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Playful cats
"Want your cat to love you more? Play with her!"

Playful pets

All pet owners enjoy watching the playful antics of their pets. In fact, most pet owners consider this one of the most enjoyable aspects of pet ownership. If you’ve ever wondered why pets play, what you can do to encourage your pet to play or what makes a good toy for your pet, read on.

Why do pets like to play?

We have bred our pets to have juvenile personalities all their lives. So while puppies and kittens especially love to play, even adult animals will play given the chance. Mature aged pets can also be encouraged to partake in a little gentle play. When young, play is practice for life. Kittens stalking and pouncing on toy mice are learning to hunt. We have now replaced hunting and retrieving prey with games and bonding time.

The benefits of play

  • Play can help keep our pets’ bodies and minds healthy. Chasing balls, tossing toys in the air, finding toys under a rug and interacting with us all encourage our pets to exercise.
  • Pets are now suffering from unprecedented levels of obesity (yes, just like us!). Play is an excellent way of encouraging your pet to keep active. Of course, a balanced diet is also good for your pet.
  • Play can also strengthen the bond between you and your pet. Want your cat to love you more? Play with her.
  • Play can help prevent behaviour problems. Giving your cat the opportunity to “hunt” at home can prevent the need for her to hunt the native wildlife.

How can we encourage our pets to play?

  • Interact with your cat to encourage her to play. Cats love to follow moving objects so trail a cat toy behind you (try fixing it to your waistband). Cats are less likely to play with toys when left alone but some do, so provide lots of toys to encourage her to play throughout the day.
  • Many people state they have backyards full of toys that their pet never plays with! So rotate your pet’s toys around on a daily or weekly basis. If they don’t see a toy for a week, it’s like getting a new toy. Also, remove your pet’s toy after a play session. This keeps her interested (just like kids get bored, so do your pets).
  • Keep your pet’s favourite toy for occasions when you need her best behaviour. For some people this is when they go to work. For others it’s when they have visitors. Your pet will devote her attention to the toy.
  • If you really hate the outdoor lifestyle, you can play with your pet around your home. Hide toys under a light towel, rug or plastic cups and encourage your pet to seek them out. Throw a ball from the comfort of your armchair (remove all fragile objects first!).

Remember to have fun and your pet will too.

What are good toys for pets?

  • A good toy is one that your pet enjoys playing with. It does not need to be expensive (cats love cardboard boxes) but it does need to be safe.
  • Check for loose cords and stitching. Sadly some pets hang themselves on the ropes and cords of toys and others choke on the stuffing of soft toys. Thin plastic can also splinter hurting your pet’s mouth.
  • Remember your pet has sharp teeth (especially in the case of cats) and may rip apart toys that you thought were safe. Always supervise your pet’s play with the toy until you are sure she is safe.
  • Investing in a well-designed and well-made toy can actually cost less in the long run as you may end up replacing cheaper toys regularly.


About Dr Joanne Righetti

Dr Joanne RighettiDr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating the public and professionals in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She also consults to a variety of organisations including non-profit organisations, commercial companies and councils and is involved in a variety of media including regular spots on radio. Joanne is an honorary associate of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney. Find out more about Joanne at

Last updated: 24 April 2015 at 04:10 PM
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