The Holy Grail of Playing with Your Cat

The Holy Grail of playing with your cat is to achieve the situation in which your cat growls when she catches the ‘prey’ (a cat tease) telling you that her ‘raw cat’ has been activated.

Cat play is very important
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Cat play.

What Jackson Galaxy advocates is to mimic as accurately as possible how prey would react in the presence of a domestic cat hunting it. He says that this takes commitment and it can’t be done while watching television or talking with somebody else! I get the message.

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I think it’s easier to visualise how a mouse behaves when hunted by a cat than a bird. It is not too difficult to imagine because quite a percentage of us have to deal with that difficult moment when your cat brings a mouse into the home in her jaws and then releases it into the living room.

What happens next? The mouse invariably runs off (if it is still alive) under an item of furniture or perhaps runs along the skirting board to a corner where it tries to hide. The mouse will search for any hiding place. Your cat chases manically. When the mouse has find a sanctuary your cat will sit patiently waiting opposite the item of furniture under which the mouse has hidden in the expectation that it will emerge. This is the waiting game form of domestic cat hunting.

He may place his paw under the furniture to try and grab the mouse or force it into the open. The reason why I’m describing this sort of behaviour is because a cat’s human guardian needs to replicate the movements of a mouse using a cat tease to point were the cat indicates that she genuinely is dealing with live prey. For example your cat might growl in order to protect her prey. Of course it’s not real prey, it’s a tease of some sort but if your cat has become sufficiently excited in the hunt then you have succeeded.

What the cat’s owner is trying to achieve is to motivate their cat to behave in an entirely natural way when playing. So for instance the cat tease could be activated underneath a piece of furniture or it could be kept still for a while as if the mouse is paralysed with fear to give your cat a chance to attack and grab.

Then the cat tease could be placed behind an object so your cat, from say about three paces away, sees it and prepares for a pounce with the classic butt wiggle. If the cat owner is able to mimic a mouse’s behaviour accurately then this should stimulate natural hunting behaviour in their cat. Jackson Galaxy calls it the ‘raw cat’ and he wants to see it because he then knows that the cat is able to express what she would express if she was in the wild. The beauty is that it happens in the safety of the home; the Holy Grail of cat play-hunting.

P.S. Jackson uses the phrase ‘Holy Grail’ to describe the perfect end result. In terms of play it might be when your cat growls at you with the cat tease or toy mouse in her mouth in defence of her prey.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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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. Albert Schepis says:

    Hmm, I only hear the growl either when I try to take the toy back or another cat comes close to them. So I interpret the growl as “Ït’s mine and you can’t have it.”. Jackson is cute with his made up terminology. Cesar Milan is like that with his pit bull training too. It’s kind of cultish to me so I usually resist appropriating it. Forgive me for that.

    • Michael Broad says:

      So I interpret the growl as “It’s mine and you can’t have it.” – Yes, and it is good sign in terms of cat play. I think Jackson can make understanding more difficult with his interesting use of language. Just a thought. His book Total Cat Mojo is not an easy read.

      • Albert Schepis says:

        On the growl, I agree it IS also a good sign that the cat is really into that play moment, but cats do enjoy play plenty of times without growling. I just think the distinction is like I said, that it means “you can’t have it” in a fun, friendly way. Dogs do the same thing… the glaring exception being pit bulls who will tear you apart without growling and they enjoy that very much. The idea of being proprietary is a business tactic in order to lock in customers for continued use, like Beta Max and Apple Computer did back when. They happened to be superior products but it made it rough going, and Apple succeeded by bowing to market pressure and using the same ICU chips everyone else did. I think it’s better to use standard psychological principles and terminology when discussing cat cognition and behavior… that Jackson and Cesar shouldn’t reinvent for their purposes. Cats are hard enough for regular people to understand, why make it harder? Look at you, you’re very, very knowledgeable about cats and you find him difficult to follow, as do I. The best he might be doing with newbies is giving them a “sense” of insider knowledge, but it goes off on some side path, not the main road. Why not just speak in plain language? I liked the idea of having a Jackson G. as a fellow “guy” cat-loving ambassador but not exactly the way he does it. Again, sorry if I’m rubbing the wrong way. I hate to disagree with you Michael.

        • Albert Schepis says:

          I just thought that there’s an actual problem with his leadership on this topic, which is what I think can happen when a person tries to reinvent common concepts. I mean it might lead the reader to believe getting the cat to growl is the goal. I don’t know if that should be the case. I’ve never thought to do that and I’m not going to start. As I said, I think growling is a warning, be it playful in this sense in the beginning but it boarders on hostility. A cat’s human might fail to understand that for the most part cats are nuanced and subtle, and that it’s not a failure if you don’t get your cat to growl. It might lead to excessive play and reaction and over time trigger the cat to go straight to a hostile mode. See, I knew there was something iffy about it. I just finally put it together. You and I should trust our own instincts.

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