Cat Behavior, Cat Care

How Not to Play With Your Cat: Common Playtime Mistakes

How Not to Play With Your Cat Common Playtime Mistakes - picture via

Playing with your cat can be a real joy, but knowing the right way to go about it can mean the difference between a dissatisfied (and sometimes destructive) kitty, and a content one. Each cat is an individual: some like to chase or hunt, others prefer to puzzle their way to a favorite treat or work through mazes, while others still simply like to run around “Crazy Cat” style. How you interact with your buddy will depend a lot on his unique personality. No matter your feline's personal play style, though, there are some things that you should never do. In this article, we will discuss some common playtime mistakes that many cat owners make, and how to avoid them.

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Letting Your Cat Play With Your Hands or Feet

...Or arms, legs, hair, or any part of your person, really. This is absolutely the most common mistake that people make when playing with their cats. It can be so tempting to play spider with a tented, creepy-crawling hand – especially if you're dealing with a crazy kitten. The problem with this is that now you – not to mention your delicate digits – are now seen as a form of prey. Though your cat may still respect you as the bigger animal, he now knows that your hands and/or feet are easy targets.

The best way to avoid this mistake is simple: just don't do it in the first place. If your furry little companion is getting frisky, pick up a toy – any toy – and redirect his attention. This also works if you're trying to retrain a shelter cat who has picked up some bad habits before coming into your home.

Not Letting Him Catch His “Prey”

Hunting is a vital part of any feline's life. As you know, a successful hunt usually goes stalk, hunt, catch, kill, consume. In the life of a house cat, some of this pattern is pretend; however, even if it's just a part of your kitty's vivid imagination, it's still important. Playing tease can be a lot of fun, but if your cat doesn't get to fulfill the “catch, kill, consume” portions of the game, then he's liable to get frustrated. At best, this will result in him losing interest altogether. At worst, he'll become more aggressive – both in and out of playtime.

This mistake goes hand-in-hand with another common error: abruptly ending the game. Even though you may run out of steam before your cat does, it's important to let the whole thing wind down while still following the hunting pattern. At the very end of playtime, your cat ought to be able to proudly carry around his hard-earned catch. So how can you avoid all the potential frustration? Go through the natural rhythm of things, let your pal catch his “prey” at least half of the time, and allow the wild hunter of his imagination to shine through.

Using Dangerous Household Items

We've all seen the cartoons of cute little kitties batting around a ball of string. While it can be charming, the truth is that it can also be dangerous. Yarn – not to mention ribbons and other thin strings – can be a real hazard. Even if you keep a close watch on playtime, cats can easily – and stealthily – swallow these slender pieces of material, which can result in choking, vomiting, or obstructions. Furthermore, they can become tangled in string, which can lead to strangulation or blood flow restriction.

In addition to string and yarn, some people also make the mistake of allowing their kitties to play with other seemingly innocuous items, such as wires, rubber bands, and pipe cleaners. The best way to avoid this error is to keep plenty of cat-safe – and cat attractive – toys on hand. If your kitty can't get enough of yarn, try wool toys instead. If it has less to do with the material itself and more to do with the stringiness, try different types of teaser toys.

Not Playing to Your Cat's Preferences

I've said it before and I'll say it again, every cat is unique. When playing with your cat, it's important to keep in mind his personal preferences. It can be tempting to focus on things that you personally enjoy – no judgment, we've all bought toys that made US squeal – but if your cat just isn't digging it, it's time to move on to something different.

The best way to avoid this mistake is to take the time to learn your friend's personal preferences. What is his play style? Does he prefer certain textures over others – for example, does he hate crinkly paper, but love rough sisal? Does he have a favorite toy already? If so, what sort of toy is it, and can you get different varieties in a similar style? What sort of games does he like to play? If you pay close attention, you'll be able to learn the answers to these questions fairly easily. Once you do, you can adjust your games to suit your kitty's individual needs.

Never Introducing New Toys or Games Into the Repertoire

So you have a pretty good grip on your cat's preferences, but all of a sudden, he's just not that interested in playing anymore. The problem could be that he's bored with his current repertoire. Just like people, felines need novelty in their lives. No matter how much they may enjoy a toy or a game, the same thing day-in and day-out can lead to some serious lethargy. The best way to avoid making this mistake is to keep a good variety of toys on hand and game ideas in your pocket, and rotate frequently. You could also try creating some homemade cat toys. That way, you'll always have a new plaything to throw into the mix whenever your kitties get bored.

Playing Too Aggressively

If you've never lived with a cat before – or if you're used to living with big dogs – you might find yourself going into wrestle mode with your feline friend. Some cats ARE wrestlers, no doubt about that, but there are a lot of reasons to avoid aggressive play sessions. For starters, even though they're tough in a lot of ways, cats are actually pretty delicate little creatures. Although you needn't treat them like pieces of china, excessive roughhousing can lead to injuries. It could also result in him treating you like a scratching post or a chewy toy.

Furthermore, you will want to avoid chasing your cat, cornering him, or otherwise intentionally spooking him. And finally, don't manhandle his sensitive spots. If he hates his belly rubbed, don't force a belly rub on him. If his ears are touchy, don't touch them. And sakes alive, don't pull on his tail or whiskers!


Playing with your cat should be fun, so don't stress over it too much. When it comes right down to it, all you need to do is pay attention, keep safe, and show respect. Simple!

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Image via Piqsels under CC0 1.0

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