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Some cats love to play fetch as much as dogs and even initiate the game

Cats are often perceived as independent and less trainable pets, but a new study shows that they have a surprising inclination toward playing fetch – a game commonly associated with dogs

A comprehensive survey of 924 cat owners sheds light on this unexpected feline behavior, revealing that most cats who engage in fetching do so without explicit training.

“The motivation behind playing with objects in cats is different from that of dogs; cats are more motivated to engage in solitary play with objects that have prey-like features, as seen in other non-domestic animal species such as kestrels, whereas object play in dogs usually involves a dog or human partner and is socially motivated,” wrote the researchers.

Cats control the game

The study, conducted by Jemma Forman, Elizabeth Renner, and David Leavens, involved a detailed analysis of fetching behaviors in 1,154 cats. 

The survey delved into various aspects of this activity, including the frequency of fetching, the types of objects used, and the dynamics of initiating and concluding the game.

Key findings from the study indicate that cats are not just passive participants but active controllers of the fetch game. 

Approximately 59 percent of fetching cats did so up to ten times a month, and 55 percent fetched objects up to five times during their most recent game. 

Interestingly, the cats themselves often initiated and concluded these games, suggesting a significant level of autonomy and control over the activity.

Natural fetchers

A remarkable 94 percent of owners observed that their cats began playing fetch spontaneously, without any formal training. The survey further reveals that 61 percent of these cats started fetching as kittens, underlining an innate tendency towards this behavior. 

While some cats might have learned from other animals, only 23 percent cohabited with another fetching pet, like a dog or a cat.

“Most cats who fetch first display this behavior as kittens or young adults. Cats have individual preferences for a variety of objects to fetch and they exhibit agency in the initiation and ending of fetching sessions,” wrote the researchers.

“Owners also provided detailed descriptions of the fetching process itself and highlighted how some cats will fetch only in certain circumstances.”

Cats’ fetching preferences

Among the 160 purebred cats in the survey, Siamese cats emerged as the top fetching breed, followed by Bengals and Ragdolls. 

This finding points towards a possible breed-specific propensity towards this type of play, although the behavior was observed across various breeds.

The study also highlights the diverse range of objects cats choose to fetch. While cat toys constituted nearly 40 percent of these objects, the majority were everyday household items, such as hair ties and bottle parts, or items thrown by owners, like crumpled paper. 

Common locations for the games included bedrooms and stairs, indicating that cats have a preference for familiar and comfortable environments.

The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.


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