A cat springs to life and bounces madly about chasing a piece of string dangled by the adoring owner. It’s a cliché image but it’s a cliché for a reason – cats love chasing long, winding objects like yarn, shoelaces or string.
Cats and kittens love playing with and chewing on string, even though this behavior can potentially kill them. Cats adore many things that are not good for them. Sound like any other species we know?
Many better toys than string or yarn are available for cats to play with. Make sure pets play regularly so they do not wind up getting too fat. Fat cats (like fat people) are prone to many health problems like arthritis and heart disease.
Firing up That Predatory Instinct
The domestic cat is the most successful feline on the planet because it can eat a wide array of prey, from moths to birds. Cats need to take advantage of prey no matter when it becomes available. Since getting prey is always unpredictable (in nature, anyway), cats always need to be ready to hunt.
Playing helps keep cats fit and experienced enough to successfully stalk, pounce and kill food. String twitches like mouse tails, snakes, lizards or other small prey, firing the cat’s predatory instincts, making it practically irresistible to cats and kittens.
Our feline friends just don’t realize that they do not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. They always want to keep in shape for the hunt. Trying to reason with a cat about his hunting instinct is not reasonable.
String: Similar to Cat Tails
String is not only similar to small prey or a prey’s intestines but also resembles the cat’s own tail. Cats love to chase their tails, probably because the tail also resembles prey. Playing with their tails also keeps their hunting abilities fine-toned.
Adult cats often grow out of playing with their tails but not playing with string. It is much easier and more satisfying to play with string rather than one’s own tail. It doesn’t hurt so much when you bit it, for example.
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Other Attractions of String
String not only resembles certain kinds of prey, but also gives cats pleasure in other ways. Once cats get this pleasure, they seek string or string-like objects out to get another hit.
Some cats get hooked on a toy’s texture or taste. This includes string. Chewing on it helps reinforce the idea of string-like things being great to hunt and kill in a cat’s mind (or so the theory goes.)
Another theory is that string makes for a more satisfying toy since it is so easily caught, torn apart and eaten – just like real prey. Some toys that cannot be torn apart or cannot even be caught (like flashlight beams) just do not satisfy the hunting urge like long, thin, dangly things can.
Getting Tangled in a Ball of String Is Not so Cute
Cats and kittens have been known to get string wrapped all around their bodies. When they really get in the groove, they are like sharks in a feeding frenzy. The string goes everywhere.
Before the cat knows it, her legs can’t move because the string has wrapped itself so tightly around her. Some cats, sadly, have choked to death because the string got around the neck and a paw. The cat kicks to remove the string and suffocates.
Pets also accidently tie themselves to objects like legs of chairs or household plants or just about anything else you can think of. Cats then panic, pulling the object down or dragging it. This can injure the cat in a variety of ways.
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Other Dangers of String
It is a common misconception that cats instinctively now what is good for them. If cats knew that, then they would never drink milk, eat poisonous houseplants like poinsettias or play with string. Arguably, even if cats did know string was bad for them, they’d still play with it anyway.
Make no mistake — string kills cats. Just watch Kitty tear at a thread. She bats it, kicks it, carries it away and then “disembowels” it by tearing it apart.
Cats inevitably swallow some string when playing with it. String gets wrapped around the tongue or, even more dangerously, around the intestines. The string cuts off blood flow to the area and it dies, unless surgery is performed to remove the offensive object.
Not Just String
String isn’t the only dangerous plaything that can kill cats or kittens. Anything long, thin and easily shredded by feline teeth also are killers. These include, but are not limited to:
- Fraying rope
- Frilly ends on pillows, rugs or clothes
- Pull-cords for drapes or curtains
- Christmas tree tinsel
- Fishing line
- Any strings attached to cat toys
- Well-loved pet toys that are falling apart and create strings or loose threads
- Any loose edges of carpets or rugs that produce string-like threads
- Twist ties – especially the long ones used for trash bags
- Rubber bands or any other kind of electrical band
- Electrical cords – especially if they are plugged in.
Cats just cannot resist chewing on these things. Cat caretakers need to check the home regularly for long, dangly things that may prove irresistible to a bored cat. Remove these things immediately.
One good way to check for dangerous dangly objects is to get down on hands and knees to see the world from Kitty’s point of view. This may make you feel silly at first but can help you potentially save your feline friend’s life.
What If You See String Dangling from Your Kitty’s Mouth?
Your cat is coughing or pawing at her mouth. You look and see a long thread dangling from your cat’s mouth. No matter what your cat does, she can’t dislodge it.
Tempted to pull it out for her? Don’t! The end of the string you can’t see may be wrapped around part of your cat’s insides.
Consider this an emergency medical situation. Call the vet and get her to the office right away. Let professionals handle this.
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Treatment for Cats That Swallow String
Felines with string problems need serious treatment quickly. First, they need diagnostic tests like ultrasounds or x-rays so the vet can see exactly where the string is. This helps the vet plan for how to remove the string.
If the string is just wrapped around the tongue or the teeth, then surgery is usually not necessary. The cat may still need to be anesthetized so the string can be removed quickly without unduly stressing the cat, which will be plenty stressed enough as it is.
Some string may be removed with very small forceps. Surgery is the last option for removing string and any dead portions of skin or intestine caused by the string.
Better Kitty Toy Options
Fortunately, websites and stores brim with different kinds of cat toys that do not involve string. Still check all toys for small pieces like tiny bells that a cat could choke on. No matter what kind of toy it is, a cat will usually figure out how to get it in his mouth.
Great Kitty Toys Include:
- Feather danglers
- Catnip mice
- Sisal toys
- The light from a flashlight
- Laser toys
- Paper bags
- The cat’s own tail
- Empty, open cardboard boxes
- Rolled up balls of tin foil.
Check the toys each day for wear or turning into small bits that the cat could swallow. Replace these toys with new ones immediately. Rubbing new toys with catnip helps some cats like new toys quickly.
Other Safety Tips
You know string kills cats. However, not everyone in your household may know. Be sure to lay down the law with everyone in the home, especially children, so that no one uses string to play with your cat.
Hiring a pet sitter while you go on a much-needed vacation? Make sure the sitter knows what toys are appropriate for your feline friends and what are not.
Getting home improvements done? Cats are geniuses for getting into trouble with wires and other dangerous materials. Quarantine all kitties in one room while work is being done so cats do not make toys out of construction materials.
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All pets need to be active in order to be healthy and happy. String seems at first like a cheap toy that cats love to bits. Unfortunately, string and string-like objects kill many cats and kittens each year.
By all means, play with your cat, but be sure to use toys that will not wrap around a cat’s mouth or intestines like string or thread can. Be sure to replace any cat toys that start to fall apart – no matter how much that toy is loved by your cat.
Also go around your home to check for tempting string-like things and remove them or cover them up so Kitty cannot get her teeth into them. Make sure everyone in the home knows about what are safe toys for Kitty and what are not.
Product data was last updated on 2023-06-06.
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"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
-- Terry Pratchett