I have a lazy cat. And one of the main problems with lazy cats is it’s really hard to get them to play.
While it’s true that finding a magical cat toy that a lazy cat will go crazy for is often the key to helping him or her get off that warm pile of laundry and into action mode, it’s also true that sometimes, even with the perfect toy, a cat will loose interest because he or she is bored and wants you to somehow make things a little more exciting.
Getting my cat engaged during playtime has been a problem I’ve had so often I cannot even express how frustrating it’s been over the years. I genuinely don’t understand why my cat in particular is so difficult to engage, but alas, if this is the only problem I have with him (and it pretty much is), I’m counting my lucky stars that his issues are not at all health related.
Tricks I’ve found for engaging my lazy cat in play time are sometimes hit and miss; many were fluke discoveries that honestly took me forever to work out. Again, many do not work every single day, but I try, and am happy to say that using many of these techniques, Avery’s been a lot better with playing than he ever has been in the past.
Without further ado, here are my tips!
Techniques to Try If Your Cat Needs Encouraging to Play With You
1. If you have more than one cat, try playing with one cat at a time.
Now, if you have no problem engaging all your cats in playtime at the same time, there is absolutely no issue with playing with your cats simultaneously. But if you’re finding it difficult to engage one of your cats in play, try giving that cat some one-on-one time.
2. Keep trying new toys.
Like I said in the intro, this is often the key to unlocking a great, engaged playtime with your cat.
It took me ages to figure out what kinds of toys Avery really liked, and I’m still always trying to find more and more toys that he’ll be happy to play with. I usually stick to cheap cat toys like these in the under $10 price point while testing to figure out the types of cat toys Avery will like. Otherwise, this process can be really expensive.
Sometimes, I’ll find a toy that’s an enormous hit, that’ll stay that way for over half a year, and then one day out of the blue, Avery will no longer play with it at all: no matter how long it’s hidden away and how long it’s been since he last used it. This happened with the Ethical Pet Cat Springs (reviewed here) for me. Avery used to love them so much I recommended them to my brother – whose cat still plays with them religiously to this day, go figure.
It’s a sad story for someone who tries so desperately to find toys that her cat will love, but it happens. This is exactly why I keep advocating for trying new toys if you’re in a situation like mine. You need backups, in case that one magical toy above all others suddenly doesn’t strike a chord with your cat.
There are a few toys that have always been big hits and have stayed hits forever. Feather wands like the Interpet Kat Tikkler are usually a full go with Avery (you can see my review of that cat toy here) and he’s almost always been game for the pen-butt-under-the-door types of activities.
Finding toys that your cat will play with again and again to his or her heart’s content is highly rewarding. But like I said, don’t stop once you’ve found one cat toy your feline friend loves – make sure to keep searching in case the magic disappears!
3. Try new toys that are similar to the ones your cat already likes.
There could be a pattern to the type of cat toy your cat goes off the walls for. If there is, you working hard to find new cat toys just got one heck of a lot easier.
Has your cat been obsessed with feathers in the past? Balls? Catnip? Springs? Keep trying new toys of the same sort and hopefully you’ll manage to have a large number of cat toys kitty will happily engage with in your arsenal.
4. Get cat toys you know your cat loves in different colours.
I don’t know why the hell this works, but it really seems to sometimes for Avery. Like I’ve already mentioned, he’s usually a feather toy kind of cat, it seems to me, and he’s often gone bonkers over the Interpet Kat Tikkler Feather Wand, but every once in a while it seems he gets sick of seeing the standard brown feathers going from here to there, so what I’ll do is I’ll hide the brown and pull out a red wand – or any other colour, and it’s like he’s all up for the same games again.
My recommendation: keep out colour #1 until your cat gets sick and tired of seeing it. Then and only then, then switch out to colour #2.
5. Make up a handful of different games to play with the one or two toys your cat really loves.
Unfortunately, we don’t think like cats and so it can sometimes be hard, without trial and error, to figure out what kinds of games kitty will want to play.
Here’s a few different styles of play you can try, all with the same pet toy, to get you started:
- Peek the toy under chairs
- Have the toy run up and down some cat furniture
- Make the toy run underneath a door frame that your cat can stick his or her paws under to grab
- Move the cat toy under a rug or bed sheet
Basically, your goal is to pique curiosity as much as physically possible. Kitties love being curious!
6. Use catnip to get kitty’s play time started.
Whether this is using a catnip toy or simply giving kitty a little bit of catnip to chow down on when he or she does not seem to be engaging in play time, this technique can definitely work if your cat reacts to catnip by getting excitable.
Unfortunately for me, Avery is pretty much immune to the side effects of catnip, so I don’t even have this as a back up option.
7. Set up a playtime routine.
Have play time at a set time every single day. Or two if your cat just won’t engage for long enough to have one really good playtime. You can schedule it for right before kitty eats, right after kitty eats, right when you come home from work, right before you leave for work in the morning: any time you find convenient. Want an example of what this might look like? Check out my article that goes over my lazy house cat’s daily routine – which I use to keep him both entertained and physically fit. I change up Avery’s daily routine regularly, but this overview should still give you an idea of the type of routine that may work out for you and your cat.
Cats are creatures of habit – we all know this because we all know the magical singing that starts some time before they’re going to be fed (even if that happens to be while you’re sleeping). They have a great internal clock, and so they’ll get used to playtime being at a specific time if you make it happen at a specific time every day. Hopefully, it’ll also get them excited enough about playing to quit being so lazy when the toys do come out – but if not, that’s what the other tips here are for.
8. Try making playtime twice a day instead of once…
Briefly mentioned this in the last post, but if you haven’t tried it and once a day just isn’t doing the trick, give it a shot. Shorter bouts of play time may help both kitty to stay engaged the whole play time, and you to not be driven crazy when you know your cat hasn’t had enough action. When setting up your play time routine really do consider playing with your cat twice a day, so that even if once a day the play time isn’t particularly engaging, the next time play time rolls around it might be substantially better.
9. …Or once instead of multiple times per day.
If you’re used to trying to get kitty to play here and there for a little bit at a time and haven’t actually tried just playing with kitty at one dedicated time per day, try saving all the day’s play time for just one big bout each day. Your cat may prefer to have one intensive exercise session after all – you never know until you try!
10. Play twice a day? Rotate between your cat’s two favourite games, morning and night, until your cat gets sick of them and you need to make new ones.
Straight forward as it sounds, this again plays into the fact that kitties love rituals, and that while they get bored, they do also love specific kinds of games a lot.
I normally stick to a short peek-under-the-door type game in the morning, and a hunt-the-feather-toy-around-the-house game in the evening, but I have no problems switching it up if my kitty just doesn’t seem interested in the type of game I’ve started during a specific playtime.
11. Make playtime in the same place every day.
Again – cats love rituals. They are creatures of habit, and if a specific part of a room is where playtime takes place, you simply going there may help to trigger kitty’s playful mood.
12. Before you start playtime: make sure there’s plenty of room for kitty to play around in without hitting anything he or she may think is not supposed to be hit.
Avery is such a good cat that when he accidentally hits something, he often stops playing full stop and stares at me with an, “I’m sorry! Didn’t mean to hit that! Is that okay?” Of course I usually don’t let anything he can’t hit near him when he plays (except for the odd fluke situation), but even though I’m fine with him bumping into what’s been hit, this interrupts playtime and usually means I have to restart engaging him in play.
Keep your cat in the best head zone possible by clearing the play space as well as possible from things your cat thinks or may think you didn’t want him or her to hit. It’ll save you the trouble of having to get your cat back in the head space for play time if they do hit something they’re unsure about.
13. Make sure your play area has plenty of kitty friendly furniture for your cat to jump on or hide behind.
You can and should of course leave cat-friendly furniture in the play area for kitty to use as make-believe bushes and trees to hide behind, jump on, and scratch up. Not a lot of furniture in your house that you can use to do this with? Buy a scratching post or a cat tree and use that as the center of kitty’s playtime. Or find an old chair, stool, or other such human furniture that you won’t mind getting scratched up during playtime. And then of course there’s the option of using cardboard boxes… Works perfectly as well!
14. Try bringing a rug or mat into the mix.
“The cat on the mat” is a lot more than a randomly thought up children’s book title. This short statement speaks true to the reality of a cat’s quirky personality – highlighting one trait of theirs we know to almost always be true: they’re obsessed with with rugs, carpets, and mats!
Have a spare mat or two lying around? Have a bath mat you can take away from the washroom for a second or two? Grab it and use it to give you a hand engaging your cat in playtime and the mat by itself may completely do the trick. Doesn’t even matter if you’ve got carpeting on your floor, the introduction of a mat on top of that carpeting still seems to add a layer of excitement that makes little to no sense to we mere humans. Wave a feather wand above a mat, or poke the back of the feather wand underneath the rug and you’re almost guaranteed some attention.
Discovered your cat really likes mats and rugs and it gets him or her going almost all the time? You may want to try grabbing one of these Ripple Rugs. It’s pretty much a cat cave mixed with a rug on steroids. Loads of holes and places to peek out of and attack, I can’t see how any mat/rug-loving cat could resist.
15. Try sweeping first.
I know this suggestion might sound absolutely ridiculous, but I’ve found that there’s something about sweeping that drives kitties absolutely nutty! Definitely think it has to do with the noise, and the scratching on the floor in a subtle way – maybe it reminds them of hunting mice – but I’ve watched kitties dive for brooms many times before, and so sweeping is definitely something you can leverage to get kitty wired in many cases.
16. When you’re playing with kitty, try using the cat toy to make scratching noises.
For the same reason that sweeping works, it’s obvious that there’s something really engaging to a cat about scratching noises. Even if your cat doesn’t automatically dive for the toy in question, making scratching noises by moving the toy back and forth against the floor, a rug or carpet, or even a door frame will almost certainly help you to get your cat’s attention. And that’s a good step toward getting kitty to play.
17. Play bird videos in the background while you play with your cat.
Again using their auditory sense to increase engagement – try loading a bird-watching kitty video on your computer and playing the sound through speakers so that your cat can hear the chirping while playtime is going on. It may really help kitty to get engaged and stay that way.
Need Help Entertaining Your Cat Outside of Playtime?
Cats hate boredom just as much as humans. Luckily for us, it’s not too difficult to help our kitties entertain themselves without human intervention.
If you often find your cat is bored outside of playtime, do your kitty a huge favour by trying out some of these tips for keeping a bored cat entertained.
How Would You Try Encouraging a Cat to Play?
Honestly, any recommendations you have for engaging a cat in play time would be greatly appreciated! It’s hard times for cat owners who have lazy cats like mine, especially when you desperately just want to make your cat happy. My cat in particular will beg me to play over and over, and then when I start a game – he’ll often just stare at me as though to say, “No.. I’m bored and you have to do better.” Well I’d love to do better! Too bad he can’t let me know how himself!
Again – please do let me know in the comments if you have recommendations for the types of things I and other lazy cat owners can try to make our cats more engaged during playtime. You’ll be doing all of us a huge favour!