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Feathers, Catnip and Strings, Oh My! Giving Your Cat Pet-Safe Toys

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on April 12, 2019
Posted in Parent Help

Cats love to play with toys of all kinds. But, much like a parent of a child needs to be careful about what toys are safe, so do pet parents when choosing playthings for their kittens and adult cats.

There are a lot of cat toys available on the market, but not all of them are right for your furry friend. Next time you are looking for a cute toy to entertain your kitty, be mindful of which are safe and which might pose a hazard to your cat’s health.

Age matters

To understand which toys are safe and which are not, it’s important to remember that age can make a difference. Toys that are perfectly safe for adult cats may be dangerous for kittens. The age and size of your cat will determine whether it can safely interact with a toy.

Some kitten toys can pose a threat to adult cats, as well. Since kitten toys are generally smaller, adult cats could choke or swallow them, causing intestinal blockages or other gastrointestinal problems. Always be cautious about the size of a toy before giving it to your cat, especially in the case of balls.

Potentially dangerous toys

Some toys are hazardous to cats of all sizes and ages and should be avoided at all costs. While these toys may appear “popular,” many vets recommend you steer clear because of their potential risks.

  • String: Years ago, images of cats chasing a ball of yarn were standard, since cats love to chase and play with fluidly moving strings. However, balls of yarn or toys with loose strings of any kind are not safe cat toys. Cats have a tendency to ingest loose strings. This can quickly cause a health problem as the string travels through the digestive tract. String can bunch up into knots that cause intestinal blockages or get stuck in the mouth and pull on the intestines.
  • Feathers: Feathers are often found at the end of “fishing pole”-style toys, which attach a toy to the end of a string on a stick. While fishing pole-type toys can be a lot of fun for your cat to play with, you’ll want to make sure that a larger toy is at the end of the string, not feathers. Feathers can easily be bitten and swallowed, causing blockages or digestive issues. Feathers also have sharp ends that can cut your cat’s mouth and throat. Additionally, if you’re using one of these stick toys, be sure to put it away after you’re done using it, no matter what is at the end. This ensures your cat cannot get it and gnaw on the string.
  • “Found” objects: Cats have a knack for finding small objects around the home and making them their new playthings, such as hair ties, rubber bands, milk rings and bottle caps. However, you should be careful to take these away immediately and not let your cat play with them. Found objects, especially small ones like rubber bands, are easily swallowed and pose a choking hazard.

Safe toys

There are many toys available today that are generally safe for cats. However, it’s important that you check on the toy’s condition once in a while and supervise your cat when possible to ensure that your cat stays safe.

  • Stuffed toys: Animal toys filled with stuffing can be good choices for cats, as long as your cat doesn’t like to rip toys apart with its claws or teeth. These toys imitate prey, such as mice and birds, and let your cat pounce and “kill” them. However, all stuffed toys should have non-toxic materials inside and be sewn together tightly. Avoid toys that are stuffed with polystyrene beads or nutshells. Also, make sure the toy doesn’t have small bells, buttons or googly eyes that can be bitten off and swallowed.
  • Cat trees: Cat trees are a staple in many cat homes as a space for four-legged friends to leap up to and rest on a high perch. However, they may not be safe for kittens, who are much less coordinated than adult cats. If your kitten is younger than a few months old, don’t give them a cat tree.
  • Laser pointers: Cats love to chase tiny beams of light around your home. “Stalking” the light lets your cat tap into its predatory instincts, and some cats could run and paw at the small red dot from a laser pointer all day! Playing with your cat using a laser pointer or flashlight is generally safe, but always avoid shining the light in your cat’s eyes and make sure the cat has ample space to run around without bumping into things or getting stuck. Also, be aware that chasing a laser pointer might be a lot of fun for cats, but some cats can get frustrated with their inability to actually catch their “prey.” To appease this desire, give your cat a treat or a physical toy after you turn the laser pointer off.

Playing with your cat and giving it toys is great for mental and physical stimulation, as well as bonding with your feline friend. However, always make sure to choose your toys carefully to ensure your cat’s safety.

Read also: Your Cat Got Outside and Wandered Off… Now What?

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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