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Raising Kittens: The Importance Of Play

By Edited May 11, 2015 0 0

Social Play

So, you're thinking of adopting a kitten? That's great! While they do require a bit of effort, and some financial investment in their first year, their cute and endearing ways make it such a worthwhile experience.

There are however several things to keep in mind. Much like a child, a kitten needs to be exposed and guided through certain experiences in order to grow up into a well-adjusted adult. And one of those things is playtime. While we have come to associate play with the idea of frivolous activity, it is in fact vital to both kids and kittens to learn, explore and grow. 

To deprive a kitten of the three forms of play they engage in would be to set them up for a whole host of behavioural issues down the road - from fierce aggression to chronic depression and everything in-between. 

So, we'll take a closer look at those three forms of play to discover why exactly they are so important and which well-intended rookie mistakes to avoid along the way.

Social Play

One of the reasons people are often recommended to get two kittens instead of one is due to the   importance of socialisation. Depending on how old your kitten is when it moves in, they will have gone through the first socialisation phase but not through the second one, or have completed both. 

Kittens start playing with each other - and their mother - around the 4th week. At first, they just wave their paws at each other, but soon it progresses to full-on romping. While they'll play in groups during the first few weeks, they'll pair up to play around the 8th week. Between the 9th and 14th week, kittens tend to engage in this form of play the most - which is why this period is known as the second socialisation period. From 12 weeks on though, you'll see a serious decline in social play. Adults rarely play with each other and when they do, there is often a high risk of it turning ugly really quickly.

One of the essential lessons of social play is that it teaches the kittens that playing too roughly leads to playtime ending quite abruptly as the other kitten no longer wants to play.  This realisation is vital in preventing aggression in cats towards people.

This also means that if your kitten gets too rough during his playtime with you, you're to walk away and stop the game immediately while ignoring them completely. It will communicate that this particular behaviour results in the end of something they enjoyed and discourage it in the future.

While you may feel that there is no way a kitten can get too rough with their cute little claws and tiny fangs, think about the future. You may think that they're adorable now and that they cannot harm you anyways, but if you fast-toward to 8 months down the road, those fangs and claws will be full-grown. Ask yourself if you'll still be so thrilled with the behaviour they're exhibiting right now at that point. 

Chances are, it won't be as cute - it will be terrifying and painful. And the cat won't understand why something you both so thoroughly enjoyed for so long is suddenly not appreciated anymore. 

This is one of the main reasons why people feel their cat suddenly turned aggressive one day and bring him to the shelter or even put him down. 

So be consistent about this, and teach them that it is only acceptable to play with you, using a toy. A fishing rod toy is the perfect compromise. It allows you to bond, have fun together and do it in a safe way. And if you have any kids, they will absolutely love using it to drive their kitten bonkers.

Which brings us to the next form of play.

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Object Play

Object Play
This is the type of play that teaches a kitten the skill set needed to successfully hunt. Usually, they'll engage in this form from around 6 weeks up to around 18 weeks. 

So, all those toys you buy them - or make them using paper and carton boxes - do fulfil a purpose. See if you can rotate them, so they always have something new to spark their attention. You'll find they get fascinated with your curtains, your shoelaces, your hair and god knows what else. If it moves, it dies! Well - sort of. 

This is also a great moment to introduce any objects you might want them to get used to such as the pet carrier, an umbrella, the car - whatever you think they might be scared of later on in life and need to get used to. Let them explore those things at their own pace and even engage them in play so they get comfortable around them. 

Lastly, starting a regular routine of play-time with your kitty using a fishing rod toy can help manage any stress your cat may encounter in the future. It is often one of the first things used in therapy when addressing problem behaviour for a reason. Think of it like exercise for cats - it allows them to vent, process and unwind.

And it is the perfect way to maintain your bond with your kitty.

Coordination Play

Coordination Play
This form of play is meant to train their sense of balance. They can engage in it along with others or go it alone. 

You know all those times that kittens - and hell, even full-grown cats - suddenly storm off after something invisible? Yeah, that is them being oh so cute while training their reflexes and sense of balance. Or those times that you found your kitten in your curtains? What about the times you marvel at them walking so casually along the rail of the balcony? All part of the package!  Also on the list of course  are  jumping and racing over chairs and on scratching posts as well as chasing other kittens around. 

Their world is comprised of a 3D vision of it. That means that they consider their territory to be both horizontal and vertical, space-wise. Scratching posts to climb, closets to jump on, the three levels a couch offers, shelves on the wall to jump to - all of this is part of their skill set of navigating their world - in other words, your home. So take a moment to your home through their eyes and either provide them with their own vertical space - also known as cat furniture - or surrender your furniture to their opportunistic, vertical-minded view on the world.

And remember...the more kitty practices, the better they'll be at reaching places you never thought they would. So either come to accept the inevitable and have the camera ready OR anticipate their moves without depriving them of this form of play by channeling their energy towards more acceptable but equally challenging locations.

So, it turns out playtime is nothing to snort about. 

Enjoy one of the most rewarding and fun parts of raising a kitten - they really are too adorable in their pursuit of figuring out life.

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