Throughout your cat's life, keeping her prowling sense active is essential to keeping her healthy and happy. Cats love the game of pursuit. Big cats, like cougars, lions, and cheetahs, learn to prowl for their prey in the same way little cats do: They practice. They master the basics of stalking, chasing, pouncing, and shredding through daily play.
"All play behavior ultimately leads to some skill that is required for successful living," says Raymond Van Lienden, DVM, of Clifton, Virginia. "And there's little difference between a tiger, lion, or cheetah and the little gray domestic short-haired cat next door; they all use the same skills they develop and sharpen by play."
From the time a kitten rears up on her wobbly hind legs to gain the advantage over one of her fellow playmates, until well into adulthood, cats never seem to lose their keen fascination with movement, light and shadow, and the element of surprise.
Sixty Percent Success
Although cats have the reputation as the ultimate predator, statistically cats don't always catch what they chase. The most successful of these exotic big cats, the cheetah—running at 60 miles an hour—catches his prey only about 60 percent of the time.
The lion succeeds only 30 percent of the time. So it's a good thing that wild cats enjoy practicing their skills—indeed their livelihood depends on it.
Practicing Being Stealthy
As surprising as it sounds, cats actually have to practice stealth as well. In the wild, cats often lose out on a meal because their prey can run faster and farther than they can. These cats' only other alternative is to rely on their instinctive feline ability to blend into their surroundings and remain perfectly still until an unwary target happens by.
Cats have many astounding talents that develop with age. A mature cat's eye captures three times more light than a human eye does. They hear five times better than we do, too. In fact, a cat's hearing is three times more acute—especially when it comes to high-pitched sounds—than even the most sensitive dog.
Cats can even move and listen with their ears independent of each other. This goes a long way in explaining how Fluffy can be between your feet the minute you open the refrigerator door, when just seconds ago you saw her sacked out on the couch with no signs of movement.
Chase, Catch, and Claw
Though they have no need to catch a meal, domestic cats enjoy prowling as a form of play. Just like practicing a sport helps keep people feeling more alive and alert, playing keeps cats of all ages healthy and in good physical condition. It also does much in helping prevent boredom, which oftentimes leads to mischief.
Cat owners should provide their pets with plenty of opportunities to play, and make sure there are ample toys available to maintain their cat's physical motivation, says James Isaacs, DVM, of Encino, California. "Without this outlet, cats may be prone to destructive behavior, or even worse—complete lethargy," he says.
So the next time your cat cues you to clear out the toy box and play, go ahead and have a ball. After all, little cats, like big cats, need the stimulation of play to be at their very best.