Anyone who has ever raised a child knows that routines are good for children. They are happier and better behaved while on a routine. The same can be said for Bengal cats. Many behavioral problems in Bengal cats can be solved by establishing a routine. Cats "need plenty of stimulation and play, particularly when young, to prevent them from becoming bored. The owner of such a cat needs to be aware of their responsibility to ensure that the cat’s mental needs, as well as its physical ones, are met" ("Playing With Your Cat"). If you find that your Bengal cat is unnecessarily, excessively vocal, playing too rough with you or other animals in the house, pottying outside of the litter box, getting into destructive mischief, or engaging in another unwanted behavior, the solution to all of your problems may be as simple as establishing a routine. The right routine will help your cat develop a natural body rhythm in which you control the energy spikes; it will decrease the amount of stress your cat feels, and it will help your cat to feel secure in its territory - AKA, your home.
Before we begin to set up a routine, it is good to understand a cat's natural body rhythm. If your cat were a feral cat, how would it choose to spend its day? The first thing on its mind would be food. Feral cats do not always know where their next meal is coming from, so it would spend its day hunting. "Observation of feeding patterns over 24 hours shows that cats will, on average, eat about 16 small meals per day. This frequency has been seen both with observations of feral cats, and video observations of domestic cats offered food on a continuous basis" (“Hunting and Feeding Behaviour of Cats”). In essence, your cat would spend its day hunting, eating, cleaning itself, then sleeping. It would repeat this cycle an average of16 times a day. With the average household cat, it plays several times a day to simulate the hunt. In addition, in the instances a well-fed house cat does catch prey, it will play with it for an extended period before dispatching the prey because it is not hungry to keep the hunt going. Both of these observed behaviors demonstrate the domestic cat's need to "hunt" for its food.
Realistically, no one is going to feed their cat 16 times a day unless they free-feed, but free-feeding is not healthy for your cat. If your cat is engaging in any unwanted behaviors, one of the first necessary steps in correcting those behaviors is to stop free-feeding. "Cats are not naturally grazers. They expend energy to get their food, eat a small meal and then have a period of rest . . . After this period of rest, they have another period of activity, capture or forage for food again and then eat another meal. This cycle repeats itself several times throughout the day" (Brown). When you allow the cat to graze, you disrupt the cat's natural body rhythm. While some cats adapt to this disruption, other cats do not adjust which results in a variety of potential behavioral problems: pottying outside of the box, aggression, excessive vocalization, etc.
The first decision you will need to make in establishing a routine for your cat is to determine how many times a day you can consistently play with your cat. The more, the better, but the other routine must be realistic to be consistent. If you cannot uphold the routine with consistency, then the purpose of the routine is lost. Cats are typically most active around morning time and evening time - dawn and dusk, so these are two good times to plan your longest and hardest play sessions. While we encourage one of your more extensive play-then-feed sessions to take place in the morning, we do not recommend it be the first thing you do when you get up. If you do it first, then your cat associates your getting up with its first play session. When you are trying to get an extra hour of sleep, the cat may be trying to wake you to play. Worse yet, the cat may try to control the timing of the first session by waking you earlier and earlier and earlier. We recommend that your morning play session take place after you have done a few things around the house and eaten your breakfast.
The dawn and dusk play big-play sessions need to involve an interactive toy such as a wand toy, and it is best if they have a natural fiber toy on the end such as feathers or mice made of deer hide. For detailed information on proper play techniques, please read, "How to play with your Bengal Cat." During these extended play sessions, you should mimic taking your cat on a hunt; exhaust your cat to the point of panting. Allow your cat to catch its prey at the end of the hunt - this is where the sturdy deer hide toy attachments come in handy. After your cat has had a good rough and tumble, mimicking the kill of its prey (the toy), then you feed it - preferably moist, raw food. You want to do this long play-then-feed session both morning and night.
If two sessions of play-then-feed do not seem to satisfy your cat, then you will need to add more stimulation. If someone is home during the day, this is simple, that person adds a third and possibly fourth session in at a time that is convenient for their schedule. You can make the times work for you as long as you are consistent with them. If there is not anyone home during the day, you have to figure out how to best entertain your cat in an empty house. One way to do this is to get your cat a wheel. Cat Wheels offer the opportunity for the cat to walk or run as the energy spikes arise. Another practical choice is to have a second, high-energy pet such as another high energy cat or a small, active dog who can be left inside the home with the cat when the house is void of people. If these two pets share a similar energy level, then they will engage in play throughout the day. If the two animals do not share similar energy levels, then the pairing is no good for either pet as the Bengal will be a pest to a low energy pet in its many attempts to get it to play.
An alternative solution to helping your cat expel energy when no one is home is to have a hidden game around the house. You can hide a treat dispenser in different locations of your house. If the routine is that the cat gets a play session and a feed in the morning before everyone leaves, the cat will go to sleep shortly after its meal. If it knows there is a treat dispenser hidden somewhere - because that is your routine - then once it wakes up for its nap and is ready to expel some energy, it will go on a hunt for that treat. You can also leave out food puzzles and other activities that enrich the mind as it is just as important to exercise your Bengal's intelligent mind as it is to use its body. For more information on puzzles, please read our article "Mind Games for Bengal cats."
If you find your cat really needs additional play sessions, but games and puzzles are not enough, then you can invest in the equipment to take your cat through a play-then-feed play session from work. First, you will need to pick an interactive toy that works from a smartphone such as Petcube Play or Furbo Dog Camera (Bengals chase treats too). These are all toys that you can operate remotely, so using your smartphone, you can still keep your cat on a play-then-feed routine. Engage your cat in play, then have an automatic feeder set to open up at a time that will be shortly after your play session. Since we encourage raw feeding, we would also suggest that you buy an automatic feeder with ice packs to keep the raw food cold. While it is costly to get both the robotic toy and the automatic feeder, this combination will allow play sessions if you are not home regularly. Also, it will enable you to keep your routine going even if you are not home due to travel or other obligations. If you are on a twice a day play-then-feed schedule, you could have the robot and automatic feeder take care of the morning feed, and a pet sitter come in for the evening play-then-feed session and set up the automatic feeder for it to be ready for you, or the sitter, to do the morning feeding remotely.
Routines are very effective at reducing your cat's stress, controlling its energy spikes, increasing its security in its territory, and expelling its energy. All of this leads to a happy household Bengal cat. If you are thinking about getting a Bengal cat, you need to take into consideration that you may have to establish a routine to meet your cat's energy and intellectual needs. If you have a Bengal cat with some behavioral problems and you have ruled out medical causes, you should establish a routine to improve the quality of your cat's life. Just as routines bring peace to young children, they bring peace to Bengal cats as well.
Brown, Jackie. “Is Free Feeding Cats the Best Way to Feed Your Cat?” Catster. 13 Nov. 2017. www.catster.com/cat-food/is-free-feeding-cats-the-best-way-to-feed-your-cat.
“Playing With Your Cat.” International Cat Care. 6 Oct. 2019. icatcare.org/advice/playing-with-your-cat/.
“Hunting and Feeding Behaviour of Cats.” Natural Dog and Cat Food. 20 Oct. 2017. www.trueinstinct.com