Pretty much the only game my cat has consistently been obsessed with over the years is the whole chase-the-yarn style game. I’ll pace back and forth across my flat or a designated kitty playtime spot dragging a string-like object behind me, and my cat Avery will watch me for a while, then after some time spent staring, finally dive in and really go for the stringy thing – on a good day, with back flips and all.
But we pet owners know that string, ribbons, and yarn aren’t the best items in the world to use to play with a cat. It’s a terrible idea if there’s a chance your cat might swallow any of these items (and you never really know), as your pet could end up with bad intestinal problems that may need surgery to be fixed. In the words of VetStreet.com:
Such long objects, if ingested, tend to travel lengthwise along the intestines.They can cause the intestines to scrunch up accordion-style, even turning in on itself just like a sock. This is a life-threatening medical condition that usually requires surgery to correct.
Yeah, so staying away from string, ribbons, and yarn as cat toys – definitely a good idea. Though chances are you knew this already, which is a part of why you’re here. The other part leading you to read an article like this? You also know how much cats, and probably your cat in particular, love playing with the stuff. Curious to see what I use as replacements? Let’s get straight into it.
Picture from post 05/10/15
Yarn Alternatives: What I Use to Play With My Cat Instead of Yarn
Okay, so this first one on the list makes little to no sense if you don’t know what paracord is. Basically, it’s stuff that was originally invented for the purposes of having some really tough cord to suspend the lines of parachute with, which is why it’s called “parachute chord” (and is abbreviated “paracord”). I’m not going to get into any more on paracord than that, but if you’d like you can learn more about paracord here.
Paracord comes with small strands of string inside one nylon shell – basically I do not let Avery around those smaller strands of string. I gut the paracord, cutting it to be the size I want then pulling out all the string that’s inside the nylon shell. After that I use the outer nylon shell as a cat toy – dragging it across the floor behind me while I pace back and forth to play with kitty. It works out quite well, and since paracord is available in a slew of different colours, I usually grab some super-bright colour, like pink, because it’s fun, and because I want to make sure my cat doesn’t see a black wire down the road and think it’s his play toy.
The advantages of paracord are many. If your cats like biting on wires (luckily mine does not do this, but I know it’s common), paracord has a good chance of grabbing your cat’s attention because it’s about the same width as a wire. It’s a lot harder to swallow than string, though it can of course be bit through, so if your cat has pica, you will want to stay away from the paracord or monitor your cat very closely while playing with it with him/her.
Paracord also works well as a drag-able string-like object because it slips through kitty claws easily, making it effortless for me to yank on it a little to get it away from my cat to keep playing. Part of the reason I hate yarn besides the fact that it’s dangerous is that it’s hard to pull out of kitty claws if they really don’t want to let go. Since paracord is more slippery/harder to grip, that problem doesn’t really exist when using paracord.
Yet paracord is not too slipery – it’s still easy enough for a cat to grab and hold on to if he/she wants, which I know my cat likes doing. Avery’s not a huge fan of lasers, I think because he can’t actually catch them. He gets bored after a short time with them because there’s not much of a win. String-like objects hold his attention a lot better since he can hold and bite the object (unlike the laser).
If you go the route of trying paracord, please make sure to do as I do and gut the paracord, removing all the inner strings before playing with a cat with it.
2. Strips of Fabric
This is an easy one to replicate. Just grab scrap fabric, or a pillowcase/bed sheet that’s pretty old and that you no longer want, cut it into strips as wide as you’d like, tie shorter strips together to make one long piece, and use your creation to drag across the floor to grab kitty’s attention for playtime.
I find that my cat cannot for the life of him resist this yarn replacement if I bring it out every few months. After a few days of use he does get bored with it quickly by comparison to the first and third options, but hey, that’s not a problem because I always have the other two options on hand so I can rotate back and forth.
If you’re going to use strips of fabric, be a little careful, as if you haven’t sewn the ends neatly (I don’t sew so I don’t do this), eventually the sides where you cut begin to unravel. You’ll want to keep the sides clean so that your cat doesn’t make the mistake of swallowing loose strings, and always make sure not to leave this DIY toy out since cats can usually unravel strings from the strips of fabric pretty easily. No big deal if you only take it out to play with while monitoring, then put it right back. Though certainly, it’d be better to use one of the other options if you’d rather leave toys out.
Cat really dig this option? Try using different types of fabric, like jean or even a second hand silk scarf you wouldn’t want to wear, for a quick kitty DIY toy.
3. Measuring Tape
This alternative to yarn is Avery’s all time favourite from what I can tell, though I only discovered it this past year by accident.
Let me clarify right off the bat by saying I’m talking about soft measuring tape – not the hardware store kind that holds its shape and stays straight. The kind I’m referring to is the type you’d use to measure your waistline or for pretty much any clothes-related measurements. My cat also likes the hardware store type of measuring tapes for playing with, but those are too sharp for me to trust that him playing with them (even while being monitored) will not equal disaster in the long run.
Most measuring tapes have a little metal bit on both ends. Where the numbers begin, I left this piece of metal alone, but on the side where the numbers end I cut off the little bit of metal. Whenever I drag the tape across the floor, I make sure the side without the metal is the one that’s dragging. It means I can still use the measuring tape as measuring tape, and my cat’s able to play with the tape without the metal being a safety concern.
In terms of engaging Avery, this alternative has worked very well, I think in large part because of the hissing noise the tape makes when I drag it behind me on our laminate floors. Avery loves it. Could also be something to do with there being a pattern on the tape too, or it being yellow, easy for him to hold on to, yet easy to slip through his fingers for him to quickly catch again – or all of the above. Whatever makes it attractive to kitties, doesn’t matter to me – it just works.
Avery loves this re-purposed object so much that he’s been playing with it for around 6 months solid – a very long time for my lazy cat to stay interested.
Measuring tape is probably the safest, hardest thing to swallow out of all the items on this list, and I’m so glad I discovered it as an option. I’m not sure about toys for cats with pica, but I’d say if you’re going to try to DIY something that a cat can’t easily chew through, this is likely one of your best bets. I leave this toy out, but if I had a cat with pica, I probably wouldn’t risk it. That said, do let me know if you have a cat with pica and try using soft measuring tape as an alternative to yarn how it’s worked out for you (Looking at you, John).
What Yarn Alternatives Have You Used for Playing with Cats?
Does your cat like the whole object-dragging-on-the-floor game a lot? Or not as much as other games like chasing after toy balls and springs?
Have you ever used a yarn alternative to play with a cat before? Can you think of other items that would go well on this list? I’m sure there are plenty I’ve not tried. Let me know what you can think of in the comments section down below.
Ever tried using any of the items I mentioned to play with a cat? What did your cat think of these options? Again, leave a comment to let me know!
We have a couple cats and we have several string stick toys, their favorite is the one with a mouse that squeeks as it glides across the floor it drives them crazy. The problem is the string/cords always breaks or they chew/rip them off so we have a bunch of broken stick toys and haven’t been able to play. If anyone has some suggestions of what type of string/cord and how to fasten to stick and would like to attach the mouse at the end. thank you
Elise Xavier says
Looking forward to seeing what recommendations you get for this type of DIY! Sometimes I feel cats can chew through anything 😉
Plastic or rubber tubing is great. The plastic stuff is clear, so that makes it harder to see, and thus more interesting. It can be bought in hardware stores and in pet stores like PetSmart (for aquariums). Rubber tubing is used in jewelry-making and can be bought in short or long lengths at bead or craft stores. Another good alternative is rattail — the satiny cord that is used to knit slippers or in kumihimo. Buy the thickest kind and put some knots in it to make sure your cat can’t swallow it. Cats can chew on rattail without swallowing little fibers that gum up their insides.
Elise Xavier says
Tubing! I never thought of this! Sounds like a great idea also because it’s bouncy, and cats sure do seem to like things that move in strange ways. Keeps them interested.
I used to have rattail mice for Avery and those were great; should definitely have thought to use rattail in braids and knots for a yarn alternative – that’s very clever!
I’ll bet you’ve never heard of this one – the leftover plastic strips from double-sided sticky tape. Tippy LOVES those, and if you cut them long enough and attach them to a pole/stick, it’s a great pole toy.
Elise Xavier says
I need to try this! Must make really nice “scratchy” noises on hardwood/laminate flooring!
Our household has three cats including my little guy, who really enjoys string-type toys. He’s currently dragging around a discarded hoodie drawstring – it’s like a thicker bootlace. We also discovered a toy which he and one of the other cats both love: a strip of polar fleece attached to a plastic rod. It’s the fabric strip idea, except no stray strings to worry about, because polar fleece doesn’t fray! The other cat has a habit of eating plastic, esp. thin plastic, and has nibbled on the fleece a couple times but not eaten it or the rod.
Elise Xavier says
Hoodie drawstrings are perfect, too! Almost wish they sold them in batches :). They’re better than bootlaces because they’re usually also very springy, which I’ve found cats adore!
I should definitely try that polar fleece idea – it’s genius as cats love that fabric! Thank you so much for the tip!
You can make hoodie strings by doing “corkwork”. If you google it, you’ll see what I mean.
Elise Xavier says
Thanks for this tip! Will look it up.
My cat loves that toy too! I got mine from a friend whose cat found it boring, but they are fairly inexpensive – I think the “Cat Dancer” brand will go for around $2.50-$3.50.
Brian Frum says
Oh, we never have anything down that we could swallow because I would sure eat me some ribbon if I had the chance!
Elise Xavier says
Oh no! Good thing the humans look out for that then!
I haven’t tried the soft measuring tape yet. I’ve actually tied a bell to yarn and have it hanging from the ceiling and Beau hasn’t tried to chew it… He just happily smacks the bell when he wants our attention.
Elise Xavier says
I think he’s getting better. And that’s hilarious about smacking the bell when he wants your attention – wish I could see him do it!