How often should I play with my cat?


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Even cats that aren't keen on being picked up or stroked will often remain playful with their owners.

(Q) How often should I play with my cat?

(A) Behaviourist Jon Bowen says: Even cats that aren't keen on being picked up or stroked will often remain playful with their owners throughout their lives, and this can be the basis of a good relationship that keeps both owner and cat happy.

Cats are generally considered to be more active at dawn and dusk, but a previous study found that cats were generally more attentive and interested in play in the morning and late afternoon/early evening.

Around lunchtime and late evening they preferred to sleep. Given that our cats have clearly made an effort to adapt to our lifestyle, we should do the same for them and offer play in the morning and early evening when they want it.

Cats don't have huge amounts of stamina and often get bored quickly during play. This is why I advise cat owners to play a game with their cat at each television (or radio) advertising break; this keeps play short and frequent in the way that cats prefer.

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Don't expect your cat to run around a lot either, because in many cases just watching a toy bobbing around is enough to amuse them. Sometimes I wonder whether the greatest source of entertainment for my cat is watching me make a fool of myself while trying to entice her into a game. If this amuses her, then I'm happy to do it!

Adult cat play tends to focus on predatory behaviour; if a well-fed cat catches a mouse they may play with it for ages and perhaps not kill at all. To be enticing for a cat, toys should provide the same sensations as the prey that they might like to hunt. The best toys are those that are about the size of a mouse or small bird, light in weight, have a furry or feathery coating, eye-catching markings and make a high-pitched sound when played with.

The way the toy moves is also important; some cats like toys to move jerkily along the ground, others like them to swing overhead on a string. I try to make use of stairs and cat furniture to make the game more interesting or unexpected. For example, a toy darting under the sofa as my cat walks into the room will always get her attention!


  • Setting is important: cat furniture creates a backdrop for play that increases the range of things you can do to make a toy interesting
  • Ping-pong balls, feathers and balls of rolled-up silver foil are cheap toys that are attractive to cats. Keep a box of 'tat' like this and switch the toys that are available every day
  • Furry toys are often very stimulating for cats
  • Be imaginative about when and how you present toys; try to make them move in a way that simulates a mouse, bird or insect. Make them appear from behind and under furniture in unexpected ways that grab your cat's attention
  • Interactive feeding toys are particularly good for cats who don't have outdoor access.