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Do Cats Enjoy Cat Toys?

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Do Cats Enjoy Cat Toys?

The behavior of pet cats and dogs has long been of little scientific interest. Times have definitely changed, but one area that's somewhat overlooked is the question of how and why cats play.

A recent literature review published in Applied Animal Behavior Science summarizes the findings and points to future research directions. While there is still much we don’t know, there are many results we can put into practice that will make cats’ lives richer.

play with toys

Studies of cats playing with toys confirm a common observation: It's a lot like hunting. "The behavioral patterns are similar, and what entices cats to hunt will also make them excited about the toy," said co-author Mikel Delgado. "We've seen from research that the more similar a toy is to real-life prey, the more responses cats show."

There will always be individual cats who like to play with a ball. But in most cases, the more a toy looks, feels, smells, and moves like prey, the more cats will like it. They do have preferences, so it's a good idea to offer options: toys that resemble different kinds of prey, such as mice, birds, bugs, and snakes.


Why play?

Although cat play is similar to hunting, research doesn't really support the idea that play is a practice. This doesn't seem to help cats become better hunters later on. "What seems most effective for future hunts is exposure to prey. Hunting experience helps you become a better hunter," Delgado said.

However, play does seem to be important for social development, which is even more important to understand considering most of us want sociable cats, not rat-catchers.

It is a common misconception that cats are not sociable. "Even cats that live outside human dwellings, that is, cats that roam freely, live socially together in groups," said Krystin Vitale of Oregon State University. "They We see a lot of flexibility in living both socially and in isolation.”

Kittens learn to get along with other cats through play. A kitten's first type of play is social, and research shows that kittens without playmates have difficulty getting along with other cats later on. Only-born kittens tend to play directly with their mother, even though the mother finds this behavior annoying.


"As a cat behavior consultant, I get a lot of calls from people who don't understand why their kittens are attacking their legs and hands," Delgado said. “Kittens who don’t have littermates will turn this behavior toward other creatures: their mothers, their humans, or the poor 12-year-old cats who people adopt kittens as companions.”

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