Ask A Vet: Why Is Play Important For My Cat?

| Published on August 15, 2017

We all think play is fun, but did you know that play can actually improve your brain? It seems to be true for people and many other animals, including cats. We prioritize play for our human children – and it turns out we should as research indicates that children are happier and better adjusted if they have free play. Would it not stand to reason that play might also benefit our cats?

kitten at play

Cats are not human, of course. They cannot handle many human medications and they cannot consume some of the foods that we do, but it seems that felines’ brains are enough like ours that they can also benefit from play much like us. Interestingly, there are species that are even more different from us than cats are that also seem to reap the benefits of play, including octopuses1.

Lab studies on rats have proven that social play triggers the brain’s reward center receptors, making one feel happy and satisfied2. Those same receptors are also triggered by certain drugs and other pleasurable experiences.

Image source: @BelalKhan via Flickr

Opportunities for active play provide both a physical and mental outlet for felines. They can practice the physical skills they would need for survival in the wild, such as chasing and catching prey. Practicing these skills helps your cat feel secure in her ability to survive. Plus she is doing what comes naturally to her. These types of games get her moving, in turn helping to reduce the risk of obesity, which has been proven to shorten cats’ lives and heighten their risk of debilitating diseases such as diabetes.

Any game that lets your cat engage in her naturally inclined activities is beneficial.  It’s even better if you can find a game or toy that uses a few of your cat’s senses. Toys that challenge her to think are fantastic for her brain chemistry. If you can participate and drag or roll the toy, then the game is good for both of you!

In our fast paced world, we just don’t seem to make play a priority. It’s good for your body and brain as well as your cat’s body and brain. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then do it for your cat! Go on, play!

Want to learn more about cats? Follow me on Facebook here and check out my own blog here.

Note from the Editor: We recognize that play is important for the wellbeing of our kitties and therefore we offer a variety of fun and mentally stimulating toys available in the store. Plus, for every toy purchased we provide a toy for shelter cats!

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  1. Kuba MJ, Byrne RA, Meisel DV, Mather JA.When do octopuses play? Effects of repeated testing, object type, age, and food deprivation on object play in Octopus vulgaris. J Comp Psychol. 2006 Aug;120(3):184-90. PubMed PMID: 16893255.
  2. Vanderschuren LJ, Achterberg EJ, Trezza V.The neurobiology of social play and its rewarding value in rats. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Nov;70:86-105. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.07.025. Epub 2016 Aug 29. Review. PubMed PMID: 27587003; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5074863.

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