Although cats like yarn and cats and yarn are still often depicted together, yarn is not a safe toy for any cat.
We’ll take a look at the dangers that come with yarn, string, cooking twine, ribbons, thread, hair ties, and even rubber bands, and how you can protect your cat, while still finding acceptable and safe toys.
Choking & Obstruction
A cat playing with yarn isn’t usually trying to eat it, but it can get stuck on their tongue, and they can’t get it out, so they inadvertently swallow it. If it’s a big enough wad, your cat could start choking, and they’ll need help immediately to get the yarn out of their mouth or throat.
Even bigger than the risk of choking, is the chances for a gastrointestinal (GI) tract obstruction. This happens when your cat swallows a foreign body that doesn’t naturally pass and it gets stuck in the GI tract. Obstructions can be life-threatening.
Yarn (along with other string-like materials) can not only get stuck in the intestines, but can also cause damage to the intestinal wall as the cat’s body tries to pass it, causing an infection.
Symptoms of an obstruction include vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite, retching (vomiting but nothing coming up), diarrhea, abdominal pain or swelling, and dehydration. If you even suspect your cat might have consumed a foreign body, reach out to your vet immediately.
Upon examination, your vet will first check the tongue, because the yarn or string often gets wrapped around the back of the tongue. Your vet can’t remove all of the ingested yarn this way, but they can confirm that the material was swallowed, and will probably cut and remove the piece wrapped around the cat’s tongue.
Sometimes a vet will order an X-ray, but if they already know a foreign object was consumed, they may order an ultrasound so they find the exact spot where it’s located.
The vet may suggest a “wait and see” approach if they think the foreign body will pass on its own, or suggest immediate surgery to remove it.
The bottom line is, playing with yarn it’s not worth the risk, expense, and stress of an obstruction.
You know how crazy cats can be when they play, and if they play with yarn, string, or ribbon, they run the risk of getting tangled. They are also known for spazzing and running around frantically when they’re tangled in something, which could make any problem worse.
Tightness on limbs or even around the neck is extremely dangerous, and can come with the risk of losing a limb or suffocation.
How to Stay Safe
There are a few extra precautions you can take to keep your kitties safe. Please make sure everyone in your home, especially children and guests, follow your guidelines. Pay extra attention around holidays and parties when you have people who aren’t normally in your home visiting.
- Never leave any string-like material out. Never!
- Put all rubber bands, cooking twine, and rubber bands in a drawer in the kitchen so it’s close by, but securely put away.
- Place hair ties safely in a container or drawer in a bathroom or nightstand.
- Keep ribbons, yarn, and thread put away with the rest of your sewing or craft items.
- Be careful if you have a mischievous cat that knows how to open cabinets, drawers or doors. If that’s the case, you may want to use totes instead.
- Keep holiday gifts with ribbon in the closet until they’re ready to be gifted. You may also opt not to use ribbon on gifts – big bows still have a nice presentation and are safer.
- Frequently check under your furniture for toys or piles of hair ties, rubber bands, etc. Some cats are known to hoard these items. If you find a pile, check the entire house to find out where your cat has access to them and made adjustments.
Assess the Risk of All Toys
There are plenty of safe and fun toys for your cat that don’t come with such big risks, like crinkle balls, wands, kickers, and tiny mice. I say “such big risks” because I think it’s important to know that any object has the potential to harm a human or animal under certain circumstances.
Wand toys are safe and fun, however, it is possible your cat could get entangled in it. While your cat won’t likely eat a toy, a piece can break off and your cat could accidentally consume it and get an obstruction.
Some cats also like to chew on stringy things, and most toy mice have tails, so these types of cats may chew the tail off.
This isn’t to make you paranoid, but even if you have safe cat toys, if you see your cat consume something they shouldn’t, or your cat has the symptoms of an obstruction, call your vet immediately.
And if you notice your cat chewing too much on a certain type of toy (ex. trying to eat feathers off a toy), remove the toy and avoid purchasing items like that moving forward. Not every cat toy is a fit for every cat, and that’s okay.
Yarn should never be used as a toy. If a cat plays with it, there’s a chance of choking, a GI obstruction, or entanglement, all of which are life-threatening. Create healthy habits in your home of putting away any string-like material, and teach guests to be aware also.
Lastly, get toys that are designed for cats, and always keep a close eye on how your cat’s playing with all toys. Taking all of these actions will help your cat stay safe.
Allen, Meredith. PetCareRx, How to Identify a Cat Bowel Obstruction.
Heckler, Andrea. The Cat Society, The Scary Reason Why You Should Never Let Your Cat Play With Yarn.
Kruzer, Adrienne. The Spruce Pets, Why Yarn Is Not a Safe Toy for Cats.
Article by Elizabeth Ann 🙋♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist