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How play develops in cats, from kitten to adult cat

A cat is a juggler par excellence, although its style is certainly very different from that of a dog. A sophisticated lover of puzzles, the cat, above all, plays in order to learn how to solve all kinds of problems. In its own way, of course, which means on its own, in true soloist style.

This, however, does not exclude the fact that the cat also boasts a wide and comprehensive range of social games. As early as three weeks old, kittens begin to interact by pawing each other. As they finetune their motor co-ordination, from the fourth week onwards, the kittens begin their educational games within their group. These are characterised by spectacular side leaps, belly-up flips, back bending and tail arching. The litter engages in role-playing  where each member of the group alternates constantly and frequently between the role of hunter and hunted.

A cat’s favourite games

We recognise a cat primarily by its motor play  and the games it plays with objects. Motor play refers to those sensorimotor features of a cat that make it the animal world’s trapeze artist par excellence. The cat’s well recognised balancing ability, in this case, combines with an explorer’s equally substantial dose of inquisitiveness.

A cat puts on show all its precision and predatory qualities when playing with objects. The leap, the paw-swipe, the vertical jump, side step and hooked grip with claws out, are just some of the behavioural patterns we can observe while our cat plays. Immediately after the cat has swiped an object with its paw, the movement of the object stimulates the subsequent phases of play in a gradual growing crescendo of playful contest. When we interrupt play, whether it be a cat or a dog, we create and send a powerful training message to our animal that allows us to alter certain behaviour, such as scratching or biting.

We can target a cat’s interest on certain categories of objects through play and carefully avoid using pieces of cloth or sponge that might encourage a cat’s potential destructiveness. Beware, however, of the famous ball of wool. It is by no means the ideal plaything for our cat, who could have serious consequences if it were to swallow it.

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