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Encouraging your cats to play together with one toy may seem like a good idea. It’s hard to deny the cuteness of watching them take turns batting at the feather on a string you are dangling between them. Surely this type of mutual play time would help foster a close and friendly relationship between your fluffy felines, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with cats.
Despite domestication, house cats are still programmed to hunt on their own. This is just one of the many instincts that have stood the test of time and remains embedded in their genes as a result of being a descendant of the African Wildcat. When you try to engage your cats with a well-intentioned “play date”, it goes against the innate wildcat instincts of being a solitary hunter. This can create territorial thinking and competition for the toy, leading to social tension that pulls cats apart. In a worst case scenario, it can create an all-out war.
Perhaps you are currently creating multi-cat play times using just one toy, and have had no problems. You’re not necessarily off the hook. Your cats can take turns leaping after the mouse toy you have tossed, or chasing the wand toy you are maneuvering, but one day everything may change, causing them to de-friend each other. You’ll find that the play dates have caused territorial tension over the single-prey target one too many times. This tension may manifest in several ways. Maybe your cats just aren’t very close and you’ve never seen them groom each other, or maybe your cats have resorted to swatting and hissing. Too much tension may have been created over toys and your good intention to bond your cats has torn them apart, leading to a household of stressed out cats.
By engaging your cat with his prey target (cat toy) without other cats involved, you are replicating a hunt in a way that makes sense to him. With some cats you may need to go a step further and create a play time where he has the “hunting ground” (your living room, for instance) all to himself, with no other cats in view. Also, if you have only one basket of toys in the living room, you’ve created just one very prime piece of hunting ground real estate. This may be the problem if you have noticed that there is tension between your cats only in one part of your home. You can help alleviate this tension by simply relocating toys to several locations in your home.
Remember, in nature cats don’t hunt together. When in doubt, try to look at your cats’ environment (the home you share with them) through their wildcat instinct eyes.
Who is Mieshelle Nagelschneider?
Meet Mieshelle Nagelschneider, ACCBC, a cat behaviorist and author of the science-based cat behavior book, The Cat Whisperer (Random House Publishing). Her passion and curiosity about cats, along with her study in animal behavior, has enabled her to help thousands of cat owners solve their cats' behavior issues for over two decades.
Learn more at The Cat Behavior Clinic, and look for her book later in 2013!