Why does a Cat Play?
As we all know, there is never a dull moment as a cat owner/carer/general domestic servant. In particular, the ability of our beloved felines to be sleepyheads one moment, and a complete lunatic the next, still mystifies me! Creating photographic art pieces in our Melbourne studio doesn’t mean that we pretend these benign ‘ladies and gentlemen’ aren’t permanent kittens underneath!
Although nobody knows for certain, it is widely believed that the longer a mother cat is caring for her kittens, the more likely she will influence the way in which they play. For example, if a kitten is separated from their mother well before weaning is complete, then the confidence that a kitten has in its early months appears to be muted. As a result, this lack of confidence will often translate into reduced play behaviour. This is both in frequency of ‘playtimes’ and their duration when in company of other cats and us humans.
For kittens, play is mostly a learning process. The joy of experiencing the world is one endless journey of discovery. Whether it is an inanimate object like a clothes peg (!) or a fast moving leaf in the breeze, the need to ‘chase and catch’ anything in the vicinity is all part of understanding their environment. It is also part of the progression from being totally dependent on their feline mother, to the independence of looking after themselves … apparently. ;o) Simply put, this is a discovery of “self”.
It is vital that kitten play is encouraged by human owner in much the same way that a mother cat would – i.e. in a safe and constructive way. For example, it is a good idea to use positive reinforcement for play that does not step over the boundaries of a scratch-free & bite-free household. If playtime eventually threatens domestic peace, then the use of a catnip toy, or a rattly/twinkling object is guaranteed to satisfy the most extreme bout of #mustplaynow :o)
In adult life, a cat will continue this play, but often for different reasons.
For example, have you ever noticed a cat play with a leaf, almost as if it is‘prey’ out in the wild? No matter how docile the personality, every cat is attracted to movement. As explained in our previous article, they have eyesight ‘trained’ on any movement in close-proximity. In the imagination of a domestic feline, the pleasure of ‘the chase’ is a goal in itself. When the deed is done, and the ‘prey’ has been subdued; it is clearly an anti-climax to end so suddenly. The need to prolong the experience is simply a demonstration of a cat’s emotional intelligence.
Something we see doing a photographic session, is a cat play with its favourite toy, and then put it ‘away’ into a hidden corner. When available, cats will sometimes place the toy in a water dish, almost as if the toy is less likely to be smelt by another cat in the vicinity. In the wild, cats will sometimes leave their prey in a shallow waterway, to return to it later.
Here are some recent photographs of our more playful feline subjects”
If you would like to read more on the playful nature of domestic cats, there is an interesting article here
Play – Cat Photography Melbourne