A black and white cat plays fetch with a ball in a sunny domestic environment.
(Photo Credit: Catherine Falls Commercial | Getty Images)

Cats Love Playing Fetch, According To Study

Playing fetch? It’s not just for dogs — some cats enjoy it as well, according to a new study. This behavior appears to be self-taught in many cats, with no specific training from their owners. A recent paper published in Scientific Reports notes that cats often decide when to start and stop these play sessions. Even though cats may chase and bring back items, they prefer doing it according to their own rules. That sounds about right.

These results may not surprise cat owners. Nevertheless, this paper is among the first to record the playful behavior of cats, which aren’t as thoroughly studied as dogs, as per Meghan Rosen from Science News.

James Serpell — an animal welfare expert from the University of Pennsylvania who wasn’t part of the recent study — told Scientific American’s Lauren Leffer, “As far as I know, it’s among the first published studies that have tried to quantify and qualitatively describe this type of fetch interaction between people and cats.”

Scientists conducted an online survey to gather more data on the fetching habits of cats. The survey was circulated among individuals who owned or had owned cats with a history of fetch-playing. They received 924 responses from cat owners who collectively owned 1,154 cats, residing across all continents, except Antarctica.

Understanding the fetching behavior of cats

After analyzing the collected data, researchers identified several noteworthy trends. Remarkably, 94 percent of cats that fetch did so without any specific training and seemingly learned this behavior on their own. Most cats began fetching before reaching one year of age — usually at around seven months. The most frequently fetched items included toys, cosmetics, and round objects, followed by a variety of miscellaneous items and arts and crafts supplies. Siamese cats topped the list for fetching most often among purebred cats.

Often, it’s the cats who begin playtime, with 48% of owners noting their feline friends are usually the ones to kick-start fetching sessions. On the other hand, only 22% of owners claim they initiate the playtime. Jemma Forman, co-author of the study and an animal cognition researcher at the University of Sussex, said, “Cats prefer to be in control of their fetching sessions” (via The Washington Post).

The researchers focused on cats known for fetching, and thus, they are unsure of the exact percentage of cats who enjoy the activity. They’re also uncertain why certain cats participate in fetch; could it be a form of social interaction that the animals use to bond with their humans, or might there be other reasons? They aim to address these questions, among others, in future studies.

Although rewards may help cat owners succeed in teaching their pets to play fetch, researchers emphasize that not all cats will show interest. Much like humans, each cat has a unique personality with a range of preferences.

Forman encourages cat owners to be open to their cat’s needs by responding to their play preferences, as reported by Hannah Devlin for The Guardian. She also added that not all cats would want to play fetch, but if they do, they likely have their own unique approach.

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