There's no denying it: No matter how much you love your cat, there's still a bit of a language barrier, one that will never be entirely breached. You probably know your cat's "I'm hungry" meow, and you're likely familiar with the "wake up and pet me" cry. If you're wondering what it means when she meows with her cat toys in her mouth, it's likely a call for attention to her and her prize catch.
Feline vocal stylings
In the wild, cats tend to vocalize only with their kittens, sexual partners, and adversaries, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. By changing the intensity, volume and patterns of their meows, cats communicate a host of intentions to you and to other cats. For example, if you watch your cat when she spies a squirrel out the window, her vocalizations are vastly different from her "let me out" cry.
In the wild, if your cat was able to catch that squirrel, she'd likely carry it about in her mouth for a while, making the same cry you hear when she carries her cat toys through the house. She's calling your attention to her prized catch of the day. It's a bit like bragging about getting a raise or a bonus for all of your hard work.
Why all the ruckus?
Mother cats will often teach their offspring to hunt by catching prey and bringing it alive to their kittens, giving their babies something to practice hunting on. When your cat makes a big fuss about her toy "prey," she's calling your attention to it, just as a mother cat would. Perhaps she even wants to teach you how to hunt.
She may want to show you how it's done or she may just want some approval for a job well done — only she knows for sure — but she does want your attention. Your cat will continue this behavior, especially if you positively reinforce it by rewarding her with snuggles and praise.
Everything in its place
Making a racket over toys isn't the only part of cat play with wild roots. If your cat deposits her toys in her food or water dishes, she's not bathing her toys, nor is she trying to nudge them to eat. Dr. Debra Primovic of PetPlace notes that putting nonfood items in food dishes is fairly common and suggests that it's a cat's way of securing the toy in a safe place after playing with it. In your cat's world, her food and water dishes are part of her territory, a secure place for her to stash her valuables, much as if she were in the wild, hiding her prizes from potential predators.
Placing toys in dishes or other safe spots is also part of instinctual collecting behavior that a nursing queen engages in to return her kittens back to the nest when they wander off. So, your female cat might treat her toys like surrogate kittens and collect them up in one spot.
Play to learn
It's all fun and games for your cat, but play is also an important part of a kitten's development and a rewarding part of a domestic cat's life. Play teaches a cat all phases of hunting, from searching and stalking, to chasing, pouncing, catching, and manipulating prey. As well, it provides an opportunity for mental and physical stimulation.
The complete play sequence is important to a cat and according to Modern Cat, a cat may become frustrated if parts of the sequence, such as pouncing or catching, are eliminated. That's why it's better to engage your cat with toys that allow her to go through the entire sequence, such as toy mice or wand toys that require chasing, pouncing, and catching, instead of laser pointers, which can never be caught.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Meowing and Yowling
- Humane Society of the United States: Cat Chat: Understanding Feline Language
- PetPlace: Why Does My Cat Put Her Stuffed Mouse in the Water?
- Vetinfo: A Guide to Mother Cat Behavior
- Modern Cat: The All-Important Play Sequence