Cats play like humans do, although the concept of playtime is quite different for cats. While pleasure is the main function of feline playtime, there is a strong survival component involved as well. This establishes how kittens learn certain behaviours they’ll need in the future to defend themselves or find food. Playing also helps kittens learn to build social relationships with other cats, as well as with humans. Feral cats do not spend considerable time playing due to the fact that they focus their efforts almost exclusively on survival. House cats, on the other hand, have all of their basic needs satisfied and are therefore able to dedicate a great deal of time to play. This is important for house cats because it combats the boredom and stress that come with being inside a house all day.
For cats, there are two types of games to play: individual and social. Cats can play individual games regardless of whether or not they are in the presence of humans. In this type of play, cats tend to take advantage of areas within the home that are most attractive to them, like the gaps under or behind furniture, shelves or high places to climb, materials suitable for scratching and designed specifically for them, etc. Generally speaking, any small, lightweight object that can stimulate the cat to develop their instinct to chase, hunt, fish, and pounce is suitable for playtime. There are many commercial toys designed with this in mind, like small balls, feathered objects, mouse-shaped toys, and even more sophisticated toys that simulate small live prey in movement. But toys can also be homemade using paper balls, cardboard tubes, boxes, bags... as long as the toys are safe and will not create a choking hazard for the cat.
Social games involve interaction with humans. In this case, the same toys previously mentioned can be incorporated into social playtime. Tossing or hiding the cat toys creates a game for humans and cats where physical contact can be employed. However, it is important that the cat is never allowed to bite or scratch while playing. This is especially important for kittens because as they grow older, it is very likely that this turn into aggressive behaviour that could lead to injuries for human companions.
Normally, cats show their willingness to play with a certain body language, for example, lying on their back with their belly exposed, standing with their back slightly arched and tail stretched high, hopping to the side, or pouncing on an object. When a cat behaves in this manner, it generally indicates a desire to play. If they start to seem disinterested, turn their body or their head away, walk away, hiss, or growl, playtime is over. Leave the cat be and do not attempt to keep playing with the cat as it could provoke a defensive response. The cat should always be the one to set the pace, and decide when playtime starts and stops.