According to a survey of cat owners, it was discovered that cats enjoy playing fetch, although they have their own rules and preferences.

94% of cat owners believe that cats establish the rules when it comes to playing fetch with specific objects for certain individuals.

Despite their reputation for independence and aloofness, scientists have discovered that a surprising number of cats engage in fetching. A survey conducted among cat owners revealed that a vast majority reported their cats fetching objects, even without any training. However, cats tend to set their own rules when it comes to engaging in this activity, often only fetching specific objects for specific people.

“Cats, in general, are known to be difficult to train,” says Emma Forman, the first author of the paper and a doctoral researcher in the school of psychology at the University of Sussex. “Cats dictate their own fetching sessions, but it is a misconception that cats are unsociable with their owners.”

The study, published in Scientific Reports, surveyed 924 owners who owned a total of 1,154 cats that participate in fetching games. The aim was to gain a better understanding of this behavior. The study found that for most cats (94%), fetching appeared to be an instinctive behavior rather than something taught by their owners or learned from other animals. Most of the cats were observed to have started fetching when they were kittens or young cats.

Toys were identified as the most popular objects to fetch, followed by spherical items like baubles or crumpled pieces of paper, and then cosmetics. Some cats would only fetch a specific type of item, had a preferred playmate, or only played fetch at particular times of the day.

“The size of the pompom is important,” one owner told the researchers. “I bought a larger pompom, but she rejected it. I have also tried small items that are approximately the same size as the pompom, but she rejects those as well.”

Other owners described being awakened in the middle of the night by their cats dropping toys on their pillows, indicating that they were ready to play. Throughout the survey, owners were asked to describe what their cats’ version of fetch entailed. Some cats would retrieve and deliver objects back to their owners, while others would only bring the objects part of the way back or gradually drop them further away.

Forman said, “The stereotype that cats don’t really want to do what we want and only do what they want at all times holds true.”

Owners reported that cats initiated and ended fetch games more frequently than their owners did. They also tended to engage in fetch more often and for longer durations when they were the ones initiating the games, as opposed to their owners.

“This perceived sense of control from the cat’s perspective may be beneficial for their welfare and the cat-owner relationship,” added Forman. “I encourage owners to be responsive to their cat’s preferences for play. Not all cats will want to play fetch, but if they do, it is likely that they will have their own unique way of doing so.”

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