Why isn’t your adult cat playing?

Does your cat sit there and watch you when you throw a ball at it or hang a string? You may be concerned about the stimulation and activity your cat needs to play. Learn why your cat seems indifferent to play and what you can do about it.

Cats naturally belong to a range of personalities and activity levels. All kittens play, but their interest in high-energy play peaks around 4 to 5 months of age and gradually declines thereafter. Once cats reach adulthood, they tend to fall into two broad categories: ankle rubbers who continue to play and knee sitters who prefer less activity. There can be ways to encourage activity that is healthy for both the body and the brain. However, there may be other problems affecting cat behavior that can be assessed using the HISS test.

hiss test


Health certainly affects activity levels. Age-related problems such as arthritis can reduce interest in gaming. Any health challenge that makes your cat uncomfortable—such as intestinal worms—may reduce your cat’s activity level.


Cat play imitates hunting. Movement triggers claw and chase behaviors. Kittens are addicted to self-play and can entertain themselves. They have fun throwing cat toys and chasing people’s feet, but adult cats need more immediate stimulation. Cat toys are usually only as good as the person on the other end of the toy.


Any stress, often caused by sudden changes, can affect a cat’s activity level. Stressed cats don’t want to play.


Changes in a cat’s usual behavior can be a sign of a health condition. If your cat usually likes to play, but suddenly becomes inactive or lethargic, it’s worth talking to your veterinarian. Tests may reveal urinary tract infections or other problems that can be resolved with treatment. If your cat is healthy, you can look for ways to stimulate play more effectively.

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encourage play

Adult cats have gotten rid of kittens’ frenzied play activities. This cat likely has a nanny personality and doesn’t tend to play on its own. Maybe the cat really likes her “Cat TV,” watching you pretend to be a cat and play games for her. But you may not have found the perfect toy for your kitty.

You may have tried catnip toys, but be aware that not all cats respond to catnip. A third of cats don’t care. Fresh catnip may transform a previously apathetic cat as it is more effective. Visit a pet supply store and buy some growing catnip. Crush a leaf and see if your cat responds better to the real thing. Catnip has a variety of potencies and can get old and stale quickly. If you can get a bag full of very potent catnip, put some toys in the bag and let them rise.

Toys need to move in interesting ways to attract the cat’s attention. Here are some things to try. Go to a pet supply store—or even a hobby store—for a pack of pheasant feathers. Cats are rarely resistant to them. Feathers can “snake” across the floor for cats to chase, and can even be held overhead for cats to grasp. Playing games with “disappearing” feathers can really get some cats excited. Using an old shirt or pillow, thread a long feather or a piece of yarn underneath and pull it slowly so that it “hides” from the cat’s eyes. Before the feather is gone, the cat may frantically try to grab it.

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Fishing rod bait toys really get a lot of cats obsessed. Forget about boring yarn and opt for the “big bird” toy with a fluttering feather at the end of the thread that flies through the air. Cat product stores feature these bait toys, as well as various styles of feathered wands known as “cat teases.” Some have bells, or shiny mylars, rattles, etc. to keep cats interested. Or you can try other cheap thrills with homemade toys.

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Why isn’t your adult cat playing?
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