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Your Cat’s Inner Wildcat – It’s in there somewhere!

Chances are good that you know about the importance of play time for your cats. Many cat owners, however, stop initiating play if their cats aren’t responsive. What do you do when your cat doesn’t play with the faux fur mice toys the way he used to? Or when that once-beloved spongy glitter ball bounces across the floor unnoticed? Or, worse yet, when your cat does notice the ball and, instead of chasing it, gives you a look that makes you wonder if he’s questioning who the more intelligent species really is. Being a descendant of the African wildcat, your cat does have a prey drive in there somewhere, to some degree. Without a doubt, there is a way to help him find it. If you feel that you have tried every cat toy on the market, here are some tips to bring out the inner wildcat in your feline friend.

A good physical workout is very important when a cat plays with his toys, but engaging your cat in play is not all about physically wearing him out; it’s about the hunt. Your cat’s brain is hardwired for strategizing and calculating his next move when hunting. Try piquing your cat’s interest by maneuvering a wand toy (a wand that dangles a feather on a string) away from your cat while replicating what live prey would do.  Let him catch the toy several times throughout the playtime (but don’t make the prey too easy to catch, nor too difficult either).The secret, (or the icing on the mouse, so to speak), is to create a feeling of eager anticipation in your cat by hiding and wiggling the toy behind something (a piece of furniture, for example) several times throughout the play period. Hearing the “prey” flop around, without being able to see it, is the key to triggering his prey drive and getting him moving.

You may find that your cat’s lack of activity has less to do with toys or how you are maneuvering them, and more to do with who’s watching. Many cats don’t feel confident or relaxed enough to play with a toy if another animal in the room is watching. If this is the case, try playing with your cat in another room, out of sight from other cats or dogs, so that he may create his own “hunting ground”. Lastly, never attempt to get your cats to play together with one toy. They are solitary hunters and a group hunting expedition goes against their wildcat instincts. In fact, this is a great way to undermine healthy cat relationships.

As always, if your cat is not as active or playful as he used to be (or any other concerning changes), please have him checked out by your veterinarian.  A decrease in play could mean that a health issue is at play instead.

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!

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