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My cat particularly likes it when I bring out the cat-teaser (essentially a fake 'bird' on a stick). He makes a great deal of effort in catching it, and I assume he's enjoying himself.

Now my question is, what's going through the cat's mind? Does he know it's a game/practice for hunting, and is enjoying himself, or does he actually think he's hunting something he can't really eat - and therefore a disappointing waste of time?

I sometimes consider whether I should feed him a treat or something after playing with him to give him the whole experience of the hunt - if it's the latter case.

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If the cat is "hunting" when it isn't hungry, it's doing so for entertainment value.

A cat usually isn't interested in eating a bug, just catching it. A well-fed cat may not always be interested in killing larger prey; they just get carried away, play a bit too roughly, and break the toy.

There is no requirement that every hunt end with a kill. Cats will sometimes bring toys to humans as a request. They are quite capable of understanding the concept of play.

However, like kids in the same age ranges, they may sometimes get over-excited. It's appropriate to watch out for that and not tease them past the point of exhaustion. They often get better at judging this as they get older, just as humans do; my middle-aged girl will indicate quite clearly when she needs to stop to catch her breath, and whether she wants to play again after doing so.

They're weird little critters, but they aren't that alien.

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  • One of my cats often puts toys near my chair. I have assumed it's tribute. Seems unlikely to be asking for play, given that I often don't see him do it. – Anton Sherwood Oct 16 '19 at 5:22
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If your cat continues to chase your cat-teaser time after time with no food reward, you should assume he is getting something other than food out of chasing it; either enjoyment at practice at hunting, or just burning off energy. Cats learn, and if food were his only motivation he would probably not chase it after the first couple times.

As far as rewarding your cat with food during or after play, I do this with my cat all the time. Food is a wonderful motivator when training cats (assuming your cat is food motivated), and I like to reward spectacular jumps or catches my cat makes. Once she catches the toy she often doesn't want to release it, and she will (with some toys) try to chew her 'prey' destruction. Trying to pull a caught toy away from her just makes her hold the toy tighter, so to prevent toy destruction I will toss a kitty kibble down the hall, which causes her to immediately release the toy and run after the kibble. I am giving her the choice of chewing the toy or getting food, and she always chooses the food. Adding food as a reward to playtime increases my cat's desire to play.

I agree with keshlam that you should watch your cat for overexertion. Stop now and then and determine how hard he is breathing to avoid overexerting your cat. Cats are not long distance runners, they are sprinters; they are designed for short intense activity in between long periods of low activity or rest.

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