Ever wonder why cats stalk during play? By Katelyn Schutz, CPDT
Ever wonder why your cat loves to stalk and pounce on that cat dancer toy? Curious why your cat will climb the walls just to chase the laser light? Confused why your cat will only play with the glitter ball once YOU toss it for her?
It's because cats, by nature, are hunting CARNIVORES! Remember back to your biology class where you learned about how to classify different animals: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Genus, Species. Without boring you to tears like they may have in school, the domesticated house cat belongs to the Animal Phylum, it is in the Mammalian Class and the Felidae (feline) Family. But in between there, the cat is in the Carnivora Order, meaning they are carnivores.
If we look at the anatomy of the cat, it is very clear they are meant to eat meat! For example, cats have shorter, acidic digestive tracts, which means they can readily break down protein and fat from animal sources. They lack an enzyme in their saliva called amylase, which herbivores and omnivores have to help break down plant material.
And look at those teeth! There is a presence of two strong, long canine teeth, also know as the "fangs". These teeth are designed to tear and kill prey, not for grinding on plants and grains! Their molars are shaped much like a serrated-edge knife, to help them slice and cut animal protein. A cat's strong jaws move vertically to allow a "cutting" motion, and aid them in swallowing larger chunks of meat.
(On a side note, read the label on the back of your cat food bag. Are their unnecessary grains and fillers like corn listed? Perhaps consider switching your kitty to a grain-free food, or try a food with higher protein content. I know my cat was much happier and healthier once she was fed a CARNIVOROUS diet!)
So what does all of this have to do with how your cat plays? Simply put, your cat is "hunting" for his toys! The body of cat is designed to be a predator, so play often mimics this instinct to practice their stalking and hunting skills.
Their keen, binocular vision is good at detecting movement of possible prey, and this is why it may require you to first jingle the feather toy to attract your cat's attention to play. Cats also have a special layer of tissue in their eye called a tapetum lucidum, which helps them see in little to no light. This means cats have exceptional night vision (another characteristic of a carnivore!) for hunting prey in the nocturnal hours. Ever wonder why you can't seem to get a good picture of your cat, without having to edit out that obnoxious red-eye? It's because their tapetum lucidum is reflecting the flash back through the retina!
Cats are also known as digitigrades, or animals that walk on their toes. Digitigrades generally move more quickly and quietly than other animals, making cats very efficient and effective hunters. This is why your cat may step lightly and slowly, paw by paw, with much intent... just before pouncing on that crinkle ball!
Felines have more vertebra in their spine, making them more flexible than other animals. They lack a collar bone, which gives them extraordinary speed. This is why your cat can jump and flip and soar in the air with ease after that cat dancer toy!
So if you're tired of wasting money at the pet store on toys your cat won't play with, first THINK like a cat! Aim to find toys that look and act like, well... prey! Toys that involve movement, like a cat dancer toy or a laser light, are typically well-liked. Anything that dangles at the end of a string is sure to get your feline's attention (and keep your hands out of the line of fire!). Feather toys seems to be a big hit, probably because they look a lot like a common prey animal for cats - the bird. So go out and find some toys to keep your cat playful and active. Happy hunting!
Engaged in play….or hunting for food?
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