Hunting is a key element of a cat’s hierarchy of needs. Small cats, big cats, on the couch or in the wild – every feline hunts regardless if they need to actually catch something for breakfast or kill boredom by chasing a feather toy down the hallway. And to keep our cats in good shape and cater to their needs, hunting, and playtime should be a vital part of their everyday routine. But what is this whole “hunting rhythm” or “hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom, sleep” cycle all about, and does every playtime need to be based on it? Let’s go find some answers, fabCat, shall we? 🙂
Playing with a cat is like walking a dog – you can’t forget about it
One of the most harmful myths about cats is their laziness. Though our beloved felines come from big, wild cats, there’s still this misconception that they’re just a bunch of lazy couch potatoes who will get up only for a snack. FALSE! There are, of course, more and less energetic cats, but one thing is for sure:
Every cat needs to play and every single cat does have a hunting instinct.
If we were to compare playing with a cat to responsibilities with other pets, we’d easily put dog walking here. As we know, dogs need to get out of the house not just to do their business, but also to simply move around. Moving is healthy! Cats who are indoors/outdoors hunt on small prey they can find in their surroundings – besides the danger that the cat is in being outside, this is one of the main reasons that so many Carers are opposed to letting cats roam free. Domestic cats can easily satisfy their need for hunting with playtime that imitates the natural “hunting rhythm” that their ancestors used for both acquiring food and spending their energy. And it doesn’t matter that the “prey” here is a feather wand toy or a felt ball – from a cat’s perspective, every hunt is for real. Regardless of the circumstances, a cat must play.
Hunting while playing – what’s it all about?
We’re rushing to explain, fabCat. A “hunting rhythm” is the name used to describe a cat’s natural routine of hunting, catching, killing, and eating its prey. It comes from our domestic cats’ wild ancestors and allows us to satisfy one of the most important, primal needs of our feline friends. When cat hunts, it’s quite special – both wild and domestic cats are made for speed, not for distance. And since they don’t want to run for a long time, they had to come up with a different strategy. That’s how the cat’s need for stalking, watching, sneaking and quick attacking was born.
Sounds familiar? Probably – if you found that one jackpot toy your cat goes crazy for, there’s a big chance they stare at it with anticipation and laser focus before they decide to do the final jump. A true chase after the prey (or a toy) is only one of the steps in a hunting cycle 🙂
Playtime that follows cats’ natural hunting rhythm should include:
- locating the prey – the cat notices that their toy is in sight and tempts their inner hunter;
- observing – it can last for a split second or quite a while. Everything depends on the cat and how they see their chances for a successful hunt on the first attempt;
- sneaking – if the toy is too far, “sits” on the couch, or is “climbing” the scratcher, the cat will do everything to find the best way to approach the toy unnoticed;
- chasing – cats won’t run around after their prey endlessly but once they do place a target on it and assess their chances for success, they’ll be happy to jump into action;
- catch, kill, and eat – sounds dark but that’s just cats’ reality 🙂 Hunting, as well as playing, should always end with a success that is food. In nature, it doesn’t happen with every hunt which means that domestic cats can sometimes give up on chasing a toy if they don’t think they’d be able to catch it and that’s ok. However, if they do manage to catch the target, a reward in a form of a snack or a meal gets them happy and fully satisfied.
A hunting routine is an important element of a cat’s everyday life and if as their Carers we want to consciously answer our cat’s needs, playtime that follows the hunting rhythm should be a part of their routine. Remember: it doesn’t need to be long! Cats love acting fast and to the point so even a 5-minute playtime before a meal is a step in the right direction. The amount of activity during the day and its intensity should be adjusted to the cat’s needs and abilities. Younger kittens and very energetic adult cats will need more stimulation during the day so, on top of standard hunting, you can provide them with extra enrichment that we talk more about here:
All or nothing – cats’ playing styles
Okay, now we know cats have to play and that the playtime should resemble hunting. But how to do it in practice when one of your cats only follows the toy with their eyes and doesn’t want to chase it and the other one gets so crazy they climb the curtains while chasing a fly and once they catch it… they look at you to make it fly once again? Let us introduce you to 5 hunting styles – almost all cats fit into at least one of them:
- A manic hunt – your cat likes chasing the toy tirelessly and once they catch it and take a break, after a few minutes of chewing on it they are ready to start all over again. They’re a typical maniac whose battery doesn’t seem to run out, ever. A cat like this will need intense playtime and chases a few times a day to spend their energy. Try enriching their territory in a way that allows your cat to not only run like a maniac but also climb, scratch, and observe the world outside as much as they want.
- Hunting like a philosopher – your cat lays on their scratcher and though they seem to be interested in a toy, they’re not keen on getting up to catch it? They’re the philosopher type – a strategist cat who sees 20 minutes of watching the toy as the best part of the hunt. A philosopher will, sooner or later, get their fluff up to get the toy. However, if the toy happens to fall into their paws on its own, the philosopher will be happy with it. So how do we get them moving? Every cat needs to move around so you have to think of something that does motivate your feline friend to get up. Have them follow their favorite wand toy (or snacks) on an obstacle course – up the chair, the shelves, and the couch. Even a few minutes every day is better than none.
- Hunting like a secret agent – an extended stalking period followed by one quick attract is the secret weapon of any feline secret agent. There’s no place for pointless chase here. A cat who loves sneaking around will favorite playtime that gets the toy hiding behind a pillow, under a blanket, or pops its head from behind the door. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t want to move to the toy at first – for a cat like this, slowly approaching the prey and stalking before pouncing is the best part.
- The all-or-nothing hunter – a strong suit of kittens and typical crazy cats. Just like with the maniac, a cat who hunts like all or nothing seems to have unlimited power in their tank. Contrary to the maniac, though, the playtime of an all-or-nothing cat is … chaotic. Tumbles, jumps, hitting the toy to run away from it, bouncing on walls to make a 180 turn. Oh yes – this cat will never leave you bored.
- Hunting like a sniper – don’t mess with a sniper cat. They’re the guy who knows what they want and how to get it. The sniper cat is partially a secret agent but they have one, particular advantage: when they strike, they always get it. A sniper is a cat who will pull the wand toy out of your hand when you least expect it. When they see a fly, they lock the target and catch it with one hit. Sniper cats like learning new tricks – catching snacks, sitting on command, and chasing snacks around the house. And when there’s a toy at play? A sniper cat hunts, catches, and kills and then expects a reward. They don’t play for extended periods of time but a successful hunt makes them very happy.
Does every playtime have to turn into a hunt?
The simple answer: yes and no. For kittens, playtime has an important social role as it allows the young felines to socialize, learn certain behaviors, and learn about boundaries that others might have. Kittens simply love playing, even when they don’t have a strong hunting instinct or the need to survive yet. However, the older the cat gets, the stronger their hunting needs become and we’ll surely be able to observe it in everyday life.
And what about catnip toys and the ones where you can hide snacks in? Contrary to what you might think, they also include an element of hunting! Classic kicker toys (like the wonderful Kung-Fu filled with the best stuff in town) let your cat physically abuse the toy – kick it with their back legs, bite it, etc. This part of playtime is directly related to the part of hunting when the cat has already caught the prey and now they’re just dealing with it. Can a catnip high turn into full-blown hunting? Of course, it can! All you need is to steer the toy and hide it behind the pillow, under a blanket, or in a box. Let the cat hunt the kicker before they get the catnip fix 🙂
Interactive toys? Trying to fish out hidden snacks lets cats work on their sniffing skills and, in the context of hunting, it’s quite an important sense that leads to success. You can use a sniffing mat after they’ve hunted a toy, as a reward, but if you don’t have time to play with them at this exact moment (because you’re working, have an online meeting and your cat is trying to get in the frame), a sniffing toy with well-hidden snacks can be a great mental challenge that’s equally as rewarding as hunting itself. Just remember to not completely substitute traditional playtime with sniffing toys – as we said before, cats need to move.
Let playtime be playtime!
Cats’ style of playing is always rooted in hunting and they always take it seriously. However, every cat has their own ideas about it! Even the myKotty team cats show a variety of playing styles and that’s completely normal – as long as your cats have enough playtime every day and you see them having fun: good job! Play with your cat before breakfast. Grab a wand toy before you serve them dinner. It’s as simple as scrolling on TikTok but oh how much joy it brings.
What’s your cat’s style of playing, fabCats? Let us know in the comments on Facebook → the secret password for today is: hunting for breakfast 😋