(PET CARE) Anyone who’s taken care of cats knows just how playful, rambunctious, and even incorrigible feline friends can be. They chase laser points and swat at every visible shoelace without fail. Cats young and old seem to spend their days in the clouds, taking nothing except naps seriously. But why is it that cats play so much more than any other animal? Read on for the method behind their madness. — Global Animal

Paw Nation, Amy D. Shojai

Photo Credit: Toby Lewis (Flickr)

Watching cats play makes us smile, laugh out loud, and maybe even join in the fun. While adult pets play less than rambunctious babies, all cats play to some extent through their entire life. It’s not only fun for you both, but healthy as well.

How Cats Play
By four weeks of age, kittens practice four basic techniques: play fighting, mouse pounce, bird swat, and fish scoop. The first play displayed by kittens is on the back, belly-up, with paws waving. Feints at the back of a sibling’s neck mimic the prey-bite used to dispatch mice (toy or real). Kittens also practice the simpering sideways shuffle, back arched high, almost tiptoeing around other kittens or objects. Soon, the eye-paw coordination improves to execute the pounce, the boxer stance, chase and pursuit, horizontal leaps, and the face-off where kittens bat each other about the head. These skills falls into the following play cat-egories:

Social play refers to games with others. That can be wrestling with littermates, playing tag with other pets, or ambushing the ankles of a favorite human. Social play reaches its peak in kittens aged 9 weeks to 16 weeks, and decreases thereafter. Adopt two kittens together to avoid becoming a target of kitten play aggression.

Object play is interaction with toys–and for a kitten, everything is potentially a toy. Chasing, pawing, clawing and capturing are the names of the games. Movement and sound stimulates play behavior, so choose lightweight, easy-to-bat-around toys that make interesting noise. Try a ping-pong ball in an empty tub. That helps prevent ” gravity experiments” when cats push breakables off high shelves to see what happens.

Self-directed play such as tail chasing or pouncing on imaginary objects is thought to be a replacement for social play when a play partner isn’t available.

Locomotory play simply means the cat is in motion. That can involve solo play of running and pouncing on imaginary targets or involve others.

Why Cats Play
In years past, we assumed play simply allowed juvenile animals to practice skills they’d need later as adults. But adult cats continue to play, even though they have no need to “kill” what’s in the food bowl. It was suggested that adult cats play as a substitute for frustrated hunting activities. But even feral cats and wild feline cousins continue to play as adults. Today we know play has many purposes and benefits.

– Play helps kittens develop eye-paw coordination and strengthen muscles. Adult cat play keeps tubby tabbies trim.

– During play, kittens learn the feline rules of the road. They learn to inhibit tooth and claw, and that chomping on their own tail hurts.

– Play teaches kittens about their world. They learn cause-and-effect through play, i.e. that swatting a wad of paper sends it bouncing away.

– Playing together reinforces social bonds. Because your cat considers you its best friend, playing with it strengthens the bond you share. Interactive toys like feather wands and fishing pole lures teach the cat thatyou are the source of fun.

– Cat play relieves stress and tension. It allows hissed-off cats to release energy in a legal, productive way by stalking and “killing” that arrogant toy mouse instead of your toes under the covers. Directing claws at legal scratch objects lets cats vent while preserving your furniture.

– Play boosts the confidence of shy cats when they capture the feather lure at the end of a fishing-pole toy. The cat can stay a safe distance but still have fun. Play distracts fearful cats in scary situations like a new house. And play changes cat-titude about strangers so there’ s a benefit to interaction.

– Play exercises the mind as well as the body. Playing with adult and senior cats lubricates the mind to reduce the chance for kitty Alzheimer’s.

Play is serious business for cats. In a stress-filled world, we all benefit from a daily dose of giggles. Take a lesson from your kitty and find time to play every day.

More: http://www.pawnation.com/2011/05/04/playtime-how-to-interact-with-your-cat/