Play is a means of knowledge, learning, entertainment and socialisation for each and every living being. With their strong predatory instinct, play has a key function for cats in consolidating identity and it is essential to keep these instincts intact for their correct psychophysical development.
Lifestyle has a significant influence on behaviour and attitude to play. Cats tend to be sleepy creatures who, we know, like to sleep for hours and then wake up bursting with energy.
There are unfortunately circumstances that limit a cat’s physical activities. So-called ‘indoor’ cats that enjoy a predominantly or exclusively domestic lifestyle with no access to the outdoors, cannot do much physical activity and cannot satisfy their hunting instincts.
When a cat isn’t stimulated sufficiently, doesn’t hunt or lacks human interaction, it tends to become lazy, its inactivity leads it to put on weight, and, perhaps most worryingly, it becomes susceptible to increased levels of stress.
A good idea to reduce stress is to accustom the cat to exercise, but this alone will not satiate the cat’s urge to play.
Stimulate inquisitiveness through play
Cats are inquisitive animals that need to experiment and play to feel stimulated.
The question is whether all games are the same? Not for the cat.
It is also important to point out that cats are not always overly keen on the toys we choose for them.
Hunting toys, such as fishing rods, are some of the most recommended. They usually have feathers or a plush toy at the end, are very popular with cats and, most importantly, need the involvement of their owner.
Another type is the wind-up toy (plush or plastic mice, or clockwork toys). Whatever they happen to be, they are all useful, stimulating and can satisfy a cat’s inquisitive nature in the short term satisfy. Their only drawback is that the owner is not necessarily involved in the game itself.
Last but not least… the more is NOT the better!
While it is true that play can reduce the stress and anxiety suffered by your cat, recent studies have also shown negative effects from over-stimulation.
In other words, there is a paradoxical effect that can potentially lead to increased stress in your animal.
As always, in medio stat virtus (virtue lies somewhere in the middle)!
Cat stress is not always easy to spot as there are a wide range of signals that are not always easy to decode, and that can vary in intensity and frequency.
When the cat displays a prolonged period of stress, it undergoes physiological changes that prepare it to face the challenge of an unpleasant or adverse event such as an enemy, or danger, etc.
Its heart rate and breathing increase as, in a certain sense, it prepares itself to fight or flee. Nervous stimulation grows, as does, unfortunately, also metabolic disturbances that create inflammatory disorders of the upper urinary bladder (idiopathic cystitis).
Owners need to be aware of the messages sent by their cats and learn to read them correctly. They need to avoid confusing, for example, a request to play and interact as a request for food, which simply leads to aggravating fitness issues even more.