Can My Cat Play With Yarn?

Here's why it's not the best idea.

kitten tangled in yarn

You see cats playing around with yarn all the time in cartoons, so it’s easy to assume the stringy material is perfectly safe.

But it turns out that’s the complete opposite of the truth.

Even though cats love batting at the wiggly, soft material, yarn can actually be really dangerous for them.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Kate Blair, a cat veterinarian with T.H.E. Cat Hospital of Marina del Rey in California, to find out just how bad yarn can be for your cat.

Problems with yarn

“It is not safe for cats to play with yarn, string or ribbons because they can easily swallow them and develop serious intestinal problems,” Dr. Blair told The Dodo. “Even though cats seem to adore playing with yarn and string, it is not uncommon for playing to turn into chewing and then swallowing.”

This can cause some serious issues with your cat’s digestive system.

This issue is officially called linear foreign body (in other words, a string-like thing stuck inside your cat), and can result in the yarn cutting through your cat’s intestines or causing other serious damage.

“The yarn can get caught in part of the stomach or intestines and cause ‘bunching’, which can damage subsequent portions of the intestines as the material unsuccessfully tries to move through the digestive tract,” Dr. Blair said.

Signs your cat swallowed yarn

According to Dr. Blair, many surgeries are performed to remove yarn or similar objects when the cat’s family wasn’t even aware they ate it.

If you didn’t catch your cat in the act of eating yarn, here are some signs that she accidentally swallowed it:

  • Lethargy
  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting

“Sometimes, you may notice string coming out of the mouth or your cat’s back end, but this is not common,” Dr. Blair said. “It is much more common for yarn and string to get stuck inside the stomach and intestines or anchored under the tongue.”

What to do if your cat swallows yarn

The absolute first thing you should do is bring your cat to the vet, because swallowing yarn often requires surgery.

“In some cases, vomiting can be induced to remove the foreign material before it causes any further damage. In other cases, surgery is needed to remove the linear material,” Dr. Blair said. (And it goes without saying you should NEVER try to induce vomiting by yourself at home, especially if you don’t know how far down the digestive tract it got.)

Dr. Blair explained that sometimes the vet might even need to remove the part of the intestine. Yikes!

So, it’s important to go to the vet as soon as possible.

But in order to avoid these issues completely, and keep your cat safe, make sure to keep yarn (and similar string-type objects like ribbon or tinsel) away from him.

“There are plenty of safer toys to offer to your kitties to encourage stimulation and play without the risk of a linear foreign body,” she said.

Toy Alternatives

Since so many toys have stringy components, you may be wondering "What's left for my cat to play with?!"

Well, there are still some string-free toys that your BFF will love batting around, according to plenty of rave reviews from fellow pet parents!

Like this tower toy from Chewy for $10.99

Or this chirping bird toy from Chewy for $4.99

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