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Exercising With Your Kitten

Reviewed by Dr. Alexis Seguin, DVM, MS, DACVIM on Friday, April 24, 2015
Posted April 24, 2015 in Cat Behavior

When you watch your new kitten play, it seems like no stimulation is needed at all. All the running, jumping, climbing and chasing are enough to tire us out—just by watching. But most of the behaviors we enjoy watching are really evolutionary in their development. If you could watch a young lion or cheetah cub play, you would observe the exact same behaviors as they learn skills of survival in the wild.

kitten climbingTrain your kitten to exercise without being aggressive
Just as with children, excessive or inappropriate play can impact adult behavior. Kittens that learn to play too rough often develop inappropriate behaviors that can impact their ability to fit into your home. The key is to allow kittens to develop their instinctive behaviors, but not to encourage them to become aggressive toward people or other animals. A simple rule is that claws and teeth are not appropriate interactions and when your kitten starts to scratch or chew on you, it is time to stop the play and find a new game at once.

Normal and desirable kitten play should focus on their natural desires to climb and hunt. It is also important to remember that with the exception of lions, big cats are primarily isolated animals. As a rule domestic cats also prefer to be left alone much of the time.

So how can you enjoy and participate in their play without causing problems? The first step is to avoid play that could cause aggression. Rough play among kittens is a natural behavior, but you should never interact roughly. Remember at those moments, in your kitten’s mind, you become the aggressor or the prey. If your kitten gets too excited, it is time to call a time out. Stop playing and give the kitten a chance to unwind.

The right environment for your kitten to exercise
So now how do you interact and play with your kitten? Start by providing environmental enrichment like climbing and hiding places. Cat trees or towers allow climbing play. Simple things like paper bags and boxes allow hiding behavior as well as isolation. Playing kitten “peek-a-boo” or “hide and seek” will be fun for your kitten and a delight for you.

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.