Cats need to play as much as dogs need to walk. While most cats are low maintenance and are pretty relaxed doesn’t mean that they don’t need to have some exercise. Cats are natural hunters – satisfy their need to hunt and give them exercise simultaneously by playing with them properly!
How long & how often should you play with your cat? Kittens need at least two 20 minute play sessions per day to allow them to release their excess energy. For most adult cats, one 20-30 minute play session or two play sessions of 15-20 minutes is a good routine for adult cats.
Why Do Cats Need Play?
How do you satisfy a cat? To satisfy their need to hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom, and sleep.
If there’s one thing that a cat owner needs to understand is that while domesticated, cats mostly retain their wild nature of needing to hunt.
Outdoor cats can hunt birds or whatever rodents might be around, but we also know outdoor cats don’t live as long as indoor cats. On the other hand, indoor cats don’t have nearly as much stimulation or exercise as their outdoor counterparts.
So how can cat owners solve this problem? With play. Playing lets our cats go through the whole process of hunting the toy, catching the toy, “killing” the toy (by biting it a couple of times), and then eating as their reward.
Therefore, playing with cats has multiple benefits outside of just exercise – by satisfying this need, you can make sure that they are both physically and mentally stimulated.
In this article, I’m going to focus on how often you should play with your cat and my own recommendation about the schedule for when you should play with them for the most optimal play sessions!
How Much Play Does a Cat Actually Need?
Adult pet cats with free outdoor access will partake in up to 3 hours of hunting activities. Of course, this isn’t all active hunting (don’t worry, I’m not asking people to play with their cats for 3 hours!). Hunting activities involve patrolling, finding, stalking prey! In terms of active hunting (running, chasing, and catching), this only boils down to around 30-40 minutes a day.
Therefore, this is a good guideline for how much we should interact with our adult cats regarding their play-time. As a side-note, however, getting adult cats to move will sometimes require the right activity.
For kittens, this is another story since they have so much playful energy. Kittens with litter mates can play and hunt all day. Therefore, they take a little bit more time to play with to really tire them out!
Luckily, however, it’s quite simple to entertain a kitten – so simple stationary toys can keep them busy for quite a while!
In summary, adult cats require about 20-30 minutes per day of meaningful play, and kittens will require more time & attention (up to 40 minutes) due to the amount of energy that they have – but they are much more easily satisfied and kept busy.
Schedule Play For Your Cats!
Cats are creatures of habit, so scheduling play allows cat owners to more easily tailor their cat’s energy levels and behaviors to match their own better.
If you play with your cats at random times. Then they’ll have energy at random times of the day as well.
Of course, there’s no one way to play with your cats as some could enjoy fetching and some enjoy more interactive wand toys. Whatever it is, letting them experience the process of the hunt is important.
How Often to Play With Cats or Kitten: Best Times to Play With Your Cat
Many people complain about cats going crazy at night and chasing each other around during the worst times. Sometimes it’s even on the other end of the spectrum, and their cats are too lazy and don’t even want to play. These optimal cat play times will help cat owners get their cats started to correct their circadian rhythm.
Remember, Scheduled means creating a habitual routine. That means you have to stay consistent for a while as they start to adapt to the new changes.
Playtime 1: Have a Play-session With Cats Before THEIR Mealtime
Cat owners should be having scheduled mealtime for their cats as well. Mealtime allows bonding time and allows you to guide your cats’ behavior, and in this case, also rewards them for playing and interacting with you or the other cats (i.e., playing and participating in the interactive activity).
I usually have my cat’s mealtime once in the morning before work and once before I go to bed. For details on why I only have two mealtimes for my cats, read Strategies for Maintaining a Good Weight For Cats!
These are reasons to schedule a play session before their mealtimes:
- A meal comes at the end of a hunt. So it helps complete the cat energy cycle.
- Lets them burn off excess energy before eating, therefore, managing their weight.
- Keeps them relaxed for a good while after the meal.
- Rather than always leaving food out there and allowing them to eat willy nilly, they feel accomplished and rewarded for their play.
- Helps them anticipate playtimes because they know what comes right after (more motivation to move around and play)!
Playtime 2: Have a Play-session With Cats Before YOUR Bedtime
Playing right before bed allows them to expend all their energy and be ready for a good night’s sleep at the same time as you. Living in a small studio apartment with cats and having them sleep at the same time as me was crucial for my health and sanity!
If you slept at midnight, I would recommend scheduling a play session at 10:30 pm. It allows you to play with them for 20-30 minutes, and then you can reward them with their food or snacks, and then they’ll go into their process of grooming themselves and sleeping for most of the night. Then you can do whatever nighttime routine you usually do without rushing to go to bed.
After you’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks, you’ll find that they’re much lower energy in the middle of the night and won’t wake you up as often.
My cats habitually now are more active in the evening (from 7-9 pm). Even if I don’t get a chance to play with them, they’ll usually either play with each other or by themselves with a ball or toy I have around the apartment. Then I give them their meal, and they go into chilled mode once again, allowing me to have a good night’s rest (everyone is asleep by midnight!)!
Can I Skip Playtime With My Cats?
Of course, sometimes we butlers have stuff going on in our lives too! So yes, you can skip playtime. I would not make a habit of skipping too many times, as they might fall back into their old regular habit.
It’s easier if you have more than one cat, of course. If you have been consistent for at least a couple of weeks and your cats are starting to anticipate playtime, usually, your cats will initiate play activities with each other!
If you’re going to skip, then have some appropriate play environments toys so that they can independently play whenever you’re busy. But again, I wouldn’t make a habit of it because some cats don’t independently play (such as my female). So it’s important to have more interactive play during scheduled play sessions.
Remember to reward them with their meal or snacks whenever you see them playing with each other or independently play! Reward them with their favorite treat when you see them relaxing for a couple of minutes after their hunt. It reinforces this behavior. It’s good to be an active cat!
When Should I Increase the Play Sessions With My Cat(s)?
There are times when you should increase the length or add another play session with your cat(s). These are the signs to look out for (clicking on the link will lead you to the appropriate article with their solutions!):
- Sometimes you might observe that one or two of your cats seem to be overly rough towards each other or other cats.
- Destructive behavior such as knocking stuff over or biting/scratching inappropriate items around the home.
- Over vocalization: meowing, yowling, attention seeking sounds.
- General weight-management issues. If your cat is starting to get a bit round – increase the amount of play and exercise that they get.
When cats are displaying some unwanted behaviors. They’re probably bored and need a bit more stimulation.
This is when you need to consider whether you need to increase the amount of stimulation in terms of a play session or more types of toys readily available in your home or improve their environment!
For example, in my apartment, I have an overly active Bengal cat that sometimes likes to roughhouse and bothers the other cats when he’s bored. So I’ll have an extra play session with my Bengal cat whenever I see these issues popping up with him. It really helps curb these types of rough behaviors in more active breeds!
How Often To Play With Your Cat or Kitten: Conclusion
You’ll find that the more you play with your cat, the happier everyone will be. Hopefully, cat owners will realize that cats are not some fixture that you can maybe give some attention to from time to time. They have instinctual needs that need to be filled, and the lack of it might emerge in the near future as unwanted behaviors.
As they start learning when they should play, their energy levels will align with yours and allow both parties to benefit. So I would recommend every cat owner to try to stay consistent and play with your cats!