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  • Andrea Williams

9 Ways to Playfully Engage Your Cat

Updated: Oct 22, 2019

Toy rotation for cats

Playing with a cat is one of the cutest, funniest things to witness! They get so excited and show off their best hunting skills. One minute they're relaxing on the floor and the next, they perk up, eyes dilate and they're ready to go! That all sounds great but what about cats who don't want to engage or only engage for a minute or two? Some cats are more playful than others but by and large, cats DO want to play. It's our job to bring the right toys to the table, at the right time.


Have you ever opened the fridge, stared at a bunch of food and then closed the door and said, "Ugh we have nothing to eat!" Or you're scrolling through Netflix and can't believe that they haven't come up with a better way to organize the selections? It's overwhelming! Sometimes it's easier to just close the fridge, turn off the tv and take a nap, or scroll through your phone.

Now, imagine if the only activities available to you were things that someone else provided. Your happiness and activities would depend entirely on your provider. Aside from exploring outside on a leash or in a cat stroller, this is essentially the life of an indoor cat. For the most part, they're happy on our lap and many prefer being indoors. But their natural senses still need to be exercised, daily. If your cat is constantly getting into things or being destructive, they might be bored. Playtime isn't about having a bin of toys and a bunch strewn about the room. It's about choices, new smells, textures and intentional interaction. It's about getting on the floor with your cat, bringing out a new toy, incorporating treats, mazes and different ways to play. This can all be achieved easily but we have to get a little creative and have some fun!

*I do receive a small commission on some of the items listed, if you purchase through the direct links provided.*


1. Engage your cat. There are certain times of day when your cat is more interested in playtime. This is often before meals. Sometimes it's right before bed. Notice when they have the zoomies, are "getting into things", biting your ankle or acting restless. It's time to play! Sometimes it takes a little time to engage your cat. Be patient. Drag that wand toy around the corner, let it disappear and wait. Sometimes a minute goes by and it feels like forever! But they are waiting for just the right moment. Play the game with them. Lay down a tunnel or some tissue paper. One of our favorite toys for texture is the Sheer Fun blanket. It adds layers and makes toys more exciting!

2. Catnip should not be out all the time. This includes catnip toys. Your cat may be over catnipped and totally desensitized to it's effects if your catnip toys are hanging out around the house. Locate all your catnip toys. Put them in a basket or somewhere out of the way. Take a couple out for a short period of time and then put them back. Keep a selection of different types and sizes. Since the effects of catnip only last for a short period of time, this will keep catnip playtime, fun!

3. Cleanup the toys. It's natural to have some toys out for a few days, but make it a habit to pick them up as often as you can. Make sure you have a selection of tunnels, catnip toys, kicker toys, mice, balls, wand toys, battery operated toys and textures stored away for playtime. Notice what your cat seems to be drawn to the most and aim to keep your selection fresh by purchasing a couple new ones every now and then. If you don't want to purchase toys, make them! Nothing is more fun than tissue paper or a shoe string!

4. Laser pointers. Using a laser pointer is something I have mixed feelings about. It definitely gets a cat engaged but unfortunately it's not very satisfying for them. They can never catch that red dot! The idea of playtime is to simulate hunting. Cats need a physical "prey" to catch. A laser will never be able to offer that. If your cat is difficult to engage, start with a laser and then switch to a wand toy once they're engaged. They'll already be amped up and the wand toy will be much more satisfying! Catching "prey" also makes your kitty a more confident little booper! They'll be so proud of themselves for catching those fluffy feathers!

5. Vertical space is a must! When perching, napping or playing, cats love to have vertical space. A cat tree or even your own accessible furniture is essential for a cat to be a cat. We have the Contempocat Elevation II Cat Tree. It gives a lot of vertical space without taking up much of a footprint. You could also install wall shelves to create extra vertical space. This allows your cat to come at toys from a higher angle as well as nap from above. As we know, numerous napping locations is key to any cat's sleeping needs!

6. New smells! If some of your old toys have become...old, take them outside, roll the toys around in the grass (non-fertalized of course) and bring them back in. Sometimes, a little bit of the outdoors can re-invigorate their hunting spirit!

7. Bring your cat outside! Supervised, of course. Some cats truly want to be indoor only cats, but many do enjoy the fresh air. Treat your cat like a dog in this case. Keep them on a harness and leash or in a stroller. It can be a process to get your cat used to a harness but if you start young and move slow, they'll typically become okay with the harness and be excited to go outside! Some cats are more adventurous than others, in which case an older cat may adapt quickly to a harness.

8. Switch it up! Bring a treat puzzle into the mix. There are a lot of these to choose from but our favorite is the Cat Amazing Epic. I call it the 10 minute babysitter. If your cat is treat motivated, this is a great way for them to use their brain to find all those treats! We use treats from The Barkers Kitchen. They're healthy and can be broken apart, which is great because I can control the size and quantity. This puzzle forces cats to be strategic. Mikita goes around to each side of the box to find them all. There are even different levels so if your cat is a genius, you can make it more difficult!

9. Rotation is key! Rotating toys helps pinpoint your cats favorites and keeps things fresh. Some cats love balls, some prefer softer toys. Give each toy some individual attention. Use them in different ways, in different areas of the house. A hallway is great for tossing mice toys down but maybe not necessary for a kicker toy. Use a combination of toys too! A tunnel works great with a battery operated butterfly like this one. They can hide at one end, run through and pounce! If you are gone for long periods of time during the day, clean up the toys from the day before. Place a few new toys around for your cat to discover while you're gone.


Cats like to sleep and eat. But they also like to play, especially with you! Chances are, if they don't know what to play with or are bored, they'll take a nap. Rather than a nap out of boredom, a 15-20 minute play session will excite them, make them feel like a wild little killing machine and give them the confidence they need to kill another mouse toy tomorrow. So put your phone down, put that laser pointer away and set up a playground for your cat. You won't regret it!

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