a white and black kitten takes a swipe at a mouse fishing rod toy

How to play with your kitten

A kitten’s life is all about playing and having fun. To begin with kittens will play with their littermates and mum, and it’s usually at this stage that they learn to inhibit their bite and use of claws so that they can have as much fun as possible without hurting each other. They also learn social and communication skills during this time.

As kittens grow older their play changes and by the time they are 14 weeks old their play is mainly directed towards objects, which they stalk, pounce on, bat, grasp and bite. These are the skills they need for hunting. Play provides an outlet for your cat’s predatory instincts and also relieves boredom, prevents behaviour problems and provides exercise which reduces weight gain and future health problems. This is especially important for cats without access outdoors.

When kittens go to new homes, the focus of this play can be transferred on to us, so it is extremely important that we continue to ensure that they play with us in a safe and appropriate way.  

Always use toys such as fishing rod toys as this keeps the kitten’s teeth and claws away from your hands. Read our top five recommended cat toys here.

Throw toys away from you, so that they have to chase and pounce on them. Tasty treats can placed inside some toys, and this adds an extra challenge to a kitten, as once he or she has chased and caught the toy, they then have to work out how they will get to the reward inside. 

Top tips:

  • Play for a few short sessions every day
  • Allow your kitten to catch and grab the toy at the end of each game
  • Provide a variety of toys
  • At the end of each session tidy away toys with string, or anything that might present a danger to your kitten
  • Never force your kitten to play or be trained
  • Have fun!

What to do if your kitten wants to play with your hands or feet

Provide a small soft toy for those kittens that like to grapple and wrestle, and encourage them to play with this instead of you. Never ever encourage a young kitten to play with your fingers, hands or feet. It might seem funny or harmless at the time, but that will soon change when you have a large adult cat that chases, bites and scratches people.

If you have a kitten that seems focus on hands and feet, don’t punish or tell them off.  Simply remain as still and as quite as possible until they stop. Then, refocus their attention on to a suitable toy and praise them enthusiastically. This way they will learn that hands and feet are boring, and that playing with toys is much more exciting and fun.

Kittens and your furniture

A scratching post inside the house is helpful in protecting your furniture, even if your kitten is able to go outside. The post should be covered in material that is not found anywhere else in the house (such as string), so that the kitten does not learn to scratch other items, like your carpet. Some scratching posts come in the form of activity towers, which are ideal for kittens as they love to play and hide.

Kittens playing with other pets

Some particularly excitable kittens may try to play with a family cat or dog, and if they are happy to play in return, always supervise in case things get out of hand.  

If the kitten is pestering your other pets, get your kittens attention and distract them away by using a favourite toy.  

Repeat this process consistently until the kitten learns that play with you is much more fun then play with them. You’ll also find that your other pets will be more accepting and tolerant of an enthusiastic kitten if you help them out in this way.

— Page last updated 02/08/2019

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