December 28, 2018
by Robyn Paterson
"You've got to be kidding me - how to play with your Bengal? Everyone knows how to play with a cat. Besides, my cat plays by itself. I bought it a bunch of toys, and it can just chase those around, and it will be fine. Right?"
Wrong. Bengals are high-energy, highly intelligent cats, and the expectation that it won't need to be played is unrealistic. Are there exceptions? Yes. Should you stake your cat's happiness in the hope of it being an exception? No.
There are wrong ways to play with a cat. The first wrong way is not at all. With high-energy, highly intelligent breeds, such as a Bengal, the expectation is that you will play with your cat every day - just as one would expect to walk a dog every day. The second worst way to play with your cat is with your hands. Hands are not toys. Toys are objects a cat can hunt, pounce on, kick with its feet, and bite with its teeth. Hands are for affection; toys are for play. Do not send your cat mixed messages by playing with your hands, then getting upset when the cat plays with your hands in cat-appropriate ways that result in scratches or teeth marks. The third worst way to play with your cat is to be disengaged. You may be bobbing a toy up and down, but your focus is on the TV, laptop, or phone - not your cat.
Interactive play with your cat means you are at one end of the toy, and the cat is at the other. This type of play must happen daily. Depending on your cat's needs, it may occur multiple times daily. The first item you need is the right toy. There are some retractable wand toys with a variety of attachments that are budget-friendly. Still, the wand's retractable feature makes them a bit delicate, and the ends are all artificial materials. They work well for kittens, but as your cat becomes an adult, you must be prepared to remove the cat from the toy once it catches it, or you'll replace these toys frequently. A sturdier option is the Da Bird toy. The Da Bird comes with the feline favorite, bird feathers, but be sure to purchase a few different attachments for the Da Bird to give your cat some variety in its hunts. The mouse or bee are favorites in our house. In addition, the attachment made from rabbit is an excellent choice. Have fun with your preferences, but don't neglect what is ideal for your cat. The bird, the mouse/bee, and the rabbit provide three different textures and three realistic prey species to make your play hunts more fulfilling. While the mice attachments are made from deer hair or buffalo hair, which are technically not prey species for small cats, they are still more realistic, and, therefore, more mentally stimulating than hunting cotton or mylar. Finally, the DragonFly Cat Toy is the best option if you have small children. It is easier for small children to control - or perhaps I should say, it still moves around nicely without much control. Furthermore, because there is no string on it, it can be left out without being a choking hazard to the cat, and the mylar dragonfly withstands a lot more abuse once caught by the cat.
Now that you have your interactive toy of choice, what do you do with it? Quite frankly, you mimic a hunt. Playing with your cat means taking your cat on a hunt around your living room. It is climbing cat trees, leaping from perch to perch, doing backflips in the air, and running like a mad cat. Your goal is to get your cat panting. Exhaust your cat. If you are short on time, playing hard for ten minutes is better than not playing at all. Once you reach the end of your play session, allow your cat to catch the toy. Using one of the sturdier attachments, such as the mouse or rabbit, let your cat chomp on it a bit and kill their catch. If you use a more delicate attachment, such as the Da Bird, have another toy - such as a catnip-infused kicker - that you can offer your cat for a good rough, tumble, and kill at the end of your hunt.
So what comes next? Next, you feed your cat. This continues your cat's natural body rhythm. It will eat its "catch," then bath itself, and nap - just like a cat in the wild. In a home where all family members leave the house for a typical work or school day, this play session should be done once in the morning and once in the evening. The more you can stick to a routine, the more your cat will know what to expect and the more stable it will be. How much your cat needs stability will vary from cat to cat. Some cats don't need it at all. Other cats must have stability, but stability in a cat's routine will never hurt it.
What if two play sessions aren't enough, but that is all your schedule allows? Various toys can inspire your cat to hunt while you aren't home. A cat wheel is one of the best options for a high-energy cat. Our Bengals have never needed much training on using a cat wheel, but if yours does, you will find most Bengals fairly easy to train using one of the interactive toys, a laser toy, or treats. We have some obsessive cats over their wheel time, and, quite honestly, if they didn't get that wheel time, these cats would be less comfortable in our multi-cat home as they visibly relax while they run on the wheel. For some cats, the wheel is the best indoor toy that allows a large energy release.
Another great option is to use Indoor Hunting Feeder Toys where you hide dried treats in different areas around the house. Try to create spots that emulate a hunt, such as inside a tunnel or Ripple Rug. When you place the Feeder Toy someplace fun, your cat will play around for a bit - as if it has caught its prey - when it finds the toy. Hiding the Feeder Toys in different spots of a cat walkway on your walls created through a combination of cat shelving, window perches, cat trees, and traditional furniture sends your kitty on an adventure when you aren't home to lead it through a play session.
Using these tips will help you release your cat's energy appropriately, so the cat does not release its energy in inappropriate ways. For anyone struggling with behavioral problems, such as inappropriate elimination, destructive actions, play aggression, excessive vocalization, or depression, establishing a regular play routine may alleviate these issues.
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