy like prey, it’ll stimulate the hunter in your cat.

While you may have lots of toys around the house for your cat, the problem is they’re essentially “dead” prey. They don’t move. The only way to create action is if your cat bats at them. With the interactive toy, however, she doesn’t have to be both predator and prey – she can simply focus on being the hunter.



Match the Toy to Your Cat’s Personality

There are many interactive toys available at your local pet product store. Some are very basic – pole, string, toy dangling on the end. Some are more complex. When shopping, try to match the toy to your cat’s personality. If you have a somewhat timid cat, go for a toy that’s more basic and easy for her to conquer. If you have a very confident, athletic cat, you can still go for the basic toy or you can choose something more challenging. Just don’t get an interactive toy that has too big of a target toy on the end because you don’t want it to be become an opponent.

Scheduling Play

Maintain a regular schedule of interactive play with your cat. It won’t do any good to do a great playtime today and then not do another one for a week. Your cat needs the consistency. Schedule playtime once or twice a day, with about 15 minutes for each session. You’d be surprised what a ½ hour a day of playtime and fun can do for a cat’s emotional and physical health.

cat stalking a feather toy

Photo: Fotolia

All the Right Moves

How you move the interactive toy is important. Don’t wave it around frantically just to give your cat an aerobic workout. That’s not how cats naturally hunt. Stick to what’s natural for your cat. In the wild, a cat would stalk her prey while staying as quiet and invisible as possible. She would inch closer and closer and then, when she gets within striking distance, she would pounce. Cats don’t have the lung capacity to chase to exhaustion so don’t conduct marathons throughout the house. Move the toy like prey, alternating between fast and slow motions so it gives your cat time to plan her next move. Here’s a tip: movements that go away from or across your cat’s visual field will trigger her prey drive. Don’t dangle the toy in her face or move it toward her.

Hunting is just as much mental as it is physical. For interactive playtime to be beneficial for your cat in terms of confidence, trust-building or stress-relieving, she has to be able to plan her moves, have successful captures and not become frustrated. Keep that in mind as you move the toy around. Also, to build confidence, let her have plenty of captures throughout the game. If you were a cat, it would be pretty frustrating if you never got your paws on the toy. Remember the game needs to be fun for your cat.

CatWise the brand new book from best-selling author Pam Johnson-Bennett

Ending the Game

When it’s time to end the game don’t just suddenly stop and put the toy away. Your cat may still be very revved up. Instead, wind the action down, in the same way you would do a cool-down after an exercise. Let the prey slowly get tired or injured so the cat’s movements will naturally slow down as well. Then, leave your cat with one final grand capture.

Put Interactive Toys Away

In-between games, store all interactive toys out of your cat’s reach. The most important reason is that you don’t want her to chew on stringed parts. The second reason is you want to keep the toys special.

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Not a Replacement for Solo Toys

Interactive toys aren’t a replacement for the many solo toys your cat has around the house. Make sure she has a good supply of the fun little fuzzy mice, puzzle feeders and other toys that are safe to leave around.

 CatWise: in stores now or click to buy here

Need More Information?

For more information on cat behavior and training, refer to Pam’s books, including the latest release, CatWise. The books by best-selling author Pam Johnson-Bennett are available at bookstores everywhere, through your favorite online cat retail site and also here on our website.

Please note that Pam is unable to answer questions posted in the comment section. If you have a question about your cat’s behavior, you can find information in the articles on our website as well as in Pam’s books. If you have a question regarding your cat’s health, please contact your veterinarian. 









4 Responses to Interactive Play Therapy for Cats

  1. I have a dilemma. I have a 1.5 year old flame point siamese – very intelligent, and very demanding of attention. He absolutely LOVES ‘Da Bird’ (feather on fishing pole) toy. I was very pleased with his interest in it, and think it is a great way for him to get the exercise that he needs as an active cat. I work at a computer in my bedroom frequently, and when he was not playing with it, I would leave it hanging from the dresser drawer – where he could still tug and play on it. The problem became that he became ‘obsessed’ with it. When I would put it away, he would not leave me alone – he pawed incessantly at the dresser, walls, and meowed – continually. It became a real behavior problem as it became disruptive to my work. I put it away, out of sight, and tried to play at a few intervals, but he still was incessant begging for it. I have had to hide it permanently, making him go cold turkey, but I feel really badly as I feel it was very good for him – athletically and I know he enjoyed it greatly. I have other interactive toys for him, as well as mice, which he enjoys fetching sometimes. Is there a way to allow him to enjoy Da Bird but to prevent his obsessive behavior about it?

  2. I love this! So true. My main coon Romeo was such an amazing, calm and confident cat thanks to regular play therapy. I have tried the toys you recommend, and they are great, but there are other options out there too–small businesses like Cat Tamboo that make toys by hand, in the USA, and from all natural/biodegradeable materials.

  3. Awesome article. I wish more cat owners understood this. Have you done any toy reviews on what’s best for play therapy? I’ve heard you talk about the Da Bird, which is a great toy, but it’s not perfect for every cat, and there’s not a lot of info out here (in the general cat-people public) about what other options/choices exist. It’s all about the Da Bird without much info on alternatives.

    I’m sure a lot of cat owners (like me) need more choices and you give wonderful advice.

    My boys are male main coons, so they’re pretty aggressive and powerful in how they play. Da Bird works – it got my grumpiest, Romeo, to come out of his shell and regain his confidence after I adopted him. But the dang thing kept breaking. I found that the Da Bird wasn’t strong or tough enough. It’s ridiculous how much money I spent getting replacement parts, or buying new toys altogether, before I sat down and really considered what I was doing. (And just so you know – I never let my cats chew on their wand toys, ever. My cat’s destroyed the da bird simply in their pouncing, swatting, and grabbing the lure in the course of normal play therapy sessions)

    The Da Bird style of toy really works in triggering the natural hunting instincts, exercising your cat’s aggression, and helping them be calm and confident the rest of the day. So I’ve done a lot of research and looked everywhere for da bird alternatives. There aren’t very many reviews/comparisons out there so I had to figure a lot out on my own.

    I’ve tried a bunch of different alternatives, but I keep coming back to the Cat Tamboo Flyers.

    My second favorite alternative to the Da Bird is the Freddie’s Feather Wand. It’s much smaller (so easer to travel with I guess) but it doesn’t get the same response from my cats as the Cat Tamboo toys. Freddie’s is the classic wand-style with a string. Great materials, good, sturdy construction, but it’s harder to entice your cat and give the feathers a really realistic movement.

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