Playing With Your Kitten

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Playing with your kitten is not only fun—it’s an important part of the bonding process between you and your new pet! Kittens need plenty of playtime and socialization to grow into happy, well-adjusted adult cats.

However, if you’re a first-time kitten owner, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed. How should you play with your kitten? What games are good for them, and what might encourage bad behavior in the future? In this article, we’ll explore some of the benefits of play, as well as how you can engage your kitten fully.

The Benefits of Playing with Your Kitten

Kittens usually learn how to appropriately socialize with other cats from their mother and siblings. During this time, they play with each other and learn feline boundaries—and, ideally, also have their first encounters with humans.

Experts believe that human contact before 10 to 12 weeks is often required for kittens to grow into good pets. This does not mean that feral kittens can’t eventually learn to trust humans. However, socializing kittens from a young age whenever possible will give them the best chance of easily adapting to life with a human family.

Playing solidifies the human-animal bond. Whenever you play with your kitten, you are building trust and affection. Additionally, interactive toys that keep your cat happy, busy, and entertained will ultimately decrease destructive behaviors such as scratching and marking outside of the litter box.

Types of Toys for Kittens

Pet stores are full of cat toys! Here are some common ones you will see.

  • Wand toys
  • Cat tunnels
  • Crinkly toys
  • Balls
  • Toy mice
  • Climbing toys
  • Cat trees
  • “Fishing pole” toys
  • Scratchers
  • Interactive toys
  • Catnip toys
  • Household items

With so many options, how do you choose?

Depending on your budget, consider investing in several different types of toys — but for very young kittens, hold off on the catnip. Most cats don’t develop a sensitivity until four to six months. Try to choose a selection of toys that engages your kitten’s natural instincts: chasing, pouncing, scratching, and climbing.

Wand toys and fishing pole toys will encourage leaping, pouncing, and stalking. Toy mice and balls will entice your kitten to bat and chase. Climbing toys, like cat trees and perches, give your cat something to climb when you’re not home, as well as places to nap; scratching posts and boxes let them scratch in appropriate locations.

(When in doubt, you can always find an empty box—the internet is full of examples of how much cats love boxes!)

How to Play with Your Kitten

If possible, provide your cat with a range of toy types. This will give her variety, and help you figure out what interests her.

Cats are natural hunters. Games that tap into their prey drive, like rolling toys, wand toys, jingle balls, and toy mice can keep kittens entertained for hours.

Worried about your cat shredding your couch? Scratch posts or boxes with built-in wand toys are fun for kittens and will encourage them to scratch in the places you want them scratching.

To interest your kitten in play, assemble several toys and your kitten in an environment where your cat can focus on you. Twitch the toy in front of her, just out of reach. You will know you’ve succeeded when she pounces, bats at, or tries to chase the toy.

It could take time to find the balance between letting your cat catch the toy and keeping it out of her reach to maintain her interest. Take note of what works as you go, and don’t be afraid to try new motions or techniques!

Cats are natural hunters. Games that tap into their prey drive, like rolling toys, wand toys, jingle balls, and toy mice can keep kittens entertained for hours.

How Not to Play with Your Kitten

Some types of play are less desirable.

For instance, play-fighting with littermates is a natural part of a kitten’s socialization process, but without a littermate to play with, most kittens will turn toward their human companions.

We know kitten play-fighting can be adorable, but play-fighting with your kitten can result in biting and scratching, and it can be hard for you to break this habit later. (Which means guests in your home could also inadvertently become targets for play-fighting—something you probably want to avoid!)

Discourage play-fighting by refusing to engage or acknowledge it. Keeping your kitten’s nails trimmed will also reduce the damage she can do to unprotected skin.

Also, keep in mind that not all toys are safe for kittens. Contrary to popular depictions of cats, they shouldn’t be playing with balls of yarn or string. Eating yarn, string, ribbons, or similar materials can be fatal for your cat if left untreated.

How to Socialize Your Kitten

Socializing your kitten is important if you want her to grow into a good-natured adult cat. Setting up playdates with other kittens once your kitten is fully vaccinated can be a great way to keep your cat’s social skills sharp.

It is also important to introduce your kitten to other animals, like older cats and friendly dogs, as well as people who aren’t members of your household. Bear in mind that some cats and other pets in the home may be territorial.

The best way to introduce your kitten to an older cat is to do it gradually. Allow the animals to smell each other through a barrier like a gate, then hold the animals while they meet fully face to face. Take a break. After a day or two of trying this out, see if they tolerate each other for short, supervised periods of time. Gradually lengthen the time you leave them together.

Keep in mind that it can take up to six months for an older cat to fully accept a new cat in the home, and stay patient.

How Much Playtime Do Kittens Need?

The amount of playtime your kitten needs will vary from kitten to kitten, as some cats are more energetic than others, but they generally need at least two to three play sessions a day, if not more.

These sessions do not have to be long: short bursts of play throughout the day will keep your kitten stimulated. Ideally, play with multiple toys until your kitten loses interest.

Timing your play sessions to your schedule can also help you establish a routine with your cat. For instance, brushing your kitten while playing with a wand in the morning can be a special bonding time that develops into a healthy brushing routine over time.

A vigorous play session before bed may help reduce the chances of your kitten pouncing on your toes in the middle of the night (though it’s no guarantee!).

Summary

Make playing with your kitten a fun part of your daily routine. As your bond develops, you will discover what your cat likes, how he plays, and how you can keep him entertained and active while he matures.

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