Some cats might drop a dead animal at their owners’ feet, but others bring their favorite toy in hopes the person will throw it. Some cats play fetch just like their canine counterparts.
But cats’ motivation may be different from dogs, who are mainly focused on the social bond with their owner rather than the object, Jemma Forman, an animal psychologist at the University of Sussex, told Business Insider via email.
“We aren’t sure if cats are fetching as a way to bond with us or if they want to be thrown an object to entertain them, or both,” Forman explained.
Forman and other researchers recently published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports on cats that play fetch. They surveyed hundreds of owners to learn more about the playful behavior in over 1,000 cats.
Some cats like to fetch toys, hair ties, and tinfoil
In the survey, the researchers asked cat owners what objects their pets like to fetch. Forman stated that toys topped the list. These included plushies catnip toy ,, and faux mice. Cats also seemed to like to play with crumpled paper or tinfoil, hair ties, cotton pads, and bobby pins, Forman added.
“Overall, I think it’s items that cats are able to play with, Forman added, such as small, lightweight objects they can hold in their mouths and not swallow. (Rubber bands and hair ties can be especially dangerous for cats to swallow. )
For Forman, the most surprising thing the survey revealed was that almost all the respondents, about 94%, said their cat wasn’t trained to play the game. “It shows that more cats have the capability to play fetch than perhaps previously thought,” she said.
In fact, some owners found out their cat enjoys fetch simply by accident. Like if their cat retrieved a piece of paper that missed the trash can.
For cats, playing is similar to hunting
While exactly why cats enjoy playing fetch will take further research, Froman said most cats play similarly to how they hunt: chasing, leaping, biting, stalking, and so on.
Some cat owners reported that their cats played with toys before returning them. Forman explained that throwing an object may be a way to mimic the movement of a fast-moving animal, which motivates cats to play and chase it.
The findings of this study are not likely to surprise cat-owners , that cats generally set the rules for the game.
“More owners reported that their cats are in control of initiating their fetching sessions than they are,” Forman said. She said that cats were more excited or engaged when the initiator was present.
In other words, don’t be offended if your cat doesn’t chase its toy when you decide to toss it.
Forman said playing with cats could help owners understand their pets’ behaviors. “Understanding the needs of your cat and improving owner understanding of cat communication is key to engaging in a positive play session and ensuring future positive play sessions, too,” she said.
Because the survey targeted people with cats who play fetch, it’s not clear how common the behavior is. Forman suggested that this could be a future area for research.
Owners with fetching cats can sign up to participate in the researchers’ next survey, which plans to focus on whether the game is socially motivated.
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