Cats love to play with toys. Toys let them stretch their hunting skills, substituting for prey. Toys challenge them to use their agility and strength in healthy, athletic play. Cats are great dashers, jumpers and leapers, and they really enjoy using these skills to satisfy their inner hunter. They also have great imaginations and can amuse themselves for long stretches at a time. They are superior with light and small objects that they can swat, bat and chase. They are also experts at making their own toys from household objects. A crumpled wad of paper will make them happy.
Because cats do best when they have a variety of toys for different purposes, such as carrying as prey, rolling as with another cat, discovering and fetching, and snuggling with a friend, rotating toys is advised. It’s very much the same process as parents rotating toys with very young children to keep them amused. Cat’s enjoy finding toys on their own.
But owners often enjoy buying toys for their favorite cats, and bring home treasures and trophies to give them something new to experience. Wise owners know that boredom is a common state with cats. The trick is to limit cat toys to those which will not hurt them, whether bought in a store or found at home. Here are 20 toys which, though perennial favorites, still come with risks included.
1. Tiny toy mice
Cats like to shred them and get into the stuffing inside. Cats consider these mice their prey, and they are instinctively hardwired by nature to attack and then destroy prey. Cats with long sharp claws can often shred the outer fabric which holds the mice together. Once inside, the stuffing is often made of batting which sticks to the cat’s tongue and mouth. If the cat manages to swallow, it can literally choke on the fluffy stuff. Even worse, when metal bells are placed inside to attract the cat’s attention, these can be toxic and harm the stomach when the cat ingests a bell. The metal in the bells can break down into toxic substances and harm not only the cat’s stomach lining but it’s overall health. A better choice is to make homemade toy mice using felt and stuffing them with catnip. Being certain to make the mice bigger than the cat can fit into its mouth is the best way to make the safest size.
2. Balls of cellophane
Many items come packaged in cellophane wrappers these days. It’s quite common to have items shipped in plastic sleeves to protect them from getting wet. Many goods are packaged from the start to keep moisture and dampness from causing mildew and odors. We generally remove these packaging plastics for recycling, but for a cat, the crunchy sounds and textures are very attractive. Intrepid cats may use a nicely placed claw to fish a ball of plastic wrapping or cellophane tape out of a trash bin.
Particularly dangerous are the bits of cellophane used as cigarette wrappers. Cats love to play with these items. But these thin plastics are not digestible and can become like glass when mixed with the digestive liquids present inside a cat’s stomach. The edges can easily cause cuts, which in turn lead to internal hemorrhages and death.
3. Rubber cat toys, rubber flip flops, rubber bands
The primary problem with these simple things is that cats enjoy chewing. There are cases where cats end up chewing off bits and pieces of these items and end up in emergency surgery for intestinal blockages. Rubber doesn’t digest, and it doesn’t always pass through the intestinal tract harmlessly. Additional rubber items to keep away from cats include rubber turkey basters and pop-up turkey thermometers.
4. Elastic hair ties
These are the kind used to hold hair in ponytails. The small loops are highly attractive to cats. Some cats have been known to collect and hoard them under sofa or seat cushions. Cats like the flexible loops because they can sink their teeth and claws into them and carry them. Problems begin in two ways. When cats get the loops stuck on their teeth, they often will try to chew them, and end up swallowing them. The loops get stuck in their stomach or intestines and need to be surgically removed. One poor cat who had a hair tie fetish ingested so many that his owner had to rush him into emergency surgery at a cost of $4,000. A section of the cat’s intestines had to be removed and the poor thing almost died.
Cats whose claws sink into the loops may hurt their paws when the loops twist their claws or yank them out completely, which is extremely painful. Some cats have injured their paws when trying to run away from loops, only to end up tripping on them instead, and breaking a toe or two.
5. Peek-and-Play Toys
These toys are designed to give cats a chance to find balls hiding inside a box or other object. There are holes which allow the cat to reach into the object to catch the balls, which are often rolling around at different levels. While grown cats can generally get a paw fully inside the holes to bat at the balls, kittens are usually small enough to get an entire arm inside. The problem is that they also can get stuck inside. Some kittens have been seen putting their entire heads inside. A few have managed to get their entire bodies inside, and then become painfully pinched in the inside space or completely stuck. Once this happens, a kitten will become very frightened, and getting it out may be quite hard and possible painful. Nothing is as difficult to re-route as a squirming ball of fur with claws.
6. Feather Toys
Feather toys are high on the list of popularity with cats. They adore stalking their prey, and feathers on string are irresistible to them. But feathers have sharp points on their quill ends, and these can cause mouth lacerations. Cats can also choke on the soft, fluffy down feathers. Owners usually discover their cat eating them when feathers are already too far down the throat to retrieve…just a bit of tiny feathers may be sticking out between licking lips. It’s best to only allow feather toys to be used during supervised play time, or as some vets recommend; to not have them at all.
7. Strings and Ribbons
Cats love to chew on things. However, their tongues are different than ours. They have tiny barbs on the surface of their tongues which face backward toward their throats. These same barbs line the roof of their mouths. Cats cannot spit things out. They can only swallow. As soon as they start to swallow a length of string, they will continue to swallow more because they can’t stop. This is where the huge problem is. Any length of string can cause cats to choke. It can also get caught inside their digestive system where it can cause a critical blockage.
Though kittens and cats adore playing with yarn, they can get caught in it. It happens when their play causes the balls of yarn to unroll long lengths. The longer length of yarn can wrap around their neck, and this can cause them to strangle in it. Sometimes, lengths of yarn will wrap around a paw or another body part. The yarn can hurt them because it doesn’t stretch…it may feel soft, but it is strong enough to cut off circulation. If the cat panics, the yarn can pinch tightly and they may hurt themselves trying to get away. Just like string, they can also choke or damage their intestines when long lengths are swallowed by accident. What’s even worse, is that lengths of yarn can attach to the cat’s intestinal wall and literally saw through it. The only solution is emergency surgery at a veterinary hospital.
9. Dental Floss, sewing thread, and Christmas tree tinsel
These three items are problematic, just like yarn and string. The major difference is that they are quite thin and much more easily wrapped around rear teeth and claws. Once entangled, cats need help to get free, and will often run away from well-meaning owners who are trying to help them. Not only do these three items cause choking and intestinal problems, they can damage the claws and teeth. Tinsel, in particular, if metallic, can cause serious chemical issues when in contact with the cat’s digestive juices.
We may think of our pills as beneficial medication, but to a cat, a stray pill on the floor is an invitation to play. They do not understand the danger of the ingredients, and may try to bite pills as part of their play time. Unfortunately, nothing is so captivating to a cat as a tiny pill rolling across the floor. But human medicines are lethal to cats, and it is crucial that they not find them and swallow them.
11. Rattling balls
These are made of Styrofoam. The core is hollowed out so that a noisemaker can be inserted. Usually it’s a plastic bit with something loose inside. Then, the entire Styrofoam ball is covered with fabric. These are very dangerous for cats because they are able to claw through the fabric. Once they’ve torn an opening, they can chew and swallow bits and pieces of the foam, which can cause intestinal blockage. The same is true for the plastic rattle inside, which can tear and puncture the cat’s intestinal tract.
12. Children’s toys
Because cats are always on the look-out for prey, they will often discover a child’s stuffed animal, doll or other toy and steal it. They can be seen skulking through the house, dragging a child’s toy in their mouth, headed toward a favorite place. Once arrived with their prize, they may set about chewing on it and pawing at it to rip it to shreds. It’s typical cat behavior. But when the toy has small parts such as bead-like eyeballs, loose clothing, or plastic items small enough to chew, a cat will chew. Small parts always are dangerous for cats, as they can hurt their teeth, or swallow them, and there is no guarantee that what when in one end will come safely out the other end.
13. Plastic straws
There are some cats who share the human eating disorder known as pica. Just as people chew or eat non-food items to relieve anxiety or due to medical or emotional issues, cats do also. Veterinarians occasionally see cat patients who enjoy chewing plastic. Cats like to bat around straws, milk jug rings, mini-blind cords, juice caps and similar items. They like these toys because they are light, easy to chase, and move in unpredictable ways.
But, sometimes, cats who feel stress, have dental diseases or disorders in their gastrointestinal tracts will sometimes develop the habit of chewing on these items. This can cause gum trauma, endanger the mouth’s soft tissues, and also obstruct their intestinal tract. Plastic straws are easy to chew because the plastic is thinner and softer than the other common items cats tend to find and chew. It’s best to keep straws away from them. To understand the behavior, vets say that cats get the same reduction of anxiety that people do when they chew their nails. For both cats and people, chewing things is basically a form of coping mechanism that helps them reduce their stress levels.
14. Catnip-filled toys
This one is surprising because most cats enjoy it. Feline veterinarians say that catnip is a safe and non-addicting treat to give to a cat. The problem with catnip arises with how its handled. When improperly stored, it can develop mold, which can cause gastrointestinal upsets. If herbicides or pesticides are used on plants before harvesting can also lead to side effects. Cats made ill from black-market catnip can stop eating, drool, or have diarrhea. The best catnip comes from toy makers based in the United States using herbs grown by the company.
15. Dangling Toys
These toys generally hang from a doorknob or over a table edge. They present two kinds of risk for cats, including strangling and swallowing the string. The dangling toys can have very long strings which make it easy for cats to become tangled. Cats tend to react very quickly when they become tangled, and they struggle fiercely to get free. During a struggle, they are very susceptible to hanging themselves. Most vets recommend only using these toys while cats are supervised, and then putting the toy away when not in use.
16. Plastic and paper bags with handles
Empty bags are fun for cats because they are curious by nature. They enjoy poking inside bags to see what’s inside, and they also enjoy hiding inside. What makes these dangerous is that cats often get their legs tangled up in the handles. Plastic is the most dangerous for them because it can completely enclose a cat, sticking to its fur coat. Then, the cat can become frantic because it can’t get out of the bag. Cats also like to chew and then swallow the plastic. Avoid these problems by putting plastic bags away immediately. Paper bags are great toys as long as the handles are removed.
17. Dry cleaner bags
Nothing makes a cat happier than pouncing on plastic dry cleaner bags. These long and flowing plastic garment covers are light weight and easy to manipulate. Cats have been seen using them to slip and slide on, just like ice skates, and they enjoy rolling on top of the fluffy and slick surfaces. Playing peek-a-boo through the many layers can be intoxicating for them. Unfortunately, they should never be allowed to play in them because all the qualities that make the floating plastic so attractive to cats are the things which can contribute to their deaths. The most common cause of death is when a cat suffocates inside because it has become entangled in the many layers and cannot get out. The plastic is very pliable, easy to tear, but also just as easy to stretch. Paws and teeth become entangled much more quickly than with other materials and it’s much more difficult to escape the clingy surface. Plastic dry cleaner bags should be removed from garments and recycled immediately to keep them away from the cats who will love them to death.
18. Stuffed soft toys
When filled with polystyrene beads, beans, nutshells or soft batting, these can become very dangerous if the cat manages to tear the toy open. If the stuffing spills out, it can cause choking. The very small items can also cause intestinal damage, and these are the most dangerous to cats because it is very easy for the cat to swallow tiny things whole. These small toys are colorful and cute, and often come with multiples in one bag, so they seem to be a good value. But, the smaller size isn’t worth the cheaper price, because of the danger they pose. It’s better to purchase one or two larger toys that aren’t easily swallowed whole, if the decision to buy these toys is made at all.
19. Tall Cat Jungle Gyms
Because it’s well-known that cats love to climb to the highest places in the house, many owners enjoy buying tall cat jungle gyms. The idea is that cats will prefer their own cat tree and leave the furniture, book shelves, closets and refrigerators alone. These structures generally come with soft places to perch or nap, and textured materials they can use to claw and climb. The danger comes when the cat tree is not secured to the floor, because it can fall over and pull the cat down with it, causing injury. Not all cats are great climbers, and many do fall from heights. Cats can lose their grip, even with claws. Many owners also discover, to their dismay, that their cat never goes near the cat tree; preferring to choose its own favorite climbing spots.
20. Any very tiny ball; such as sparkle balls
Cats enjoy chasing balls, but they should not be allowed to play with ones that are so tiny that they could accidentally be inhaled or swallowed. Cats do not always vomit them up, and this can cause the balls to move further into the intestines, requiring surgical removal. The best sizes are practice golf balls with holes or ping pong balls. These are both light weight as well, and easy for even kittens to use. Experts recommend putting a ball in the bathtub with a kitten, so that they can chase them round and round in an enclosed space. It’s also fun to put a ball inside an empty tissue box and let a cat try to get it out.