This is republished from my column on Examiner.com, with minor alterations
Have you ever tried to play with cats in the middle of the afternoon, and they’re just not interested? Maybe your cat bats at her toy halfheartedly, or she just watches the red dot like it’s no concern to her, or loses interest way too easily. A few minutes after you give up, she’s asleep again. Perhaps you’ve also noticed that this also happens mid- to late morning, or late in the evening. This is because the best times to play with cats are actually early morning and early evening.
Why the middle of the afternoon, or late at night, isn’t always the best time to play with cats
It’s generally thought that cats are nocturnal, and many species of wild felines are. However, domestic cats are more crepuscular, meaning that their active times are at dawn and dusk. Despite having been domesticated for centuries, house cats, like many other domesticated species, retain certain biological rhythms despite living with people whose schedules may run the gamut of the day. The reason for this is the fact that the prey of their small wild cousins and ancestors is also most active at these times.
Unfortunately for you, this means that she’s likely at her most active and playful while you still need a couple of hours of sleep, or while you’re trying to get your family settled down for dinner in the evenings (one way to handle her evening behavior is to ensure that she is fed while you’re eating; it’ll help keep her from begging at the table too!).
Some cats are more nocturnal than older cats, and are much more likely to want to rampage through the house in the middle of the night no matter how much playtime you give them before bed. This behavior tends not to last, however; as they get older, they get accustomed to the sleep patterns of the house. You can best discourage nocturnal behavior by playing with cats before bedtime. This entertains them, and gives your cat exercise before you need to go to sleep.
We need to play with cats every day at home
Your cat still needs some playtime every day, not just for exercise, but also for stress relief and bonding. If you can’t get her to play before dinner or before bed, try playing right after dinner is over, with everyone in the house is settling in for the night. She might be a little logy from her meal, but it’s easier to play with cats at that time than she will be at the time the kids come home from school.
She only needs about five minutes of playtime per day, but to really bond, as well as have a good workout, it’s best to play with cats for at least fifteen minutes each evening with her favorite toy. This will be much easier, and better for both you and her, than trying to encourage her to play when her biology is telling her to sleep!