How pets play and why dogs and cats play games fascinates the people who love them. Cat play, dog play and kitten games are exactly the same–only different–with identical purposes but variation in styles. These days, I have a front-row seat with the “old lady” Seren-Kitty doing her best to keep order, while Magical-Dawg and Karma-Kitten wreak havoc.You can’t help but smile or laugh out loud when the fur-kids throw a play-party.
Oh, and that picture (above) of the kitten vaulting over another? That’s Karma’s latest favorite hiss-inspiring activity. I call it his “drive by” when he races across the room, and LEAPS over top of Seren, creating feline angst and prompting her to chase-to-chastise the furry miscreant. Of course, that’s what Karma wants, to get the old girl to chase him. When she catches the big guy, he immediately flops on the floor while she yells cat curses at him, and paw-swats his face.
When that doesn’t work, Karma simply tackles Seren, using his 13 pounds to pancake her petite 6-pound frame to the carpet. You can almost see him smile as she yodels her outrage.
Karma is in kitty heaven.
He does something similar with Magic. Karma saunters up to my 90+ pound German Shepherd, crouches for a moment, makes sure the Magical-Dawg is watching, and then SPRINGS away to duck under furniture. Magic takes the bait and invitation, and sprints after him. It makes me tired to watch.
IS IT PLAY, OR AGGRESSION?
It can be hard to tell sometimes what’s “real” and what kind of play is “just fooling around.” In fact, both dog play and cat play can tip over into dangerous aggression if the pets get too wound up.
Dog and cat play use the same behaviors as hunting, attack, and aggressive behavior, but the pets use “meta signals” to let the other party know it’s all in good fun. For instance, dogs use the “play bow” with butt-end up and forepaws down to signal that everything that comes after this signal is not serious. Cats also can use a play bow, or roll on their back to solicit attention or a game.
Here’s a BIG clue. Doggy play includes growls, whines and barks. Cat play typically is silent. If your cats become vocal during play, it’s time to stop the games. And if both of the pets keep coming back for more, they’re likely just having a good time.
WHY PETS PLAY
In years’ past, the experts often ascribed play to be only the means by which juvenile animals practiced skills they’d need later as adults. Kittens played to hone hunting ability, while puppies played to strengthen muscles and practice various doggy techniques.
They neglected to mention that play, quite simply, is FUN! Cats stalk toy mice and kittens attack ankles for the pure joy, as an outlet for energy, stress reliever, and potent relaxation technique. Dogs steal socks and dance away out of reach, and play “tag” with owners, other animals, and even the reluctant cat. If you believe cats and dogs don’t laugh, just look more closely at your furry companion in the throws of blissful play.
By four weeks of age, kittens practice four basic play techniques: play fighting, mouse pounce, bird swat, and fish scoop. The first play displayed by kittens is on the back, belly-up, with paws waving. Feints at the back of a sibling’s neck mimic the prey-bite used to dispatch mice (toy or real). Kittens also practice the simpering sideways shuffle, back arched high, almost tiptoeing around other kittens or objects. Soon, the eye-paw coordination improves to execute the pounce, the boxer stance, chase and pursuit, horizontal leaps, and the face-off where kittens bat each other about the head.
Karma has decided “riding” a towel dragged across the floor is great fun. Kitty sledding, anyone?
Puppy play can be similar, but while kittens use paws to tap-tap-tap objects and manipulate/test their surroundings, pups mouth–everything. By five weeks, puppies often carry things around. This ensures owners must be good housekeepers or risk losing wallets, underwear, and other important valuables. About the same age, pups begin playing tug-of-war with your pant leg, each others’ tails, and anything within reach.
Magic still loves to play keep-away. Thank goodness he only targets doggy toys and human socks these days, rather than (urk!) puppy poop.
Puppy and kitten play offers endless entertainment to them as well as watching humans. The awkwardness, intensity, and abandon of these antics give way to greater finesse and dexterity as the pet matures.
ADULT PET PLAY
While adult pets play less than rambunctious babies, all dogs and cats play to some extent through their entire life. It’s not only fun for you both, but healthy as well. Keeping dogs and cats active and moving ensures they stay lean, and interested in the world around them.
At age 17, Seren still races laps around the living room and up and down the stairs. While she’d deny it, chasing the Karma-Kitten has brought a gleam back to her eyes and Seren really seems to enjoy the tag-team matches they play.
Now eight years old, Magic could play “fetch” literally for hours, with his ball, a stick, a stuffed toy–anything at all that fits into that grinning mouth. Frisbees are a favorite. In the summer, hose-tag keeps him happy. And of course, rolling on his back with a squeaky-chew in his mouth is right up there with treats. His most favorite game of all, though, is sniffing cat butt. Ahem.
Play is serious business for our dogs and cats. Take a lesson from them, and find time to play every day. In a stress-filled world, we all benefit from a daily dose of giggles. Play with your pets–and watch them smile from both ends. Just for fun, here’s a kitten fix, below!
So what special games do your cats and dogs play? Seren used to love to play “chase the feather” as it disappeared underneath a pillow. Are doggy (or kitty) games learned from each other? Do tell!
Find out more about kitten play and behavior in the book COMPLETE KITTEN CARE. And stay tuned for more puppy-licious info in the forthcoming book COMPLETE PUPPY CARE!
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