Scientists aren't exactly sure why play behavior develops in cats. Many of them believe that young animals play to improve coordination and prepare for adult life. Young lions, for example, will chase their tails or other moving objects to develop their predatory skills.
You can spend hours playing with kittens. They seem to have boundless energy for chasing balls and strings, jumping straight up in the air, and zooming all over your home. Their enthusiasm for playing is contagious; we love to play with them.
Most cats really do love to play, and can amuse themselves for hours inventing games and intrigues. However, cats have a mind of their own, so you can't just walk up to them, wave toys in their face, and expect them to suddenly wake up and get interested in playing with you. The key is getting them to think it's their idea, and rotating their playthings so they don't get too bored with one toy.
Games cats can play on their own
Cats will often play by themselves, swatting at wads of paper, ping-pong balls or catnip toys. If you are going to use a catnip toy, replace it when your cat loses interest, because the catnip loses its scent after a while.
Some cats enjoy playing with a catnip toy or WHISKAS™ treat in an old cardboard tube. Your cat will play with it until she's rewarded with the goodie.
A cardboard box can be loads of fun for your cat. She might hide things, or herself, inside. If you have two cats, you may even discover them playing hide and seek. Just be sure the box is sturdy, that your cat can climb back out, and that she isn't chewing it as well as playing in it.
Try putting a little fuzzy thing on a string and dangling it in front of your cat. She'll know it's not a mouse, but she might be willing to pretend it is. Then she can indulge in fantasies of being a ferocious hunter out looking for prey. This game can keep your cat amused and active for quite a while. Dangle the fake mouse in the air, or drag it along the ground. Also, try a feather or other object your cat can swat. Just make sure you move your hand away quickly so you don't get scratched.
A ball of rolled-up paper also might entice your cat to play. Be sure it's rolled up tightly enough that she doesn't chew on and swallow parts of it.
If your cat seems to like sniffing your leather shoes, she might like her own leather toy to sniff and play with.
Other toy ideas
Some cats like to rustle under newspapers or climb into your briefcase. They like the sound and feel of rustling paper. A large paper bag might keep her amused for a while. Put some toys inside, making it even more fun.
Here are some more toy ideas: sturdy corks (regularly check them for excessive wear), empty wrapping paper rolls, empty lipstick containers, old tennis balls, fabric stuffed with old nylons.
If possible, provide places for your cat to climb inside. And scratching posts and climbing frames provide opportunities for exercise and stimulation.
Will she play fetch?
Most cats don't fetch, at least not like dogs. Some cats do actually start spontaneously fetching toys and bringing them to their owners to throw so they can run and fetch. Other cats will have to learn a more "cat-like" version of the game. And, as you might expect, it will have to be done on their terms.
Here's how you can coax your cat to fetch:
Pick a small toy that your cat really likes, something small, light and throwable. Call your cat's name. She might pretend she doesn't know it, but she does. Throw the toy up and down a bit, catch it yourself. Play with it. Jiggle it. Have some fun with it.
Is your cat watching? If so, keep going. If not, give it up.
Keep the toy visible, sit in a chair and toss the toy so that it lands near your cat. Let her play with it. Just as she's about to get bored, call her while you're still seated. If your cat looks, go to the toy, pick it up and return to your chair.
From your chair, do the throwing routine again. Do it for about 10 minutes or so, twice a day.
Some cats will get the idea and start bringing the toy back to you. Then you can vary your throws. Throw the toy behind obstacles, and make her hunt for it.
Not every cat will be into this, but some will. And, even if yours isn't, think of all the exercise you'll get trying to teach her.
A game your cat might initiate on her own and encourage you to play with her is to run around your home with you chasing her. Some cats do this every day at a certain time, usually at night when you're ready to relax and go to bed! If you see your cat run across the room in front of you and hide behind curtains, run after her, peak behind the curtains, and watch what she does. If she suddenly dashes off across the room to hide in a closet, then peaks out at you, this is your cue to continue the game and run after her. This is certainly a great way for both of you to get some exercise!
Even when your kitten grows up, she will still have a lot of fun -- and gain health and emotional benefit from -- playing with you.