Best Games to Keep Your Cat Entertained

Playing with your cat is great for bonding and keeping your pet stimulated and active.

Cats need the mental stimulation and companionship provided by play, according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

The AAFP said studies had found that "cats play best and most often with toys which also use human interaction." Rotated or new toys tend to hold their interest for longer, it advised.

Below, animal behavior experts reveal some of the best games to keep your cat entertained.

1. The Wand Chase

A kitten playing with a wand toy.
A kitten playing with a wand toy. Let your cat stalk and then pounce on these interactive toys to provide emotional satisfaction as well as physical stimulation. iStock/Getty Images Plus

This involves using a fishing pole-type toy and encouraging the cat to chase the target at the end.

Cat behavior consultant and author Pam Johnson-Bennett told Newsweek that this kind of interactive play, in which the animals use "their brain to stalk, plan and pounce," is one of the best ways to provide physical exercise, emotional satisfaction and mental stimulation.

"Cats are hunters and the most beneficial way to play with them is to mimic how they hunt prey," she said.

Zazie Todd, author of the book Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy, also praised the wand chase, telling Newsweek: "This is a really fun game for both the owner and the pet and helps to engage your cat's predatory instinct."

Another advantage of this game is that it keeps a safe distance between your hands and a cat's teeth and claws, pointed out Johnson-Bennett.

Move the wand around like a prey animal and get your cat to watch it first before it pounces and gives chase, bearing in mind that "prey doesn't typically run up to the cat," Todd said.

In order to keep the game rewarding, Johnson-Bennett suggested that you allow the cat several successful "captures." Move the wand across or away from the cat's visual field (mimicking the way prey would move) and don't dangle the toy in the cat's face.

"Cats are ambush hunters so they rely on stealth and accuracy for successful hunting," she said. "Don't keep the wand in constant motion or it will limit how much the cat can stalk and plan."

End the game by winding down the action, "almost as if the prey is injured," before letting the cat have "a final grand capture," said Johnson-Bennett.

Interactive play also builds trust between cats and their owners, helping the cat to make positive associations with the owner's presence, she added.

2. Follow the Target

Todd suggested using a target game to test your cat's agility. Teach the pet to follow your hand or a stick by putting the target nearby and giving the animal a small food reward whenever it comes close.

Once it has got the hang of this, you can move your hand (or the stick) a bit further away and reward the cat when it approaches the target.

Over time it will learn to follow the target and you can use this to move your cat around, whether it's jumping on and off furniture, going under objects or through a cat tunnel, she said.

A cat looking up at a target.
A cat looking up at a target. You can teach your cat to follow your hand or another target by putting it nearby and rewarding it with a treat when it comes close. iStock/Getty Images Plus

3. Catch Me If You Can

"Often a cat will stand at one end of a hallway and look back at you as they take a few steps away. This is a cue that they would like to be chased," Vicki Jo Harrison, the president of the International Cat Association, told Newsweek.

It's important to read your cat's body language. Be sure your cat's tail is up, which means they're having a good time. "If their tail is down, it could be a sign that they are afraid," she added.

A cat looking out through staircase.
A cat looking out through a staircase. If you find your cat staring at you while sitting a few steps away, it may be signalling that it would like to be chased. iStock/Getty Images Plus

4. Puzzle Feeder

"As hunters, cats understand working for food," said Johnson-Bennett, so puzzle feeders that your cat has to manipulate to access treats "help add activity and enrichment."

There are many puzzle feeders available, offering various levels of difficulty and dispensing wet or dry food.

The object of the game is to be "fun and challenging but not frustrating," Johnson-Bennett added. "For cats who tend to eat too quickly or who tend to camp out at the food bowl, puzzle feeders can be helpful in addition to being fun."

A cat playing with a puzzle feeder.
A cat playing with a puzzle feeder. As hunters, cats understand having to work for their food. iStock/Getty Images Plus

5. Treat Hunting

In this game, your cat has to follow scents to track down treats. Shut your cat out of a room and then spread four or five cardboard boxes across the floor. Place a treat in each one before letting your cat back in to find the snacks.

If you don't have enough cardboard boxes, try hiding a treat inside an empty toilet paper roll, Harrison suggested.

When your cat has found all the treats, you can repeat the game. Once it seems to have mastered finding multiple treats, you can try placing a treat in just one of the boxes, rewarding your cat with more treats when it discovers the snack, Todd said.

"Don't pick your cat up" during the game, she advised. "If they don't start to engage with the boxes, encourage them to explore them, but always give them a choice."

6. Hide and Seek

You can play hide and seek using cardboard boxes, tunnels or empty paper bags.

"An empty carton or box can be the best game to entertain your cat at home," said Harrison. "Cats can decide when to enter and play, or you can add toys or treats inside to entice play. There's no limit to the fun you can create with these items."

If you have lots of empty boxes, she suggested linking them together to form a maze with different passageways for your cat to explore.

A cat peeking out of cardboard box.
A cat peeking out from inside a cardboard box. You can play hide and seek using cardboard boxes, tunnels or paper bags. iStock/Getty Images Plus

7. Fetch

"Cats enjoy playing fetch just as much as dogs," said Harrison.

Choose a toy that can be thrown to the other side of the room. It should be soft rather than firm, hard or plastic, and small enough for your cat to carry in its mouth, she added.

Pick a quiet place to play fetch and use a toy that your cat really loves. Throw the toy a short distance away and give the cat a treat when they either go to the toy or sniff the toy, Todd suggested.

Once it has got the hang of the game, wait until the cat is "touching the toy and then later picking it up" before offering up the treat. Over time, you can gradually teach the cat to bring the toy back to you, she said.

Cat chasing a ball outdoors.
A cat chasing a small ball outdoors. Some cats also love to play fetch. iStock/Getty Images Plus

8. Bouncing Balls

A simple table tennis ball can keep your cat entertained for hours, according to charity International Cat Care. It's lightweight so will not cause any damage around the house or endanger the cat. It's also an appropriate size for a cat's paw.

Try throwing the ball up some stairs to encourage your cat to chase it. You can also drop it gently from the top of the stairs, allowing your cat to watch it bounce from step to step, the charity suggests.

Even homemade balls, such as a ball of yarn or paper crumpled into a ball, are entertaining, Harrison said. Be sure to dispose of them after a play session so they don't become a hazard, she added.

Toy mice and balls that make sounds are great for cats, Harrison said. "It is important to remember to rotate their toys for variety and to keep them interested."

A cat playing with ping pong ball.
A cat playing with a ball. Table tennis balls are light, so won't endanger your cat or your house. iStock/Getty Images Plus

How Often Should I Play With My Cat?

"Playing with your cat for 10 to 15 minutes a few times a day is essential to keep indoor cats' natural instincts satisfied," Harrison said. "Keeping your cat entertained will not only keep them happy and healthy but will also strengthen your relationship with them."

Short bursts of activity at frequent intervals work well, according to International Cat Care.

Your cat will let you know if it's not enjoying play time. When your cat gets bored, put the toys away and praise it with a few treats, advised PetMD.

Providing an enriched environment for your feline friends can "increase activity, decrease mental stagnation and prevent many behavioral issues," the AAFP said.

Play time is especially important for cats that don't venture outdoors, where they can find various kinds of stimulation. The AAFP said you should play with indoor cats several times a day.

A woman playing with a kitten.
A woman playing with a kitten. It's important to play with your cat for 10 to 15 minutes a few times a day. iStock/Getty Images Plus