Can Cats Play Fetch?

Cat hunting to mouse at home, Burmese cat face before attack close-up
© scaliger/iStock via Getty Images

Written by Joyce Nash

Published: December 28, 2023

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Many dogs will enthusiastically engage in a game of fetch with their owners, happily retrieving a ball as many times as their human playmate will throw it. Meanwhile, cats are not known for retrieving behaviors, although some cat owners insist their feline companions will bring back toys to throw again. Despite their sometimes mysterious play behaviors, recent research indicates that cats can play fetch, and it may even be possible to train them to play!

Cute crossbreed Persian cat playing with a ball. A mixed breed cat is a cross between cats of two different breeds or a purebred cat and a domestic cat.

Recent research shows that cats do play fetch, often initiating the game themselves.


Cat Owners Weigh In

Researchers with the University of Sussex surveyed over 900 cat owners who had previously reported fetching behavior in their cats. Among the responses, 94% said that their cat started the game of fetch, often spontaneously.

Pet owners overwhelmingly indicated that their cats initiated this activity, generally around the age of seven months. Some respondents said their cats would chase and return objects that had been accidentally dropped, while some cats brought their owners items to throw.

However, the study also showed the limitations of playing fetch with cats. Survey responses revealed that while cats will initiate fetch, they quickly lose interest. In addition, responses showed that cats have preferences for playing fetch, and will often only play the game with a particular person or object.

cat staring intently at toy

Experts recommend the click-training method for teaching your cat to play fetch.

©Viacheslav Lopatin/

Training Your Cat To Play Fetch

Elizabeth Renner, a co-author of the study and a psychologist at Northumbria University, suggested the click-training method for cat owners who want to train their cats to play fetch. This method of training is based on positive reinforcement and often uses a clicking device to create a specific sound. 

Start by rewarding your cat — using the clicker as well as a treat — for bringing you an item for playtime. With time, your cat may associate the behavior with rewards and may begin returning items once you’ve thrown them. However, Renner cautioned that the process may take a while and may not be successful.

Not all cats enjoy playing fetch and may be uncooperative during training efforts. If your feline friend doesn’t show interest in fetch, there are lots of ways to encourage them to play. Plenty of cats are satisfied with cardboard boxes and felt mice, even if they don’t want to play fetch.

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About the Author

Joyce Nash is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering travel and geography. She has almost a decade of writing experience. Her background ranges from journalism to farm animal rescues and spans the East Coast to the West. She is based in North Carolina, and in her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time with her husband and two cats.

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