Cats Like Playing Fetch Too – But They Make The Rules

We’ve got a message for the dogs out there: you may no longer be the cutest animal to play fetch. Cats could be coming for your crown, as animal behavior psychologists have revealed that our feline friends also love a game of fetch – and they’re the ones dictating the rules. 

Researchers from the University of Sussex and Northumbria University surveyed 924 cat owners who had reported fetching behaviors in 1,154 cats, asking questions such as when and how fetching first started, how often the cats did it per month, the cats’ preferred fetching toys, and whether the cat or their human started or ended the game.

The results revealed that fetching in cats appears to be an instinctive behavior – it started in 60.7 percent of cats before they turned a year old, and nearly 95 percent of cats that played fetch began without any training. For cat owners looking for a simple way to entertain their pets, this makes fetch seem ideal.

But don’t be mistaken, the cats are the ones in charge of the game – and of you.

“Our findings show that cats dictate this behavior to directly influence how their human owners respond,” said lead author Jenna Forman in a statement. For example, some cats would only play under certain circumstances. 

One owner reported bringing their cat a larger pom pom to play with, only for it to be rejected; only a specific size of pom pom was acceptable. Others would only play in certain rooms, or with certain people. That might seem a bit fussy, but if you’ve ever owned a cat, it’s probably thoroughly unsurprising.


The researchers also made an interesting finding when it came to who started the game of fetch, Forman explained. “Cats who initiated their fetching sessions played more enthusiastically with more retrievals and more fetching sessions per month. This perceived sense of control from the cat’s perspective may be beneficial for the cat’s welfare and the cat-owner relationship.”

Cats also enjoyed playing with a whole range of different objects, even though some of them were a bit picky about the specifics. The most popular objects were toys. But if you’re worried about a fussy feline overlord running down your bank account to play fetch, don’t worry – things you might already have lying around the house, like crumpled balls of paper, hair ties, and socks, were also deemed acceptable.

The overall message from the researchers? It’s best for both you and the cat to let the cat take the reins when it comes to a game of fetch.

“I’d encourage owners to be receptive to the needs of their cat by responding to their preferences for play – not all cats will want to play fetch, but if they do, it’s likely that they will have their own particular way of doing so!”

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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