A reader wanted to know just how much playtime her cat really needs. I’m glad she asked this question, because most cats I see as a veterinarian aren’t even coming close to the minimum, let alone the optimal, amount of play that they need to be happy and healthy! Here’s what I told her.
Q: How much playtime do cats need daily?
A: More than you might think! Most of us think of cats as layabouts, happy to sleep all day; in reality, they are hunters who benefit from the opportunity to practice their inborn skills, even if they never catch a mouse in their life.
A good baseline is five minutes of playtime or interactive exercise twice a day. Kittens might need more, and senior cats might be happy with a little less. Toys and games your cat will enjoy include flashlight beams they can chase — be sure to end by pointing the light at something they can pounce on so they’ll feel as if they accomplished something — fishing pole-type toys with a dangly, preylike object at the end or small balls that your cat can chase down the hall, zigging and zagging as the ball bounces off walls or other objects.
Another way to keep your cat fit and occupied is to teach him to work for his meals. Not by catching mice — although plenty of cats make a living doing that — but with a puzzle toy that he must push or play with to get it to dispense food. I tell people that instead of leaving out a big bowl of kibble for their cat to snack from during the day, they should put a meal’s worth of food inside a treat ball and let him figure out how to get it out. Leave a couple of those balls around the house, and your cat will “hunt” when he’s hungry and get the amount of food he needs, not the amount he eats because he’s bored. This is also a good way to help overweight cats drop a pound or so.
You can find more about feline play at FearFreeHappyHomes.com/blog.
There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.