Yes, Cats Really Do Love a Game of Fetch... on Their Terms

Mary Simpson
by Mary Simpson

No training needed when instincts kick in and your feline friend steps up to the plate.

Photo Credit: Cherry Merry /

This is me confirming that even the gnarliest of cats can be coaxed into not only dive-bombing fluffy things tossed their way but also delivering said thing back to their favorite person (you) for another round. Note the word “coaxed” versus “trained”. With my cat, the object (crumpled paper), would initially be dropped onto my lap but, as the game wore on, placed further and further away as a gentle hint that he was tired of both me and my annoying attempt to bond.

So, it came as no surprise to learn that in late 2023, UK-based The Guardian published the results of a survey that suggested felines were amenable to a rousing game of fetch more frequently than one might think. Research conducted by Jemma Forman, a doctoral researcher in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex collected feedback from more than 1,150 UK-based cat owners. Of those surveyed, a whopping 94% confirmed their feline was down for a round of retrieving tossed items. The fact that owners had not specifically taught their cats to fetch suggests this practice - previously associated with just dogs - is in fact instinctive to felines.

Now, we’re not talking about chasing and batting something around or those icky times when FiFi retrieves and then delivers something dead and unsavory to your doorstep. We’re talking about a feline that zeroes in on a tossed item, chases it down, captures it, and brings it back to its owner.

Dr. Forman confirms "…cats are notoriously difficult to train” and she’s finding they can also be pretty darned particular when it comes to how this game of fetch unfolds. As any cat owner can attest, felines like to set the narrative when it comes to eating, sleeping, relaxing, and playing so, no surprise that certain items met their approval, whereas others were a waste of their time. Stuff like baubles or crumpled pieces of paper tended to be a hit. Time of day also seemed to factor in.

But unlike dogs that will chase everything from a tennis ball or frisbee to an errant Cheetoh tossed his way, cats seem to weigh out the size, shape, and texture before deciding whether it’s game on. As one pet owner shared, "The size of the pompom is important. I bought a larger pompom and she rejected it. I've also tried small items approximately the same size as the pompom and she rejects those as well."  Hmmm… sounds like kit-kat is calling the shots here.

Research to date hasn’t clarified whether the cats fetch in a bid to play and bond with their owners – the way dogs do – or if it’s merely a fascination with a moving object that presents as prey. Whatever the driver, encouraging your feline to play is an important part of their socialization and physical health.

Mary Simpson
Mary Simpson

Sharing space with three seriously judgy Schnoodles and a feline who prefers to be left alone. #LivingMyBestLife

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