Infographic explains why kittens throw toys into the air

Watching a kitten play with a toy; throwing it into the air looks like they are practicing catching birds by animating a toy to pretend that it is a bird and then catching it. This apparently is a misinterpretation. The kitten is instinctively practicing something that people rarely if ever see but which is hard-wired in a cat’s DNA: catching fish, which requires the upward movement of the forelegs to hook the fish from the water rather than the downward motion of the forelegs when plucking a bird from the air as it takes off in trying to escape a predator.

Why does a kitten sometimes throw a toy into the air when playing?
Why does a kitten sometimes throw a toy into the air when playing?
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That’s it in a nutshell. One last point. A cat’s renowned predatory behavior is hard-wired: they are born with it as you might expect. However, it needs some refinement through training and practice. This is provided by the mother who will train up her kittens to be sufficiently good hunters to allow them to be independent, leave the familial den and go in search of their own home range. It is a daunting task.

RELATED: Is killing prey a learned behaviour for cats? Infographic.

Kittens are full of energy and their natural instincts come out through play. Here are some of the different types of play that kittens enjoy:

  • Chasing and stalking: This mimics a cat’s natural hunting behavior. Kittens love to chase after toys that move like prey, such as feather wands or toy mice. You can also drag a string toy on the ground to simulate a scurrying creature.
  • Batting and pouncing: Kittens love to swat at anything that catches their eye, from dangling toys to crinkly balls. This play helps them develop their coordination and batting skills.
  • Surprise play and hide-and-seek: Some kittens enjoy the thrill of the unexpected. Cardboard boxes, paper bags, and tunnels become forts and hiding spots for them to ambush unsuspecting prey (you or a toy).
  • Solo play: Kittens don’t always need a playmate. They can have a blast batting around a ball of yarn, swatting at dangling string, or wrestling with a stuffed toy. Most play concerns predation of a ground dwelling animal because ground dwelling animals such as rodents are the primary prey animal of the domestic cat.
  • Fighting: kittens play-fight and it can get quite rough. This is preparation for the real world of independence. In play they know when to cut back on the aggression levels by the cries of complaint from the recipient.
The video was captured by me many years ago. It shows F1 and F2 Savannah kittens play fighting very noisily. It is quite aggressive. Martin Stucki the breeder at the time (they are now in the hotel business in Montana) said they know their limits because of complaints received by other kittens!

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