How to keep my cat playful
May 31, 2014 6:29 PM   Subscribe

My cat doesn't play with toys anymore. How to keep her playful?

My 1.5 year old cat has stopped caring about playing with basically any toy that she use to go absolutely insane over. Now I wave a toy, and she might bat at it for 1/2 a second, then go about her day. I've tried some new typical feathers & strings at the pet store, and she'll play with it for a day, then get bored and deem it not worth her attention. She barely even acknowledges the fabled laser pointer! Any tips on toys or techniques to get her playful again? This is my first cat, and I'm not sure if I'm screwing something up or if this is typical?
She also doesn't seem to care about catnip.
FWIW, she's not lashing out in other ways you sometimes see with cats like clawing my legs when I walk by or being more psychotic that your usual house cat.
posted by jmd82 to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is typical. Just like humans, cats get less playful as they age. I'm not sure there's a way to get them to be more playful, it's just something they have to want.
posted by adgl at 6:35 PM on May 31, 2014

1 1/2 years is about the time when a lot of cats start to settle down into their calmer, more adult selves--lots more sleeping, lots less playing. So, yeah, this is normal.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:36 PM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does she display any playful behavior? From my experience of cats a year and a half is very soon to stop being playful altogether. Maybe if she were 10.

I mean will she have playful "moods" where she'll start playing with a random almond you dropped a while ago or some other random object? Maybe she just no longer likes directed playing.

Maybe it's normal. I guess cats can have very varied personalities as well, but my cats have always been playful way beyond that age.
posted by Blitz at 6:38 PM on May 31, 2014

My female cat is a hunter. She loves milk rings, the plastic ring from the top of a vinegar jug, and those little pull tabs from a cream container. I throw them and she brings them back to me to play fetch, usually right under my feet so that I have to stand up and move my desk chair to find it. She also loves the paper covered twist ties (as from bread or veg twist ties), which we make into loops.

I often find the remains in the dry food bowl, after she has hunted them down. Other things that cats like are those Halloween spider rings.

I dunno, I just whip the things and she brings them back to me and I throw them again until she gets tired of it. My male cat went through that too, he would leap in the air to get them and pick them up in his mouth and drop them for me to throw. I have also had cats who would play fetch with crinkled bits of paper. A shoe to drop them in is supreme, as they can bat at it in there (like a clog or slide). I just sort of chirp at them and wing it across the room. And then they bring it back, over and over. She is 2 and her older "brother" is about 6 or 7.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:39 PM on May 31, 2014

A sharp downturn in playfulness (or any normal-for-that-cat) behavior can be a sign of that cat being unhealthy in some way you can't immediately see. Have you taken her to the vet? Is she eating and using the litter box normally? Cats don't come tell us when there's something wrong. It can sometimes be very difficult to tell if a cat is in pain, or if they can't see, hear, or smell like normal.

That said, most cats get a little less playful as they grow out of kittenhood, and a year and a half is about when that begins to settle. It's totally possible that she's just a mellow cat, but keep trying to engage her physically because it will keep her healthy. Does she like to climb up high?

The difference is the speed with which her behavior has changed. If it's been a gradual change that's just her growing up, although most cats are still pretty playful around her age, it's not unheard of or anything. If it's a quick change, and her environment hasn't changed dramatically too, something is up.
posted by Mizu at 6:40 PM on May 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Try putting the toys away for a while and reintroducing them after a little hiatus. Also my cats like having their toys in a box where they can pick out the ones they want. Over time, their favorites have changed so keep trying.
posted by janey47 at 6:40 PM on May 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Cats like routine, so it might help if you institute specific times as "play time." We also have specific areas where we play -- one part of the living room, and the backyard, depending on the time of day and the weather. My cat always has playtime in the backyard immediately after dinner, for example. She absolutely loves it at this point and stands by the door waiting for me to go outside with her. Along with that, we have certain names for certain games, so if we say the word at this point her eyes get bright and she knows what we mean (it's simple stuff, like "stick" for playing outside with the sticks).

I agree with taking toys away and then reintroducing them one at a time -- absence seems to make the heart grow fonder.

My cat also loves *particular* kinds of games and couldn't care less about others. Do you know which ones your cat enjoys, and are those the kinds of games you're trying to engage her in? For example, my cat can't resist burrowing under things, or a stick that moves quickly (especially if it has feathers on the end of it). On the other hand, throwing stuff just freaks her out. Try to play the games that you know she likes best, instead of just general cat-games. Along with that, try to pay attention to her body language and see if she's asking you for something at times (to play, for example!) and you're not picking up on it. My cat has decided that rolling on her back and looking at you is an invitation to play -- but I don't know if that's a cat thing in general or just a Katya thing in particular.

You might also need to think a little outside of the box in terms of what constitutes a "game." My cat LOVES (cannot stress this enough) puzzles, especially jigsaw puzzles (but really any kind of puzzle, she even gets transfixed when Wheel of Fortune comes on). No matter what, she wants to watch you do one, it'll take her mind off of anything. She also loves flowers and really any living plant. So she and I walk through the garden together, I always go get her before I water the houseplants and then I pour the extra water in streams on the ground for her to chase, etc. It's more of a "bonding moment" than playing per se, but it's really fun (for both of us).

Even though your cat is probably fine, I think you're right to try and engage her. She's still very young (my cat is four, for context) and, for what it's worth, I wouldn't expect a cat that age to be uninterested in play. Maybe it means something's wrong with her health that's sapping her energy, or maybe she just has the blues -- either way, it's a good thing to keep on top of.
posted by rue72 at 6:53 PM on May 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

My cats mostly stopped playing with toys when we could see (except when on catnip). However, we'd still find certain toys (These long plastic springs) under the couches, when we knew they'd be in the middle of the floor the day before. Doubly odd: they'd totally ignore those toys during the day time. So, I'd leave the toys out at night, and see if they move. It could be her play habits have just changed a bit.

I'd also try some diffrent toys; one of my cats developed a love for shoelaces as he got older, and lots of cats go nuts for laser pointers.

I'd try the putting them away as well, mine always seemed to think the best toy was the one we'd just found under the couch after it had been missing for months or years.
posted by Canageek at 7:06 PM on May 31, 2014

Best answer: OP, I sure feel your pain. My cat got bored of toys, and sometimes he used to drive me nuts with his restlessness. I could give him a momentary thrill by tossing his crunchy treats for him to chase. He also used to love gift wrapping ribbons, and for a while he seemed to regard a new ribbon like it was a new toy. (Until he got bored with those, too.) In desperation I would sometimes go out to the yard and catch a cricket, then bring it inside in a glass bowl for him to stare at for a while. The crickets would then be released to the wild with quite a story to tell their cricket pals.

Have you tried the blanket monster? That's a game to play in your bed, where you move your hand around under a thick blanket so the cat can pretend there's a snake or something under there. I suppose this could be dangerous, if the blanket is too thin and the cat is too aggressive. My guy mostly liked to watch the blanket monster and he'd kind of slap it, but there were never claws involved.

Marie Mon Dieu, I would be VERY careful letting cats gnaw on plastic like that. They can swallow that stuff and it can hurt 'em pretty bad. Sorry to be finger-waggy, but I just wanna keep your kitty safe!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:37 PM on May 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Catnip bubbles. (They really exist)

Cat TV (DVD of mice and birds on endless loop.)
posted by quincunx at 9:07 PM on May 31, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for tips so far, gives me some ideas going forward. Glad to know her downturn in playfulness isn't totally weird. Vet said she's in good health at recent checkup.
She definitely still has spurts of PLAY, particularly with springs! Or a new box with crinkly paper inside, so there's some kitty left in her yet.
posted by jmd82 at 9:57 PM on May 31, 2014

Has there been a change in the environment? My beloved feral fraidy cat hides if I there is any change.

"she's not lashing out in other ways you sometimes see with cats like clawing my legs when I walk by" Um, my cat does this and I encourage it. It's playing. You are a giant compared to your cat and invincible. When my cat does this I make the "fun" sound and she goes happily galloping away. She lies in wait outside the bathroom or in the gap between the refrigerator and the wall or under the table, leaps out and gives me a batabatabat and runs off and we think it's fun. Cats don't lash out by attacking your leg, they lash out by shitting in your shoes or pissing on your pillow.

I've had a lot of pets, both cats and dogs and a bull named Pete and the most important thing seems to be making one phonetically distinct sound for each of approval, I love you but stop it, and don't do that.

Mine are, respectively, "oosthekitty", - she knows we are having fun and I approve, the less frequent "HAAAAY" - she knows she is doing something that I think is funny but don't push it, and "no" - she knows she is fucking up the program and dont do that.
posted by vapidave at 10:03 PM on May 31, 2014

Your cat may be bored. If you get her a kitten as a playmate she'll love you forever possibly resent the critter but eventually ease into a tolerant d├ętente or even friendship, and play with them.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:30 PM on May 31, 2014

Any tips on toys or techniques to get her playful again?

My sedate 17-year-old cat ignored all other toys but still went apeshit over Da Bird. The way it's built makes the feathers flutter in a very realistic bird-like way that triggered his predator instincts.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:18 AM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I actually started out with 2 kitties, but landlord rules dictate 1 pet per resident. She's actually been a pretty well behaved kitty for growing up without a playmate, which I've tried to keep up by playing lots of games- hence the question. Thanks all!
posted by jmd82 at 10:06 AM on June 1, 2014

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