I hope you don’t mind me writing to you – cat to cat – because I think you’re very wise and you give solid answers with no nonsense or flattery. I like that in a fellow cat. A chap has no need of compliments where none are due.
The problem – as Mum sees it – is that I don’t know how to play. A couple of weeks ago a great surprise came for me – a Cat Hampurr – and it was choc-a-block full of toys (and some edibles). Mum tried to throw or roll things in my direction but I just looked at her.
My one weakness is catnip though. I go weak at the knees for anything with catnip and she made me these fantastic blobs bursting with catnip. I just looked at them when she first made them because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with them but Gibbs came in and licked them half to death so that’s what I do now. Is that playing?
Gibbs, by the way, is the little cat that looks like me but he still has those round things at the back end of him, but despite them he visits most evenings and we hang together.
Anyway, playing – do we have to? What’s in it for me? Or what does Mum get out of it? You see, the house where I lived before I found Ollie and Sam and Mum – they never played with me. They were always too busy so I just got used to lying on my bed being ignored by everyone. Mum does try to engage me in things but after a nano-second of frantic activity I’m worn out and need a nap for a few hours.
Can you offer any advice? I know you’re a cat that’s been around the block a few times so I would value your opinion.
Oh, and by the way – the blobs she made full of catnip were actually fish shapes. What was the Great Cat thinking when he created blob-fishes??? Just another weird thought that crossed my mind!
Casey ‘Darlings’ Dewberry
Thank you for your kind comments about me and my advice to cats. As you say, a chap has no need of compliments but that doesn’t stop them being appreciated!
I can see you have a problem which is a result of your lone kittenhood. If humans don’t play with us and we don’t have feline friends or siblings at home when we’re very young, this is exactly the sort of thing that can happen. It’s unfortunate but you mustn’t let it make you feel inadequate because it isn’t your fault that you never learned to play. It’s never too late, so let’s see if I can help.
To answer your question; what is this thing called play? Play exists on many levels for cats. Bear in mind that we are, as felines, natural born killers. The hunting instinct is within each of us, at the core of our very being. Play is how we learn and practise these skills from and with other felines, i.e. our mothers, siblings and friends. Every move mimics a part of the act of hunting; killer-stare, stalk, bum-wiggle, chase, pounce. Thus we grow up to be lethal killers and we have lots of fun while we learn our art! Playing is also a way of getting exercise which helps our bodies grow, develop and become strong (the strongest have the best chance of survival - are you getting the picture now Casey?). So you see, play is a very simple concept and nowhere near as complicated and confusing as you think.
I think you do know how to play, you just don’t realise this because you have been confused about what play is. It’s not a show that we have to put on for the benefit of humans, it’s just a thing we do. Have you ever been out in the garden on a windy autumn day and had the urge to chase all the leaves that are blowing around? I bet you have, and believe it or not, that’s you playing! Play takes so many forms and that’s what makes it so interesting for a cat. The key is to go with the flow and stop worrying, there is no right or wrong way to play.
The one thing that throws a huge rusty spanner in the works is humans. Have you ever watched humans playing? Bwahahaha! They haven’t got a clue. But the truth is that they feed, house and love us and we are honour bound to give them something in return by way of a bit of entertainment. So next time your Mum rolls something along the floor, at least feign interest and give it a swat or two. With any luck the toy will land somewhere she can’t retrieve it like under the cooker. You’ll learn to love these games as she crawls around the floor with her bum in the air trying to get at said toy. Humouring our humans is the least we can do in return for the care they give us. Also, they have this weird addiction to cameras and appreciate the photo opportunities that a cat at play provides. Ours is not to reason why, just to give them a few stunning snaps to show off to everyone who visits.
Humans have a strange take on toys for cats. Mouse shaped toys - not necessary. If we want to play with a mouse we will catch a mouse to play with. They don’t have to spend any money to entertain us, a bit of screwed up paper will provide hours of entertainment because we love things that rustle. This is because rustling noises usually mean ‘mouse’, but your average human will never understand this and they will continue to waste money that could be spent on good food or treats. Your Mum made fish-blob-toys for you because she knows fish is attractive to cats. What she fails to appreciate is that it’s the smell and taste of fish that attracts us, not the shape, but I’m afraid you’ll just have to put up with her peculiar ideas.
The upside of humans and the toys they give us is the catnip filled ones. This eye-crossing, mind-altering substance is the stuff dreams are made of! Anything filled with ‘nip makes us do silly things; this is also a form of play. That reminds me, your Hampurr sounds great! Staff never buys anything like that for me, you are such a lucky cat!
You do need to make an effort to play Casey, because it’s good for you. It may sound harsh but I suspect you need the exercise, and as you get fitter you will find playing easier and more enjoyable. You will be healthier too! You have Gibbs to play with so, next time he calls round, try lobbing a toy at him and see if you can start a game. You’ll have about 23 hours and 55 minutes to rest and recover before he comes back for more.
It’s never too late to learn new skills Casey, so go on, give it a go. What have you got to lose? Stick at it, and you will learn to play like a pro. It can do you nothing but good and it’s fun too!
I hope I’ve answered all your questions and helped you to understand what playing is all about. I’m dying to know how you get on, so please keep in touch and let me know,
Squirt has written his own book: Reservoir Cats: True stories and Squirt's Eye Views - do download it - it's brilliant!