You’ll find pictures of kittens playing with balls of yarn all over the internet, in magazines and in advertisements. It has become an image as classic as kittens lapping at a saucer of milk. It’s very odd though that these two very classic, cute and seemingly harmless activities are actually not healthy.
In previous articles I’ve discussed how milk is not needed by cats once they’re weaned from the mother and that cats actually become lactose intolerant. In today’s article, I want to focus on the dangers of having that cute little kitten playing with a ball of yarn.
It’s Fun, but at What Risk to Your Cat?
You can certainly understand the appeal of a ball of yarn when it comes to kitten playtime. The yarn is light, easy to bat around and many people already have balls of yarn somewhere in their home. What kitten could resist the movement of the ball of yarn as a cat parent crochets or knits? It’s easy for new cat parents to automatically think that the kitten would completely enjoy chasing the ball of yarn as it rolls around the room, unraveling as it goes.
Choking and Internal Blockage Danger to Cats
What some new cat parents may not know though is that the yarn, if swallowed, can become a serious choking hazard. Cats have backward-facing barbs on their tongues. These barbs are what give the cat’s tongue that scratchy texture. The barbs are used to help remove dead hair, dirt and any external parasites from the cat’s coat. For outdoor cats who hunt, the barbs help rasp the meat from the bones of captured prey. As efficient as the barbs are when it comes to certain functions, their positioning make it impossible for the cat to spit anything out that gets caught on the tongue. Because of the way the barbs face, anything that lands on the tongue has only one direction to go… down. It’s easy for yarn or string to get caught on the tongue without the cat parent being aware. The next thing you know, the cat has swallowed it or is trying to swallow it.
Once swallowed, the yarn can end up causing a blockage anywhere from the throat to the intestines. It can pull at the intestines and actually cause a tear.
A Cat Getting Tangled
During playtime, your cat could easily become entangled in the yarn or string which creates a potential strangulation risk. Even just getting a paw tangled up in the yarn can cause injury.
Interactive toys that are based on a fishing pole design are great tools for playtime with your cat but they should never be left out because they pose the same danger. Your cat could easily chew on the string of the toy or get tangled up in it. I’ve seen cats go running through the house in total panic because a toy is wound around a leg or even the neck. Should the end of the toy get caught up on something as the cat is running the end result could be tragic. Make sure all interactive toys are kept in a closet or drawer where the cat can’t gain access and that playtime with these toys is always supervised.
Other Stringed Dangers for Cats
Yarn and fishing pole-type toys aren’t the only string-related dangers. Rubber bands, ribbon, ponytail holders, thread and even feathers create the same risk. In the case of thread, there’s the added danger of a needle being potentially attached when swallowed by the cat.
What Should You do If Your Cat Has Swallowed Yarn or String?
When you open your cat’s mouth, if you can’t see the end of the string, don’t pull it out because you don’t know how much has been swallowed and you could cause more damage. Get your cat to the veterinarian right away. If you see string or yarn hanging out of the back end of your cat, don’t pull it. Again, the action to take is to get your cat to the veterinarian.
Better Safe Than Sorry When it Comes to Your Cat
There are many safe toys available that can be left out for your cat’s solo playtime. When purchasing toys, check for loosely glued parts, strings or anything else that could be a potential choking hazard. Keep all sewing and knitting items put away and out of reach. Place rubber bands and other small objects that can be swallowed, safety put away because to a curious and playful kitty, these are often too enticing to resist.
Need More Information?
For more information on kitten-proofing, or to learn about safe ways to play with your cat, refer to the best-selling books by Pam Johnson-Bennett. Pam’s books are available at bookstores everywhere, through your favorite online book retail site and also here on our website.
Due to Pam’s scheduling demands, we’re sorry but she is unable to respond to questions or remarks posted in the comment section. If you have a question about cat behavior, you can find many answers in the articles Pam writes for the website as well as in her best-selling books.