Why Cats And String Are A Really Bad Idea

Article Featured on THE DODO | By Christian Cotroneo
We’re usually content to let cats be a universe unto themselves.
But if we could have a word with one of these purring puzzle boxes, and ask just one question, it might be this:
What’s up with the string?
Seriously, cat?
We’ve seen dogs get down with all kinds of toys — and in some cases, just that one special toy.
But the feline fascination with a piece of string? It just seems so … basic. Could it be connected to an invisible mouse in a dimension only cats can see?
Well, actually, Megan Sorbara, president of the Naples Cat Alliance, says there might be a mouse involved — in the cat’s imagination.
“Maybe it is because it’s reminiscent of mice tails or snakes, which they also hunt, very successfully, I might add,” Sorbara tells The Dodo. “If the owner is interacting with the string and the cat, it could be the simulation of ground animals, like mice, moles and rodents.
“I think it’s really on the movement of the string and not so much the actual material.”
Mohammad-Zadeh, a veterinarian at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital, also suggests strings can be seductively similar to tails.
“Most of the toys that attract cats tap into their innate predatory sense,” she tells The Dodo. “String is interesting to cats because it wiggles and moves as they play with it. It can be unpredictable and it’s more of a challenge to ‘hunt.'”
The thing is, cats may know all about hidden dimensions, invisible mice and … GHOSTS!
But when it comes to string, they’re dangerously naive.
“It is really bad for them to play with string,” Sorbara says. “If they ingest it, it will wrap around their intestines and if not caught in time, they will die.”
Likewise, Erick Mears, a veterinarian at BluePearl Veterinary Partners, may not be able to explain why string has such a strong pull on the feline heart — but has seen what it does to other internal organs at the emergency clinic.
“I’ve seen string, I’ve seen ribbon, I’ve seen tinsel,” Mears, who specializes in internal medicine, tells The Dodo.
And, he adds, if a cat does swallow string, it’s vital that you don’t pull it out yourself. It’s usually much more complicated on the inside — with string wrapping itself around internal organs and even getting caught behind the cat’s tongue.
“If you see a string coming out of their behind or caught in their mouth, do not pull it,” Mohammad-Zadeh warns. “The end of the string may be attached to something on their insides and can cause serious damage if pulled. Take your cat to see a veterinarian right away.”
Even there, however, removing string is no easy task. Because it isn’t metal, there’s no way to find it with an X-ray. Instead, an ultrasound may be used. Or else, a tiny camera, with even tinier forceps attached, is snaked into the animal to retrieve the string.
Or else, it’s an even more costly — and risky — surgery.
In any event, it’s not a risk worth taking.
Mears reminds cat owners to be very vigilant if they spot their cat playing with a piece of string — and to make sure a pet doesn’t have access to string when you’re not around.
“I cut the string off all toys donated to the shelter, even the little pieces on the tails of stuffed mice,” Sorbara says. “I also cut off all little bells since these are also easily digested.”
While some mysteries of the feline mind may never be unravelled, when it comes to strings, it’s best not to let them get tangled up in the first place.
Consider instead toys that are designed for cats — feather toys, tin foil balls, even lasers.
Good fun. No strings attached.


Oregon Veterinary Specialty Hospital (OVSH) has been serving the Portland and Beaverton area community since 1979. Drs. Steven F. Skinner (Neurology, Neurosurgery) and Robert T. Franklin (Internal medicine.) We welcome referrals from veterinarians all over the Pacific Northwest. Our goal is to help your pet regain health and live a long and happy life.

Oregon Veterinary Specialty Hospital

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