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Perhaps you’ve seen your kitty looking at you with their eyes wide open waiting for you to come closer…only to run away!
Some of you might have shrugged at this unusual behavior, but if you’re anything like me you’ve probably noticed that your cat was inviting you to play one of the oldest of games in the world.
But do cats actually like to be chased? Some cats enjoy being chased during playtime by their owners, especially when they get a treat at the end. However, cats that don’t like to be chased might see it as aggressive behavior. Pay close attention to your cat’s body language to figure out if they’re enjoying the game or not.
If you want to get better at reading your cat’s signals on whether they want you to playfully chase after them then keep on reading!
Do Cats Like To Be Chased?
Before I say yes, I want to stress that while there are cats that enjoy being chased by their owners, there are also those who don’t. Make sure you know that your cat actually likes being chased before you start running around the house after them.
Now that’s out of the way, we can talk about the cats that love the game of chase!
Sharon Crowell-Davis, DVM, DACVB, professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia also supports this by saying “if your cat simply chases you and stops short, she has discovered a very functional form of play.” Dr. Crowell-Davis also adds that “it’s an inhibited and a modified form of hunting behavior. So, when she’s in that mood, that would be a good time to grab a ball and toss it and roll it since she is wanting the stimulation.”
Of course, some cats won’t go for the ball or toy and instead will try to lure you further in for a game of chase or “tag.” Dr. Crowell-Davis admits that the rules of cat tag are not identical to human tag, but it’s similarly fun!
One of my cats that are usually less motivated to play with toys prefers when I chase him instead. Sometimes I’ll try to initiate this game myself by starting with a hide and seek stage. I’ll usually try to mimic my cat’s slow hunting pace, no matter how ridiculous I might look, I sort of feel like I’m the cat preparing to catch a bird. I’ll peak at them behind a wall or the couch and see if I can get the playful twinkle in their eye to sparkle!
While toys can definitely appeal to the feline senses, I found that some cats love a closer interaction with their owner, through games that might seem more “human” in nature. By noticing your cat’s ideal playtime, you might discover that they also enjoy a bit of chasing. Sudden staccato movements, dilated pupils and playful vocalization are definitely some of the few things I’ve noticed my cats do in order to get my attention.
Check out this adorable cat parent who definitely can read his cat’s playful language!
If you want to do the same perhaps it’s time you paid attention to their chasing needs, if of course, they have any!
Why Do Some Cats Like To Be Chased?
Before diving in deeper into your cat’s love or hate relationship towards the chasing game, I think it’s important to talk a little about where their need for play comes from. I’m sure most of us are aware that our sweet fluffballs need to satisfy their natural instinct for hunting even if it’s in the comfort of our sheltered homes, and as owners, we can still stimulate that part of their brain through play.
Since hunting isn’t necessarily or always motivated by hunger, games are in a way part of their hunting instincts. Mikel Delgado, the co-author of recent research on cat’s hunting behavior, supports this idea by saying, “the patterns of behavior are similar, and the things that entice cats to hunt also get them excited about toys.” But what happens when instead of bringing a feathery toy your cat wants to be chased instead? Isn’t that a prey-like behavior?
According to studies, “play is highly influenced by biological factors, social context, and stimuli features.” This might be more evident in kittens that use play as a teaching technique to learn how to hunt among themselves and with their mother. One might even assume that they learn to hide and avoid being caught also because they can fall prey to bigger predators.
Veterinarians suggest that “young kittens play using chasing and pouncing behaviors that seem to have their origin in predation.” No matter the intricate reasons behind our cat’s playful nature it’s also important to understand how much each individual cat enjoys this interaction and the reasons they mightn’t.
High motivation To Play
Cats need play when they’re young to develop and mature into skilled hunters, while most domestic adult cats see it as a pleasurable activity. How much a cat enjoys play may depend on their age and mobility, and there are also ways to figuring out your cat’s activity levels.
If your feline companion is like one of my cats, then they’re a constant blur of color running around the house, they’re usually unable to keep their eyes still on one thing for more than a second, and as soon as they notice something they have to investigate it.
Realizing he’s so active made me want to observe him even more but through a hunting-play lens. I noticed he is a spontaneous and frequent player with me or other objects, he is willing to play at any time of day and night, most toys work for him and I’m usually the first to give up when I’m chasing him!
Simply taking down the box of toys for him to play with sends him running towards me, which made me believe that he’s a highly motivated kitty. Having such a cat is easy, because they’re easy to please, and it’s difficult because you have to really put in lots of muscle work! Even though loving these energized kitties comes at the price of becoming ripped, I’m sure you’d do anything to make them happy!
Low Motivation To Play
I’ve occasionally heard other cat parents calling their cats lazy because they didn’t like to do anything but sleep all day, which I think can be a dangerous belief. Yes, cats can seem quite lazy because they need a lot of sleep, and they usually have short bursts of energy, but the low motivation to play can mean two things.
Firstly, you might not be giving them enough motivation, or secondly, your cat is depressed, which could be the result of not having enough playful attention, to begin with. Of course, I understand that our lives can be busy, and maintaining a routine can seem difficult, but it can also be a fun activity for both of you!
Even a cat with low motivation levels can get their daily dosage of games. If your cat doesn’t like to play with their toys or random objects on their own maybe they prefer interactive games with you. Perhaps giving them a treat at the end of each play session might awaken the positive reinforcement mechanics of their brain! Notice when your cat seems more active, figure out the kind of toys and games they like!
Finally, some cats tire quickly and that’s ok. If that’s the case then keep it short and fun, try mimicking their natural cycle, by playing in short bursts of activity before feeding time, and let them catch the toy when you’re done!
Don’t let your kitty get bored, because as research has shown that “chronic inescapable boredom can be extremely aversive, and under-stimulation can harm neural, cognitive and behavioral flexibility.” A “lazy” kitty is more likely to become obese, which will further affect their mobility and enjoyment of playing.
Should You Chase Your Cat?
Discovering that your kitty loves to be chased can be weirdly satisfying, but there are times when this activity should be avoided. If you’re a new owner and your relationship with your cat is still new the game of chase shouldn’t be taken lightly. You could easily scare your cat or end up looking intimidating rather than friendly.
If your cat gets easily uncomfortable or scared perhaps you could observe more closely the signs they give you when they want something to stop. That’s easy to do, through games that have less potential to scare them, like playing with a toy on a string and letting them chase the toy instead.
There are naturally anxious and cautious cats, or a rescued animal might have a history of neglect and even abuse, both of these types of cats will probably avoid playing chase no matter how much they love interacting with you otherwise. Remember just because a cat runs away from you doesn’t mean they want to play, maybe they want some alone time and you’re invading their personal space.
If on the other hand you have a high-energy cat and you share a close bond, that’s based on mutual understanding then chase, hide and seek as well as the game of tag can be perfect for you!
You could also spice things up with this Kitty Tunnel Bed on Amazon, that is perfect even for larger breeds. It can be a great addition for a multi-cat chasing game, or a place for your kitty to hide when they’re done with being chased!
To put it simply, you can’t make a cat-like something because you like it and Mikkel Becker who specializes in reward-based training and behavior modification for dogs and cats explains this by saying that cats “do what works for them and avoid anything that doesn’t. Just like us, our cats engage in behaviors that offer some sort of reward or pay off and avoid those that aren’t worth the effort or that result in punishment.”
When To Stop Chasing Your Cat?
Playing chase can be equally fun for humans and cats alike but understanding when the game is over might be a bit more complicated with our fluffballs. That’s why making sense out of your cat’s body language is so important when the two of you are interacting.
Since cats can’t speak our language it might look like they’re prone to mood swings, one moment they want to be chased, the next thing you know they’re hiding away from you or they become aggressive. The same usually happens during belly rubs, when we suddenly find ourselves trapped between their sharp claws, and that’s simply because we didn’t read their first and last warning signs to stop.
A cat’s tail can tell you a lot about what they’re feeling, and if you notice them whipping it back and forth, then they might be agitated and anxious. If they’re holding their ears backwards, and flat on their head, then it’s another warning. If you ignore these signs then you might see their fur rising, they might hiss at you and in some cases, they might use their paws to scratch you and bite you in order to getaway.
If chasing your cat always ends up with you being scratched then this could be because you don’t play enough with your kitty or that you’re simply allowing this aggression to enter into your playtime.
Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM, explain that “under-stimulation, an excess of unused energy, and lack of appropriate opportunities for play can lead to play-related aggression. This may be exhibited as overly rambunctious or aggressive play, which inadvertently leads to injuries to people.”
As mentioned before timing is also important to know when a cat wants to play and your cat’s relaxing time may seem like a good time to you, but it really isn’t. When your cat is lounging you should allow them their space, because any attempt to interrupt their quiet time might be perceived as a threat, (they’ll most likely be cool with a soft pet instead.)
Dr. Crowell-Davis says that “it’s important to realize that it is normal for cats to stalk and run and attack something — the key is that we don’t want them to attack us.” So, next time your kitty is over-excited by your chasing game, it’s better to stop and come back to it when they’re ready to play nice.
Is It Okay To Play Chase With A Kitten?
If you’re a new or even seasoned cat parent raising a kitten will bring up many questions on how to do it properly and play is definitely part of that conversation. Most adult cats usually will stop playing when it’s time for them to stop, but kittens can be more prone to overplaying.
While playing chase and tag with your kitten might be perfectly fine, it’s important to set the right foundations in all forms of play to minimize any aggression. Of course what we consider aggression can be part of a cat’s natural playfulness, like stalking and nonfighting wresting between cats.
Dr. Crowell-Davis explains that “part of raising a kitten is making sure she has plenty of opportunities for appropriate play,” she also adds, “so she doesn’t decide to try out what we consider the inappropriate play of going after people’s hands or feet..” And while letting them bite or scratch you can be fun when they’re tiny, it definitely won’t be when they’re older, and their natural weapons become larger and sharper.
If your kitty becomes overstimulated, showing signs of fear, or aggression it’s probably time you took a break and let them get it out of their system on some new toy and not on you. Because kittens have lots of energy, it’s possible that they’ll not know when they need a break and it’s your responsibility to watch out for signs of tiredness like panting.
It’s also important to mention that while your kitten might have learned through your training that stalking you, chasing, and batting at your feet is not allowed, it doesn’t mean they won’t try it on another family member, or roommate. So, make sure that everyone in your home is on the same page, and they’re willing to help you set your kitten on the path of becoming a gentle playmate.
Why It’s Not OK To Scare Your Cat
Chase can be a chaotic game when you play it with a cat, it can start as a hide and seek game, then transition into a chase around the house and then turn into a game of tag. In all of these games, there can be an element of surprise that in some cats can trigger their flight or fight instinct.
Kristyn Vitale, a postdoctoral fellow at Oregon State University, states that “The majority of cats are looking to their owners to be a source of safety and security.” So, scaring your kitty isn’t really part of the “safe” language.
Scaring your kitty on purpose is never okay, and over time they can develop anxiety and stress-related behaviors. If your cat is already a scaredy-cat and prone to anxiety, then it definitely shouldn’t be part of your mutual interaction, even if it seems to occur during an “innocent” game as the chase.
A lot of the time anxiety in a cat can be observed in behavioral changes and excessive behaviors. Research has shown that “poor welfare may be reflected in poor physical health, illness, and disease or behavioral problems such as house soiling and fearful aggressive behaviors.”
Cats being cats, of course, will naturally be cautious and can easily get scared by the most ridiculous of things. One of my cats will get random scares by simply existing. I always make a joke saying that he expects a ninja assassin to come and end him at any given moment! Being a rescue, he probably had a hard time on the streets causing him to be more alert even in a safe environment. That’s why I think it’s important that you keep cultivating the feeling of safety in your kitty instead of making them be scared of you.
I think being a cat parent always comes with an element or even a few elements of surprise and playing chase with them certainly gives me a feeling of wonder! And as much as I love using toys in our play-time routine I love having this immediate interaction of running up and down the house with them.
Not only does it keep them fit and stimulated, but it definitely gives me a reason to be more active!
I’d love to hear more about your cats, do they like to be chased? Are you the initiator or do you hear their meows from across the hall calling for your chasing skills?