Watching a cat playing can be really entertaining and very insightful. Cats is believed they use play as a way to practice and improve their hunting skills as predators. This is why it is believed that kittens play a lot, through play they learn. But of course play in cats doesn't stop when the cats have grown and have mastered or not their hunting skills. As many cat carers will tell you cats like playing and pretending, well into their adult life and even in their senior years. For cats that they do have the opportunity to actual hunt and catch prey, playing and pretending or even treating a fake toy mouse as a real one, not and quite clearly knowing that it is not a real one and it is not going to move or try to escape, is a behaviour that often has us puzzled. What is the purpose of that behaviour if not for just having fun? If out and about hunting what is the need to pretend chasing a furry toy that it doesn't even look like a real mouse after all or more important smell like one (and not all toys have catnip)?
Sheng Chi, my youngest and very playful cat has a little play 'ritual' which she does on a regular basis and includes hiding her little black mouse toy under the box, which she uses for rolling, skating and sleeping, on purpose and then she pretends that she doesn't know where that toy mouse has gone and she looks around trying to find it. She plays a form of hide and seek with the little toy mouse and she spends some days a lot of time engaging in this activity like she would have done in a real situation with a real mouse (something that my other cat used to do – he passed away last year and he is still very missed – as well although when he was faced with a real mouse he has actually afraid of it). The fact that she hides the mouse, the fact that she knows that it's not a real mouse and the whole engagement in playing seems to show that she is doing it because she wants to entertain her self and have some fun. Another regular play activity for Sheng Chi and Ripley is to pretend that they are being chased by another 'invisible cat' and then to run in the house on their own or even playing hide and seek with an imaginary other cat. This behaviour is more commonly observed on my two female cats who never learned to play and interact with other cats but only with us despite the fact that they were never only cats in our house. Even Choo Choo who was used to interact and play with other cats, now after two year he has finally learned that if he wants to play he can play only on his own, either by chasing himself in the staircase or upstairs or by getting us involved in his playing as the other two do not want to play with him. But for all our cats play is a chosen activity and there is full awareness that this is just that, playing and not real, an activity for having some fun and to entertain themselves, something very similar to human activity, despite the fact that their after all a different species!!