All About Cats

The Importance of Play Therapy

Cats need attention too!

It is 100% natural behavior for cats to hunt. They are predatory animals who enjoy the thrill of the hunt. Since you hopefully have no mice, rats or birds running rampant in your house, you will need to simulate this favorite activity for your new companion. That’s where play therapy comes in.

So many kitten companions complain of aggression, biting, scratching and other inappropriate behavior. Kittens love to lie in wait for some tasty human ankles to walk by, and at just the right moment, pounce on them and chew. Playing with kittens using your hands and feet is one of THE WORST things you can do when your feline friend is young. This gives them the message that hands and feet are toys that should be bitten, scratched and attacked. It may be cute and funny when the cat is 3 months old with tiny, ineffective teeth. But when the cat is 5 years old and draws blood when he bites you, it’s not as entertaining. So your role is to give your kitten appropriate outlets for his energy and playfulness by playing with him regularly.

The best solution, and the one Tenth Life requires, is that you have a companion for your youngster. Adopting two kittens at once is ideal. However, if you have a resident cat at home who you think would make a fine counterpart to your new kitten, that’s fine as well. Kittens who grow up with playmates of their own species end up better socialized and with fewer behavior problems. Plus, your home will be in much better shape!

Even if you have a playmate for your new kitty, you owe it to both of them to play interactively with them. It helps them spend energy and strengthens the bond between you.

Two to three sessions of at least 10-20 minutes each are ideal. Try to hold these sessions at approximately the same time each day. Cats are routine-oriented and come to look forward to these sessions. Be sure to use an appropriate interactive toy

Schedule two or three (more, if necessary) interactive play sessions a day for times when Kitty is most rambunctious. (Cats love routine, so try not to deviate from these times.) Depending on how athletic Kitty is, the sessions may last 10-20 minutes each. A fishing pole-type toy enables the pet owner to be stationary while controlling the cat's activity level with a wave of the arm. (Some of the best commercially sold toys for this purpose are the Kitty Tease, Da Bird, and the Cat Charmer.) The play sessions should not stop until the cat is exhausted, lying on his side and batting at the toy because he is too tired to chase after it.

During the session make the toy move as would prey--a little mouse or bird. Don't dangle it in the cat's face. It should hide behind objects in the house and occasionally jump into the air. Build up Kitty's confidence and enthusiasm by allowing plenty of "captures". Fishing pole toys should be carefully stored out of the cat's reach after the play session as Kitty may continue to hunt for it long after you have left the room.

* As kittens mature, the play patterns of male and females diverge. The rough-and-tumble, pounce-and-play sequence of male play behavior may not be appreciated by the female when she is older and may be greeted with hiss-and-spit.

First of all, playful attacks are not accompanied by vocalizations--hissing and growling. A natural reaction to being grabbed or bitten, even playfully, is to swat at the cat. Don't do this! Physical punishment may cause your cat either to fear you or to engage in even rougher play. If your cat becomes afraid of you, you may face a bigger problem--that of defensive aggression. If the attack can be anticipated, a blast of air from a compressed air can (obtained from a photography store), a squirt from a water gun, or the noise of an audible alarm or a shaker can (an empty soda can with pennies in it) may discourage the behavior if produced at the moment of the attack. Timing is everything. If "fired" a second or two after the incident, the deterrent will not be connected with the attack in the cat's mind and no training will take place, although the cat may be frightened and confused.

Perhaps the best deterrent is the one that is always at hand--one's voice. A loud and shrill "Eek", followed by a sharp "No!" can be very effective with some cats. The next step is to shun the cat for the next ten minutes. This means paying absolutely no attention to the cat. Don't lecture or scold the cat and don't pick it up to put it in a separate room. Any attention at this point can be reinforcing, so totally ignore the cat. This is precisely the way a kitten learns to inhibit his biting when playing with another kitten. If one becomes a little too rough, the victim will squeal and run away. The aggressor will watch his playmate run away and wonder what happened. Eventually he learns that if he wants to extend the play session (which he always wants to do), then he will have to be more gentle.

This training method works well--if you are patient and consistent.