Cats exhibit 4 play patterns

According to Dr Desmond Morris domestic cats exhibit 4 fundamental play patterns. Although they are modified by a cat’s individual characteristics. The picture below is of an F2 Savannah cat playing in an off-the-peg cat toy: a tunnel. I suppose the tunnel is a part of the mouse-pounce pattern of play; hiding and pouncing.

Play-Fighting

We all know this one and have some scratches and bite marks to prove it. It is the ‘earliest form of play to develop’. It starts at about 3-weeks-of-age with litter mates. They don’t hurt each other. A first they lack sufficient strength and later they learn the limits of play-fighting because the ‘victim’ complains which terminates the encounter. Cats ‘detune’ their aggression levels in play-fighting. At four weeks the play becomes more elaborate. At this time three different types of play-hunting starts.

This is a video by me created many yeas ago! It is Savannah cats play-fighting very noisily and the aggressor goes too far and is told to stop by the ‘victim’. The aggressor was an F1. I think the victim was F2 (second filial and smaller).

Mouse-pounce

An imaginary rodent is hunted. The kitten hides, crouches, stalks and then rushes and pounces on an imaginary rodent. The ‘rodent’ is a small object on the ground or, when with mother, it might be her tail. The video below is not a mouse-pounce but it made me smile. It is a cat testing an unknown object to see if it is dangerous.

Bird-swat

This involves leaping for a object above the ground. The cat makes an upward leap and swats the object with her forepaws. The attacked objects are usually cat teases and objects thrown to the kitten. Flies can also be attacked.

Fish-scoop

There is an object on the ground. The kitten scoops it up into the air and backwards over her shoulder. The kitten turns and pounces on the object. This mimics what will happen given the chance when she scoops a fish out of water. Although this is exceptionally rare in domestic cats it is part of its wild cat ancestor’s hunting behavior (North African wildcat).


A kitten’s imagination is formidable. The ideal objects to attack are soft and light. It should be light so it can be moved easily to prolong the play and soft so that is can be bitten and clawed with satisfaction. Simple homemade toys often meet these requirements.

Playing with your cat is probably the best way to become close to him or her. The cat loses her caution in her instinctive desire to hunt. I think it is one of the best ways to socialise a feral cat. They find play irresistible and so are automatically drawn closer to their human companion who directs the play.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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4 Responses

  1. M E King says:

    So what do you call coming home to several hundred feet of weed whacker line that was pilfered from the hall shelf wrapped around everything in the living room when I came in the door. I know who it was. Little miss too smart for her own good.

    • Michael Broad says:

      🙂 The only applicable play type would be mouse-pounce and in this case the weed whacker line (not sure what that is) is the prey! Destructive little blighters aren’t they?

      • M E King says:

        It’s the plastic line that you use in weed eaters. I rewind my own spools so the big roll sits in the hall. Something to do while watching a movie. Lots of cat help involved.
        I don’t call their play destructive instead I have a creative genius in the house.
        We use all forms of play here. And I have one cat who is an absolute nut for playing games on my tablet.

        • Michael Broad says:

          I had never heard the phrase ‘weed eater’ before. I see it is a business making gardening tools. Do you call them ‘strimmers’? I have one but the plastic line has never broken and I have no replacement. Is the spool used to replace broken ones?

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