How to Get a Cat to Play With String – Catmart
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How to Get a Cat to Play With String

Cats are independent, and sometimes they don’t want to play. But sometimes, the problem is that you’re playing with them wrong. So how can you play with string so that you get your cat’s interest? And should cats play with string at all?

How do you get a cat to play with string? Practise wiggling the string from side to side to entice the cat. Move it slowly away from the cat, allowing it to catch on the floor (which works best if you have carpet) so that it can move in a jerky, unpredictable fashion. Then, hide it around a corner to pique your cat’s curiosity. While cats love string, it’s not the best toy for them, as they can chew it and it can cause intestinal obstruction. It’s also not satisfying for your cat to catch, bite and kick. Consider other toys like feathers or fabric mice instead.

The guide below is a quick and simple one. First, we’ll look at how to play with a cat with string; if you’re struggling, we’ll show you how. But we’ll also look at what makes string bad for cats, so that you can come to an informed decision on whether to play with it or not.

How to Play With a Cat With String

Not all cats take naturally to playing, and not all people take naturally to playing with cats. That’s why we’ve written this guide! If your cat is very playful and already plays with other kinds of toy, then you could probably just show it some string and it would play with it.

But if yours isn’t one of those cats, our guide below is for you.

Why Do Cats Like String?

To understand why cats play with string, you first have to understand why cats play at all, and what it is about string that pushes that button.

The purpose of play is to simulate hunting. All cats learn to play when they’re kittens, and it’s a crucial way of developing their muscles and their minds for hunting. Play fighting is useful too, obviously for learning how to fight.

String is perfect for this, and there are a few reasons why:

  • A length of string may remind a cat of a mouse’s tail. Wild cats of the species housecats come from hunt both birds and mice, so anything that reminds your cat of a mouse will trigger its hunting instinct.
  • String can move unexpectedly when it’s pulled across the floor. It catches on carpet, so moves in a jerky way. Cats respond well to sudden movements in the context of play, whether that’s a sudden movement on the part of prey, or a sudden pounce from a play-fighting cat.
  • Brightly-colored string is easy for your cat to see. Cats have poor vision, but can see color. Bright colors help the string catch your cat’s attention.

Knowing these three things will help you teach your cat to play with string.

How Long a String to Use

This is something that owners disagree on—not that it’s a point of bitter argument, just that almost any length can work.

Short strings are good in that they give you more control over their movement. You can more accurately flick, cast and drag shorter strings to make them move in a way that entices your cat. Long strings are good because when you use them, there’s no chance that your cat will catch you with its claws. They can also be dangled from surfaces in a way that cats like. If you’re not sure, try both long and short strings and see which your cat prefers.

You could also try giving your cat a ball of string to play with. That’s an option that a lot of people take, and it can be a good one. In some ways, it’s better than cutting away a length of string:

  • The cat can bat it around on its own, so it can play without you
  • The cat has something big and solid to chase, catch, bite and kick (the balled-up string)
  • You don’t have to spend time cutting the string to size

As such, you might find that this works for you. It certainly works for cats.

What Kind of String to Use

It’s crucial that you use a kind of string that doesn’t come apart easily. Otherwise, your cat will make light work of it and chew right through it. The last thing you want is for your cat to ingest some of the string it’s playing with. You should also avoid string that’s treated with anything like glue to make it hold together better.

Your best bet is something made of natural plant material. Something like hemp is good, because it’s made from natural material that can degrade in your cat’s stomach and gut. Basic cotton is bad because it can’t be digested, so it could get stuck in your cat’s gastrointestinal tract. The same applies to wool. But so long as the string doesn’t easily fray, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem which kind you pick.

How to Wiggle a String for a Cat

A key part of getting your cat to play with string is wiggling it just right. This simulates the way that a mouse’s tail moves, so it grabs your cat’s attention.

When you play with a cat, less can be more. If you constantly wiggle the string, your cat will get desensitized to its movement and less interested. Mice don’t constantly wag their tails, so your cat will dismiss the string. But if the string is still for long periods, and wiggles only occasionally, it will entice your cat.

There are two ways you can wiggle the string. One is when it’s on the floor, and one is when it’s dangling from something. If it’s on the floor, let it stay still for a while before moving it slightly from side to side/away from the cat. If it’s dangling, do the same, only moving it occasionally in jerky movements. These movements should be big, sweeping gestures, but little ones. Just imagine and imitate a mouse’s tail and you can’t go wrong.

How to Hide a String for a Cat

The other aspect of playing with a cat is hiding things from it. Cats are naturally curious, especially in the context of play and hunting. A cat’s prey will try to get away from it, and will do so by running and hiding in the undergrowth, or hiding underground. Either way, your cat then has to go and search it out—at least if it wants to eat.

You can mimic this in a few different ways. Perhaps the best is to simply hide the string around a corner so that your cat can’t see it. You wiggle the string and drag it along until it’s entirely hidden behind a corner, and then, you wait. Your cat might look uninterested at first, but its interest will be piqued when the string doesn’t come straight back out again. It might open its eyes wider and try to peer around the corner to see what became of its plaything. It may move closer to the corner to look around it, or even pounce.

Another way of hiding the string so that the cat can’t see it is if you have a cat tunnel. Cats love chasing string around a tunnel because the string turns around corners and sits outside the openings to it. This is a lot like how cats have to hunt, where they can’t just keep their eyes on their prey, they have to guess where it went when they lost track of it.

Is String a Good Toy for Cats?

There are all sorts of toys that cats can enjoy playing with, not just wool.

String isn’t the best toy you can play with your cat with. While your cat might enjoy playing with it, there are good reasons to consider the alternatives.

One is that cats get the most satisfaction from toys that they can catch and ‘kill’. That, of course, is because playing is simulated hunting. That’s why toys like fake stuffed mice are so fun for cats, because they can catch them, bite their ‘necks’, grab hold of them and kick them with their hind legs. It’s because your cat can’t do this with laser pointers that they’re considered a bad choice of cat toy.

String doesn’t fall in precisely the same category as a laser pointer, but it must not be very satisfying to catch. When your cat tries to catch, bite or kill string, it can’t be very satisfying. It’s like if you were desperately hungry and wanted a hearty meal and all you’re allowed is a lettuce leaf. Since there are alternatives that would definitely satisfy your cat’s inner hunter, it’s probably better to opt for them instead.

But that’s not the only reason you should consider not playing with string.

Is Playing With String Bad For a Cat?

So, when your cat catches hold of its string, it chews it—and chews it, and chews it. That string can easily fray and your cat can swallow some of it.

That may not seem like a big deal, but it can be. String is difficult to pass, so it can stay in your cat’s gut for a long time. If your cat swallows other things it can’t digest, like fur or more string, it can cause a gut blockage. If this blockage is in the stomach, it can be brought up. But if the blockage is in the gut, it causes an intestinal obstruction, which can stop your cat from eating and going to the toilet. This is a life-threatening condition.

Now, this won’t happen if your cat eats a small amount of string. But again, since there are other toys that don’t potentially cause problems like these, you should stick with those.

Alternatives to String for Cats

There are all sorts of things you can use to play with your cat. Feathers and feather based toys are maybe the best there are: they smell like birds, so cats love them; they can be dragged and make jerky movements in the same way that string does; they can be used to tickle your cat from a distance, which is just as much fun for you as for your cat. In short, they make great toys.

Whatever toy you pick, pick one that your cat can catch, bite and kick. This is what gives cats the satisfaction of having chased and caught the toy. That could be a fake mouse on the end of a string, for example. Or, it could be a small plastic rolling ball that your cat can bat around. If you’re not sure what your cat will like, buy a few different toys and see what takes its fancy.

Hi! My name is Jamie Fallon. I run Catmart, an online cat health and cat behavior resource. If I'm not sat in front of my PC—and I usually am—then I'm either spending time with my cats or my other half... Whoever jumps on me or asks me for food first!

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