Cats like to play with lots of things but for some reason string, and its relatives (shoelaces, dental floss, macrame wall hangings, etc.), are absolutely irresistible. So why do cats like to play with string so much? There are a variety of answers ranging from “it’s in their nature” to “it’s just plain fun, silly”!
Let’s explore the reasons and find out if we need to worry about the safety of cats playing with string—we’ll even delve into some fun alternatives. OK, without stringing you along any longer, here goes…
Why Do Cats Like To Play With String?
The basic reason cats like to play with string is because it’s fun. But there are some other interesting reasons as well:
- Learning: cats learn from others through observation and play. Play is fun, it’s essential to bonding, and it’s also great training for the next thing on the list…
- Prey drive: cats are consummate hunters. Though they may laze about most of the day, their entire beings were crafted to be the ultimate hunting machines. Those teeth. Those claws. Those tails!
- Stimulation of the senses: cats learn a lot about their worlds through what they see, smell, taste, and touch. String moves in interesting visual ways; it generally has a smell that is different from other things in a cat’s world (especially if it’s a natural fibre); it has a taste and texture, and feels good to grab onto. Kind of like a mouse tail!
- Stimulation in general: All cats need love but they also need physical and mental stimulation. Playing can help reduce boredom, and potentially, anxiety in cats. It’s also an amazing way to bond with you, as their favourite person—of course.
When String Play Might Not Be Good For Your Cat
Throwing a ball of yarn out for your cat can be a lot of fun as long as it’s supervised play. If you can’t keep your eye on them—and be responsible for the safe storage of said plaything—it’s best to avoid string play.
“Any string can pose a hazard to cats because if they ingest it, it can cause an intestinal blockage which can be deadly, as it does not allow things to pass through the digestive tract,” cautions Dr. Mikel Delgado, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist and Certified Cat Behaviour Consultant.
“Cats’ tongues have backwards pointing barbs on them, so when they start swallowing something like string, the tongue actually makes it difficult for cats to spit out string once they’ve started swallowing it,” Delgado explains. “If you think your cat has swallowed string or has lost their appetite, is vomiting, or appears to be in pain, contact your veterinarian right away.”
Of course, most cat toys with string on them have very short strands that would not pose such hazards. But there are some other string-like things around your home that might be dangerous if they get into the wrong paws.
1. Device power cords
Most households have many devices, as well as cords for charging them. Because these cables can be long and thin, like string, they can easily attract the attention of a curious cat. The danger here isn’t so much in a cat ingesting the cord, it’s the fact that they’re generally plugged into electricity. So, it’s a good idea to ensure that any long, thin cords are kept out of your pet’s reach.
2. Dental floss
We’re all taught to floss well and floss often, but that floss can easily, and inadvertently, end up in the paws of your cat. In addition to being the type of material Dr. Delgado warns against, many dental flosses are treated with essential oils, which can be poisonous to cats. To keep your cat away from dental floss dangers, a closed-top bin in the bathroom is a great idea.
3. Wall hangings
Woven and macrame wall hangings can make your house look beautiful but they can also be irresistible temptations to string-loving cats. Be sure to hang these items out of the reach of your cat so that they don’t end up in your pet’s tummy.
4. Rubber bands
It’s easy to forget about those rubber bands you left on the counter after putting flowers in a vase. Rubber bands smell, feel, look, and taste exciting to cats, who will have lots of fun playing with them given the chance. But it’s absolutely not something you want your pet ingesting, so make sure you get rid of them or store them safely away from prying paws.
Four Safe Alternatives to String
Most fun kitty toys have been tested for safety so if there’s a little string attached to one of them, don’t fret. There are also some great string-less options that cats love which include:
- Feather toys: These stick toys (with, yes, a little bit of string) provide whirring, spinning, feathery fun for your cat which will stimulate all of their senses. Pro tip: When not in use, store it out of reach of your pet to make sure they don’t eat the string part or break the toy.
- Fabric wand toys: Wand toys with long, string-like teasers on the end mimic the wiggles of string but are too big to easily eat. Fun for everyone!
- Laser toys: Laser toys are fun and you don’t have to worry about kitty eating a thing. These can frustrate some cats as they never “catch” their prey. If you use laser toys, be sure at some point there is something for your pet to catch—toy mice and crackle balls can do the trick.
- Action toys: These are toys that cats can’t refuse because they are constantly in motion. A favourite is the simple cat teaser which is a length of wire with little tubes of paper on the ends. They move endlessly and therefore attract plenty of attention—especially if you move them around a lot (try securing one end in the crack of a closed door). Bonus: these generally cost under £3!
There’s nothing more beautiful than a cat playing. Cats are endlessly interesting, flexible, talented, and entertaining when playing and the greatest reward is knowing you’ve done your part in providing this vital fun and enrichment—without any worry.
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