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Cat Toys: Which Are Safe and Which Are Dangerous to Cats?

Cats play rough; here are tips on how to choose toys that your cat can pummel and maul safely.

Marilyn Krieger  |  Oct 21st 2016


It doesn’t take much to entertain cat lovers — all it takes is a playful cat. We love watching them stalk and pounce on objects, and most of us will go out of our way to encourage the behavior by giving them toys. These might have been bought in pet shops or made by hand, or they might be everday household objects doubling as playthings. Many of these are great toys. They appeal to cats and at the same time are safe. They remain intact, even when subjected to teeth and claws. Unfortunately, other toys are hazardous; cats can swallow them, become tangled in them, or be cut by them.

An assortment of safe toys to choose from. Photo by Marilyn Krieger

An assortment of safe toys to choose from. Photo by Marilyn Krieger

Be mindful when selecting and/or making cat toys; they need to be safe as well as appealing to your cat. Here are some points to consider when choosing hazard-free toys for your little companions:

Size

Cats typically will use their mouths and teeth to grab, chew, carry, and generally maul toys. Toys that are too small can easily be swallowed. Many household items that double as cat toys are guilty of this. Rubber bands, hair ties, pipe cleaners, the plastic tops from milk containers are a few examples of common items that should be locked away. Other found objects such as batteries, paper clips, pins, and stray pills — although irresistible — can be lethal if swallowed.

Select toys that your special cat can’t swallow. Ideally, your cat should be able to pick up each toy and hold it in her mouth, and it should be large enough that she can’t swallow it.

Toys should be large enough that can’t be swallowed. Photo by Shutterstock

Toys should be large enough that cats can’t swallow them. Photo by Shutterstock

Durability

People often select cat toys because they’re adorable to look at. They may have cute faces with large eyes, ears, and tails. They may be stuffed with materials so as to be soft and squishy. They also may be colorful and tightly wrapped with sisal. Some of these toys are safe for cats; others although cute, are hazardous. They’re found in pet stores as well as toy and specialty shops, or they may have once been a child’s toy now claimed by the cat.

Safe toys can’t be dismembered. Eyes, whiskers, tails, tongues and other extremities can’t be chewed off and swallowed. Nonhazardous sisal-covered toys can’t be unraveled. Safe toys are well made — seams are tightly sewn together with threads that can’t be bitten and broken. Seams that are flimsily stitched together can be dismantled, exposing the stuffing. Good quality cat toys are stuffed with nontoxic materials. Unfortunately, some unsafe toys are filled with unhealthy materials such as polystyrene beads, nutshells, and beans.

Choose robust toys that can’t be taken apart — look for ones that are well made and can withstand teeth and claws. Remove pieces such as whiskers, poorly stitched ears, and tails that can be chewed off. Some toys have labels that list the materials that are in them. You may find that some safe, durable toys, such as felted balls and shapes, although eagerly welcomed by cats, aren’t eye candy.

Toys shouldn’t have eyes, tails, whiskers that can be chewed off and swallowed. Photo by Shutterstock.

Toys shouldn’t have eyes, tails, and whiskers that can be chewed off and swallowed. Photo by Shutterstock

Sharp edges

There are some fabulous toys and interactive puzzle toys available that don’t have edges and pieces that can cut, scrape, or poke cats. Some are easy to spot, others need to be handled. They are well made — not flimsy and poor quality. Run your fingers on all of the edges. Well-made, safe toys and puzzle toys feel smooth to touch. They don’t have sharp edges or feel rough. They also don’t fall apart. Look for ball-and-track toys such as the Turbo Scratcher. They have smooth edges, and most cats enjoy batting the ball around inside the channel. Safe and well-made puzzle feeder toys include the Plastic Dog Tornado and the Trixie 5-in-1 Activity Center.

Avoid toys and balls made out of foil type material. Although nifty to look at and bat around, their edges can cut delicate tissues — not too different then paper cuts. Be aware that straw and rattan toys can be bitten and clawed into sharp pieces.

Choose toys that don’t have sharp edges. Photo by Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

Select toys for your cat that don’t have sharp edges. Photo by Marilyn Krieger

Yarn and string

For as long as cats have been the focus of cameras, they’ve been photographed swatting and pouncing on balls of yarn. Although yarn may seem to be an appealing toy, it’s easily unraveled by enterprising kitties and ingested, potentially choking or causing internal blockages. It can also wrap around felines, trapping and possibly strangling them. Be safe — don’t allow your little ones to play with yarn.

Pole type toys that have play items dangling at the end of strings, wires and ribbons are wonderful — but only when cats are supervised around them. Although these toys are stimulating and entertaining, they can be hazardous. Unsupervised, the string or ribbon can wrap around paws, legs, and necks. Also, depending on the durability of the individual toys, ambitious cats can chew off feathers and other parts. Monitor your cats around them, put the pole toys out of reach when you’re not around to supervise the interaction.

Never leave pole type toys out. Always supervise cats around them. Photo by Shutterstock.

Never leave pole type toys out. Always supervise cats around them. Photo by Shutterstock

Encourage your cats to play! It enriches their lives and is a fun source of physical, mental, and emotional stimulation. Select your kitty’s toys wisely though, choosing safe ones that your cat will love to interact with.

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Do you have a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Ask our behaviorist in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. If you suspect a behavioral problem, always rule out any possible medical issues that may be causing the behavior by first having your cat examined by a veterinarian.

Marilyn, a certified cat behavior consultant, owner of The Cat Coach, LLC, solves cat behavior problems nationally and internationally through on site and Skype consultations. She uses positive reinforcement, including environmental changes, clicker training and other behavior modification techniques.

She is also an award winning author. Her book Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior problems through clicker training and other positive reinforcement methods. Marilyn is big on education — she feels it is important for cat parents to know the reasons behind their cat’s behaviors.

She is a frequent guest on television and radio, answering cat behavior questions and helping people understand their cats.