How to Teach Your Cat to Fetch

Tips for Teaching Feline Fetch

Maine Coon kitten playing with toy on bed
GK Hart & Vikki Hart/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Does your cat play fetch? Dogs are known to retrieve toys, and my own Magic (a German shepherd) will do so until his tongue drags the ground. But some cats also enjoy the game. It appears Siamese heritage kitties and young cats, in particular, enjoy retrieving toys, but any cat can that has the capacity.

Why Cats Play Fetch

Retrieving comes naturally to cats in the wild, because they must bring home food for kittens.

Some behaviorists speculate that when cats give us gifts of mice or other critters, they're demonstrating how they teach their kittens to hunt.

When your cat captures the fluttering moth and then releases it only to chase and catch it again - or when he bats the toy mice down the hallway and chases after, Kitty has all the technique needed to play fetch. All that's needed is for the human to do the honors and toss the toy, and entice the cat to bring it back.

Fetch also can be a great interactive game to help slim down tubby tabbies. Many cats play fetch naturally. Here's how to encourage the game.

5 Tips for Teaching Feline Fetch

  • Give Him What He Wants. Most kitties choose their fetching faves, whether that's a catnip mouse, a wad of paper, soft sparkle ball or even a particular treat. Yes, some cats enjoy chasing kibble across a hard floor surface, and (though they don't bring it back in fetch!) they return to "ask" for a repeat toss. Discover your cat's natural behavior.
  • Timing Is Key. You know your cat's habits. Choose a time when you know kitty is up for a game, not when he's down for the count during naptime. While dogs like my Magic tend to go nuts with fetching marathons, remember that cats are masters of the sprint and dash. Ten minutes is a long time in cat-world, and you want to leave Kitty wanting more. Stop the game before the cat calls it quits, and he'll be more likely to ask for a repeat.
  • Copy Cat. Does Sheba want the ball to bounce? Or does Toby paw-wack paper across the room? Make like a cat, and show your pet you understand the game and want to join the fun.
  • Give It A Name. Cats speak with fluffed fur, eye and tail positions, and meows, but certainly understand a variety of human words, too. Link the action to a word-label, to help kitty understand each time the game's at hand, I mean, at paw. Say, "FETCH, Kitty-kitty-kitty!" in a high-pitched, happy tone AFTER you've tossed the toy across the room to entice your cat to bring back the toy. If your cat has already been clicker trained to come when called, use your "come" command linked to the "fetch" word.
  • Reward The Action. For cats that fetch naturally, simply picking up the toy and tossing it again is the reward. If kitty enjoys chasing kibble or other treats across the floor, the reward again is eating it, and then returning to you for a repeat.

If your cat couldn't care less about feline fetching, don't despair. You can still have great fun with other kitty games and interactive toys. And some cats may simply think humans need to pick up after themselves, instead of expecting the cat to bring it back.