Cat Magically Learns to Play Fetch

I have had my lovely tortoise shell, Gia, for over 8 years. About 4 months ago I discovered a bump on her belly which turned out to be cancerous and we went through the trauma (and crazy medical bills) involved in a full mastectomy and lymph removal of 1/4 of her kitty nipples.

She’s recovered beautifully and has been eating, cuddling and being a real trooper over these last four months. She’s also put on a bit of weight, but the doctor said to expect that because I also had her spayed during the surgery.

Last night, for the first time in my life, I watched Gia carry a small catnip mouse (which we’ve had for months) through the house, mewing, before triumphantly dropping it in front of me.

My boyfriend and son joked that maybe she wanted to play fetch, so I grabbed the mouse and threw it about 8 feet. I’ll be damned if this fat, old cat didn’t haul ass to the corner of the room, grab the mouse and bring it right back to me. So I threw it again. And again. Maybe 5-6 times before my boyfriend decided to try to get in on the fun. “C’mere, Gia!” he cooed and sho’ nuff, she brought the mouse to him and dropped it. They played for a little while until she brought it back to me.

We played fetch with the cat for nearly an hour before she lost interest and took off to worlds unknown (likely to start her kitchen/hallway patrol for the night).

This morning we woke up to find her up on the bed with, you guessed it, that same mouse toy in her mouth. I grabbed it and tossed it and she hightailed it off the bed to go get it. This time, however, she opted not to bring it back. She bunny-kicked it a few times on the floor and then left it there and came back to bed with us.

What the eff?! Everyone thinks this is adorable, but I’m kinda freaked out that she’s displaying a new and playful behavior after being a largely lazy cat her whole life. I feel a bit stupid calling the vet with, “HAY! My cat is playing fetch, do you think she might be dying?”

So I ask you, have you ever had a cat randomly develop a new game this far into their life and if you did, was it a sign of some terrible malady?

If it’s not an indication of illness, this is pretty awesome.

Isn’t it possible that she’s feeling better and is suddenly more frisky?

I had a Shar-pei that was dumb as a bowl of hair that never, EVER played with toys. Not ever, no matter what. Nothing engaged him, he just looked at you like you were nuts if you tried to tempt him. One night about 6 years ago my husband brought a toy home for the other dog in the house and he ran up (RAN. He never ran), snatched it from my husband and acted like a playful puppy for about 10 minutes. We were astounded and didn’t know what to make of it. We were contemplating going out to Wal-mart to get another toy since he stole that one and as quick as he took an interest he let it go and never did it again. He lived to be 13.5 and we never saw him behave like that, just the once. It’s like he was possessed for a little while. Crazy critters.

Two possibilities:

Normal cat behavior is to bring you gifts of dead rodents. I guess the cat realized you did her a huge favor by saving her life, so she was trying to pay you back in mice.

It is possible to train cats to do tricks through typical reward/punishment training, but it sounds like you weren’t giving her rewards or anything for doing it.

The throwing part could be a combination of the former with her basic hunting instincts. She was bringing it to you, when you threw it, she went into hunter mode, then tried to gift it to you again.

Usually, what I do when the cat is giving me a present is to thank the cat profusely and if it’s not crawling with plague, I will touch the item to put my scent on it. That tells the cat I have accepted her gift but decided not to eat it so the cat is welcome to have it. If it is crawling with plague, I make a big show about accepting it and then throwing it away as though the garbage can is my special hiding place.

Possibly relevant story: I had a cat who was addicted to anchovies, so I taught him all sorts of tricks. One trick was to fetch a ping pong ball. That cat was huge, and he could hold a ping pong ball in his mouth, it was scary actually.

My stray-cat-turned-family-member suddenly decided fetch was cool a few weeks after he moved in. His game was hair elastics. The first night, he played fetch so long that I finally got fed up and hid the elastic under the pillow I was attempting to sleep on. I, of course, being a girl, have somewhere in the neighbourhood of two thousand hair elastics in the house - under furniture, on the bathroom floor, in purses etc. Needless to say, the game continued against my will for at least another hour. I woke up with fifty hair elastics under my pillow.

The entire fetching incident wasn’t prompted by us. I’d heard some cats could fetch, but I’d never thought that either of my lazy cats would ever be able to learn.

Dodger still fetches, by the way. We eventually figured out that he would jump for them. He eventually figured out that higher jumps with more flips and twists got him more love.

I had a kitten who also spontaneously played fetch. One day I threw a plastic bottle cap to the trash, but missed. The kitten chased it and brought it back to me, to play again. My mother was living with me at the time, and the kitten would alternate, bringing the bottle cap back to her, then me. Sometimes she’d drop it a little to far for us to reach, so she’d do that little sideways nudge-nudge-nudge with her paw, to move it closer. And she loved to show off, fetching for company.

And one of my current cats does a happy dance. When I come home or go into the kitchen, he lies on his back, slowly rolling back and forth from one side to the other, continuously watching me. I have no idea how he learned that.

My cat doesn’t play fetch, but he does like catching things we toss to him with his front paws.

I’ve had two cats, roughly 30 years apart, that would fetch. The first one, Rajah, was about 2 when we got him and already knew the trick so I don’t know if it was taught to him or just something he came up with. He would only fetch about 3 times in a row before losing interest, giving you a “What’s WRONG with you” look if you tried to keep the game going.

My youngest cat, Bogey (just turned 2), plays fetch. I think he was a few months old when he started. One day I tossed one of those little stuffed mice for him, figuring he’d just bat it around like the other two did, but he picked it up and brought it back. I threw it again. He brought it again. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Little did I know then but I had created a monster. Bogey’s overwhelming characteristic is a great and terrible enthusiasm and there are few things he’s more enthusiastic about than fetch. He will deeter me to death wanting to play and he wants to play a long time. Any time I lean to pick something off the floor, he’s immediately right there because he assumes it HAS to be a mouse and it’s time to play again. It’s a cute trick and it’s funny how excited he gets about it but there are times when I curse the day I ever threw that first mouse.

My oldest nephew cat-sits for me when I’m out of town. He tells me he’ll throw the mouse for him and he’ll play some but Bogey doesn’t bug him about wanting to keep playing. Apparently I am the designated Thrower and no one else merits his painful enthusiasm for the game. Lucky me.

My cat also started to play fetch when she was a kitten - about 6 months old. The behaviour lasted about 2 months then stopped. Perhaps Gia is enjoying a second childhood?

My cat, Desmond has fetched ever since he was tiny. He only does it with the plastic rings from milk jugs. No other toy is worthy of being fetched. I do pet him and call him a good kitty when he fetches to encourage him to keep doing it, but he started the trick all on his own.

I thought that maybe my new kitten (5 months old) would pick up on the skill if he saw Desmond doing it, but the kitten just likes to steal the toy and lay on it or chew on it, much to Desmond’s consternation.

I thought of something I forgot to mention about Bogey and fetch. When he can’t find the mouse, he starts mewing in a plaintive, calling sort of way. Bless his furry little heart, I really think he’s calling the toy and thinks it’ll come to him.

I did find where some of the stuffed mice go, probably desperately hoping for respite from being constantly thrown and triumphantly returned. A few months ago, I upended the couch looking for something. I didn’t find what I was looking for but I did discover a huge number of stuffed mice. I swear, it looked like a cat toy version of Jonestown under there.

And, because it’s a thread about cats, here’s the obligatory picture of Bogey. He’s so cross-eyed it’s a wonder he ever finds the mice.

All of my cats played fetch when they were kittens. All of them outgrew it within the first year.

My oldest cat LOVED to do this with crumpled-up paper. When she got tired of the game, instead of returning the paper ball to be she would drop it in her water bowl, then look at me as if to say “I’m done!”

Maybe it’s just part of the tortie mindset. My tortiseshell cat Marigold will fetch anything you throw, and will even carry her toys to you so she can play fetch. All the while, she’ll be making a high-pitched hunter’s cry.

Marigold was rescued from a barn, so she probably grew up as a hunter. Since the only living thing she’s been able to hunt in the house was a stray mouse that sneaked into the garage (and it probably wasn’t in the house for more than a few seconds; Marigold dispatched it with extreme prejudice), she’s taken to bringing us inanimate objects instead. It’s amusing, but it can be annoying when she does it when you’re on the phone or trying to get work done.

ETA: BTW, Marigold is close to two years old now, and there’s no sign of her slowing down.

I have a black cat that likes to fetch once in awhile. He has to be in the right mood. He’ll chase his toys if you throw them, but only if he’s really in the right mood will he come back.

If he wants to play fetch, he’ll bring one of his toys over – usually a toy mouse or another small stuffed toy – and drop it. Usually it’s just out of reach. I’m a sucker so I’ll sometimes get up to get it, but if I don’t, he’ll pick it up and bring it incrementally closer. Finally, I’ll throw it and he’ll fall over himself going to get it and then bring it back. If he’s really frisky he’ll bring it right to me, otherwise it’s the almost-to-you-but-not-quite game.

He didn’t do this when I first got him – he was a rescue – but started doing it a few months in, so not exactly late in life either. However, he’s about a 3 year old stray, and had been in the shelter for about 8 months, so he wasn’t playing much fetch at least for awhile.

He doesn’t do it much since I got the dog, though; as soon as the cat starts playing with something, my pug gets all excited for playtime and interrupts, and then it’s a lot of wrestling and chasing. However, if I try to play fetch with the dog, the cat will often make the chase too, and just get body-slammed out of the way. :slight_smile:

Doesn’t spaying normally cause behavioral changes?

Whew, I’m so glad to hear all of these stories. I did have a cat named Dillinger who fetched off and on for a couple of weeks when he was a kitten, but I figured it was just a kitten quirk. She’s way too old for kitten quirks.

Really Not All That Bright: Her vet did mention that she’s liable to have a bit of a personality change after the spay and he prepared me for her being a bit lazier and maybe not so mean. She’s a mean, mean cat and has been more or less since I got her as a wee kitten. She loves me to pieces (unless I inadvertently offend her, in which case it’s bunny kicks and hisses for me too) and tolerates my boyfriend. Everyone else is The Enemy™. In fact, she has gotten slightly less mean since her surgery, which is very likely from not just the spay, but the fact that she had the kitty version of PCOS undiagnosed for what might have been years. The vet said her uterus was roughly 6x the size it should be when he removed it. :frowning: We never knew and I put off spaying forever because I couldn’t bear the thought of her being afraid at the vet and hurting afterwards. HUUUGE mistake on my part.

I suppose it is a possibility that she’s feeling better and thus becoming more interested in playtime. A couple of our other cats play with the toy mice, so perhaps she just took it a step further by bringing the mouse to her “hooman”.

Duke: Tortie’s definitely have something special about them, huh? Her vet calls it “tortitude”. I think that’s accurate. Additionally, Marigold is a lovely name for a cat.
**mozchron **and Foldup Rabbit: Your stories are adorable. :slight_smile: The late, great Dillinger had a similar fondness for hair ties his entire life. He didn’t bring them over for fetch, but he did steal them from around the house and then “drown” them in his water bowl.

jjimm: Man, I hope that’s the case. I’d love to time-travel her back to kittenhood so I could get 8 extra years out of her little fluffy lifetime.

SpinyNormaI demand many more pictures of your insanely cute cross-eyed cat. Holy cow, what a cute face!

He’s adorable :smiley:

Well, since you asked, here he is with his two big brothers. This is Boo Radley, the sweetest natured cat in the world. And this is him with my oldest, Bubba, who is definitely* not *the sweetest natured cat in the world.

He’s two (Boo’s three and Bubba’s eight) but he’s still got a very kitten look to him. He’s so cross-eyed that I wonder how he even sees but it doesn’t seem to faze him any.

Guess who’s bugging me for a round or thirty of fetch right this minute.

The cutest marmalade cat in the WORLD, perhaps? :slight_smile:

Thanks for the pictures, what lovely kitties.

My last cat was Puppy-Cat, a lilac Siamese rejected by his mother and raised by a mother dog with her puppies.

Puppy-Cat loved to play fetch anf go for walks on a lease. I figured he learned it from his adoptive brother puppies.