Whereas to humans string is not an effective form of entertainment whatsoever, if you dangle a piece of string in front of a cat’s face, they spring to life, alert and ready to pounce.
In fact, second only to maybe catnip, string is what makes our cats their happiest.
You may be wondering why your cats exhibit this behaviour. Below are the reasons why cats just can’t get enough of string and the benefits and dangers of using string to play with your cat.
Three Reasons Cats Love String:
1. Cats Love To Hunt
The reason cats seem to love string and prefer it over other objects is that its shape and movement is comparable to animal tails.
In the wild, the most common type of prey caught by cats is mice, along with other small mammals and small birds.
Successfully catching these small animals is central to a wild cat’s survival, and so their brains are biologically designed to switch on and become alert at the sight of prey – if the opportunity to catch their next meal is there, they can’t miss it!
Many people are surprised that domestic cats also love to hunt as they are often thought of as lazy as they love curling up in a warm sunny spot and sleeping for the majority of the day.
However, our pet cats are also natural-born predators and, despite having their dinner served up on a silver platter, it is instinctive for them to love hunting.
This is because although domesticated cats don’t rely on hunting skills for food and therefore survival, hunting was key in their species surviving in nature, and these behaviours have been passed down for thousands of years to the cats we have today.
Our pet cats are deeply wired to enjoy hunting, revelling in the reward and satisfaction that comes when they catch their prey.
Although your cat knows the piece of string you’re dangling in front of their nose is not a real animal, it still instinctively triggers these hunting instincts.
We know this as how cats play with a piece of string resembles many hunting behaviours; they will fixate on the string, stalk it, and – when the moment is right – pounce and go for the kill.
If you swipe the string from side to side and tease your cat, they will lock their eyes on it and track its motion, exactly if it were real prey.
The texture of string may also make it more interesting than other objects or toys, as it is soft enough for cats to sink their teeth into and can be torn apart, similar to how a cat would tear a mouse apart after catching it.
Therefore, this will give your cat the same feeling of reward and satisfaction that they get when they catch a mouse or bird, fully satisfying their urge to hunt.
2. Cats Are Sensitive To Motion
Cats see the world a lot differently from how we do as humans, and whereas cats can see better than humans at night-time, their general vision is a lot poorer than ours.
Our eyes allow us to see the world clearly, highly focused, and vibrant in colour, yet a cat sees the world in dulled down colours and much lower resolution.
Therefore, cats rely on their other senses to inform them about their environment.
To help them navigate in a world they cannot see clearly, they also have a sensory organ that we are lacking: whiskers.
A cat’s whiskers are extremely sensitive to motion and can detect even slight changes in air current by measuring the vibrations in the air.
When you wave a piece of string in front of your cat’s face, their brains will receive a huge input of sensory information detected by their whiskers.
To clearly paint just how sensitive a cat’s whiskers are, if you ever notice your cat staring at nothing, know they are actually staring at a tiny movement that is too small for us to see, but that their whiskers can detect.
Similarly, if you waved a piece of string in front of your cat’s face in a pitch-black room, they would still be able to accurately track its movement around the room based on motion alone.
Once your cat has detected something going on nearby, they become alert as they try to work out what it is that is causing the changes in the air current.
As cats are inquisitive creatures, they just have to work out what is going on right under their nose!
3. Cats Love To Learn
Cats also can’t resist playing with a piece of string because they are naturally curious creatures that love to learn, and they usually learn through play.
This also explains why younger cats are more responsive to a piece of string than senior cats – they are still figuring out what this object is and are more excited by the unknown than old cats who have already discovered all there is to know about string!
Cats can learn about string through touch and taste, which is why they love to bat the string with their paws and chew on it.
This is similar to how young children learn and why they seem to put everything they touch in their mouths, and it’s the same for cats.
However, by playing with string they are not only learning about the world around them but also learning valuable hunting skills.
The more they practise stalking, pouncing, chasing a piece of string, the better these skills will become. After all, practise makes perfect!
Is String A Good Cat Toy?
You may think that because cats love string so much that it makes a great toy for them to play with.
Playing with your cat is important as it provides them with mental stimulation which can help reduce any bad or destructive behaviours, as well as encouraging them to exercise to stay active and healthy.
However, string can be dangerous for your cat to play with and poses a higher risk than other cat toys.
Why Is String Dangerous To Cats?
String – or any other string-like material such as wool or ribbon – is dangerous for your cat to play with because they can be so busy playing that they tangle themselves up in it without realising.
This can result in serious injury, especially if the string winds too tightly around your cat’s limbs or they hurt themselves from trying to escape. In a worst-case scenario, it is also possible that your cat will suffocate to death.
On top of this, string is not as durable as materials used on specific cat toys and can easily get ripped into small pieces.
While this is partially what makes string so appealing to your cat, the little pieces can easily be ingested.
Whereas your cat is unlikely to choke on tiny pieces of string thanks to them swallowing their own fur every day, the string will not be broken down inside their digestive system and could cause nasty intestinal blockages that have to be removed by a vet.
Lastly, string can also be dangerous because of how much cats love it. They never seem to get tired playing with it and can become exhausted, both mentally and physically, if they play continuously for too long.
Can I Use String To Play With My Cat?
Despite these dangers of string, you can still use it to play with your cat as long as you are constantly supervising playtime and never leave your cat unattended.
This way you can ensure that they don’t get tangled in the string, as well as limit their playtime so that they do not end up overexerting themselves – around 15 minutes is plenty.
Whereas stopping your cat from ingesting tiny pieces of the string is harder to prevent, you can do your bit by investing in high-quality and durable string that will be less prone to break.
If you do notice your cat swallows bits of string they aren’t supposed to, take your cat to the vet as soon as possible and have your vet remove it safely.
Playing with string has some benefits too.
Firstly, as it is so engaging for cats, it can persuade even the oldest and laziest cats to get some exercise in, which is great for their mental and physical health.
Also, string is cheap and affordable, so if money is an issue and you can’t afford to buy expensive cat toys, it is a great way to keep your cat entertained on a budget.
Plus, playing together with your cat can help to form a strong and everlasting bond.
Lastly, cats do love string! Every once in a while your cat deserves a treat, and as one of their favorite pastimes – if not the ultimate pastime – is playing with string, it is a great way to bring some pleasure and enrichment to their lives.
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