Cat Behavior

Tabby Vs Tiger: How Wild and Domestic Cats are Similar During Playtime

Tabby Vs Tiger - How Wild and Domestic Cats are Similar During Playtime - Image Via PxHere under CC BY 2.0

I don't care what anyone says... to my mind, the only thing separating a house cat from a wild cat is size. And nothing proves this point better than observing the two at play. Like our precious little buddies, when the whim strikes... big kitties go into full “Crazy Cat” mode, roll around, wrestle, harass toys, and just generally act goofy. In this article, we'll discuss how wild and domestic cats mirror each other when it comes to playtime, and have a look at some shockingly endearing examples.

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They Respond to Catnip

All right, so not every house kitty digs the green stuff, but plenty of them do... and apparently, so do their wild counterparts. In fact, it's theorized that catnip's kitty attracting components were first observed when big cats started losing their minds over bruised or otherwise damaged nepeta cataria plants.

Although it is a little unclear – though entirely likely – whether the physiological responses are the same between the two, it is clear that both wild and domestic cats frequently exhibit the same variety of reactions. A “full response” to catnip usually involves about four distinct stages: sniffing, chewing and/or licking, cheek and chin rubbing, then full body rubbing. For many cats, this initial series of responses are followed by all out kitty madness – full speed running, rolling around, salivating, and vocalizing – then, finally a crash.

As with their housebound cousins, some wild cats are immune to the effects of catnip. Those who seem to get the biggest kick are lions, jaguars, lynx, leopards, bobcats, and snow leopards, as well as young tigers. But, like our own cats, most big kitties seem to lose interest altogether after a hit or two of catnip.

Wild Cats Dig Boxes

Both wild and domestic cats share two qualities: imagination and a strong predatory nature. Although there is no definitive answer as to why cats really adore boxes, there are some strong theories, and these theories hold true for both big and tiny kitties. For one thing, boxes are insulating and warm – and pretty much all cats have a preference for warmth. Another thing is that cats like a snug place to hide out as they watch for their potential kill. This is where the imagination part comes in; when concealed in a box, they can see their prey, but their prey “can't” see them.

Another theory states that boxes are a nice, cozy spot to hide when stressed out – and in fact, there is some supporting evidence for this hypothesis, as a 2014 study showed that shelter cats had a temporary reduction in stress when provided hiding boxes. For wild cats kept in captivity or shelters, oversized boxes my very well be as beneficial for them as they are for their domesticated counterparts.

Finally, for kitties – both big and small – boxes may simply be fun. No matter how well behaved they are, at their core, cats are destructive creatures. They like to rip and tear and bite. This might come back around to their killer instincts. Regardless, cardboard is easy to destroy and delightfully chewable. And that alone is enough! All that said, it's easy to see why, when it comes to playtime, wild and domestic cats can't get enough of cardboard boxes!

Big Kitties Go "Crazy Cat"

You've seen your furry little friend doing the “Crazy Cat.” What is that, you ask? It's a combination of strange activities, all coming together in a big bundle of concentrated madness. Examples of Crazy Cat mode may include: the zoomies, excited rubbing and rolling, spontaneous hockey games, vocalizing, and any other example of your feline happily losing his mind. Although this goofiness may seem like the domain of our housebound buddies, big cats are just as likely to experience the kitty crazies.

Although it is significantly less common in the wild, both creatures are capable of this heady mixture of excitability that often results in hilarity for whoever is lucky enough to see it.

Big Cats Enjoy Toys

Big cats like toys! Not evening kidding. There are even toy makers who create playthings specifically for the ferocious creatures living in rescues, habitats, and zoos. But why can't wild and domestic cats get enough of these gizmos? Well, their reasons are strikingly similar.

Our tiny felines like to play for a number of reasons – most importantly, to exorcise their natural urge to hunt. In their safe, comfy households they don't actually need to catch anything – save, of course, for the occasional bug – but that compulsion is still there. And where did that need come from, you ask? Why, from their wild cat ancestors! For both wild and domestic cats, toys can act as a stand-in for real “prey.”

Play also serves as a means of exercise, mental stimulation, and bonding. For our house cats, this is majorly important, and the same is true for big cats kept in captivity. Because humans don't – and in many cases, can't – play like cats, toys serve as something of an intermediary, bridging the gap between our pointy little – and big – friends, and the soft, squishy-fleshed us.

In addition to catnip and boxes, wild cats also share a passion for other common house cat toys, like paper towel rolls, laser pointers, and string – though, in the case of, say, a tiger, it's usually more like rope.

Wild Cats Indulge in Play Fighting

This brings us to play fighting. If you live in a multi-cat household, you've almost certainly seen it: the lively chasing, halfhearted swatting, and goofy wrestling matches that fizzle out almost as quickly as they began. Well, believe it or not, big kitties are just as likely to participate in this sport as our furry little friends. But why do they do it, you ask? Turns out, one of the main reasons for their love of play fighting is similar to their main reason for enjoying toys – instinct.

All cats are hunters – be they big or small – and sometimes they need to exorcise that natural urge. While young, cats have to train themselves in the fine art of hunting, and one way they accomplish that all-important education is through play fighting. Think of them as little fuzzy sparring partners!

For younger cats, play fighting is also a way to burn excess energy and shake off boredom. This is actually true for most ages of house cat, but for wild cats – who, as adults, participate in real hunts that require them to conserve their energies – play fights are usually the pastime of the young.


All right, all right... so wild and domestic cats are different. I know that. Whether they're in the throes of a kitty-fied throw-down or they're losing their minds over a roll of toilet paper, both styles of cat are so eerily similar, it can be truly hard to tell the difference!

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Image via PxHere under CC BY 2.0

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