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Why Do Cats Like Feathers? 5 Reasons & Safety Tips

Written by: Jeff Weishaupt

Last Updated on June 5, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Cute red kitten playing in feathers

Why Do Cats Like Feathers? 5 Reasons & Safety Tips

Cats are interesting creatures, playing with everything from yarn to feathers. One of the fascinating things about cats is that they seem to be fascinated by feathers more than any other toy.

Cats have a natural tendency to be interested in things that flutter. Feathers provide the ultimate source of that. Plus, they are also attracted to jerking movements that mimic the movements of birds.

Below, we take a look at some reasons cats like feathers. If you’re wondering whether cats eat feathers, you’ll find the answer below too.

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The 5 Reasons Cats Like Feathers

1. Feathers Spark Their Hunting Instinct

One of the main reasons cats are attracted to feathers is their connection to their natural hunting instincts. In the wild, cats hunt animals that have feathers, such as birds and other small creatures.

The sight and feel of feathers trigger their instinct to play, chase, and engage in mock hunting behavior. So, when they find feathers, they are more likely to be drawn to them instinctively.

Cute persian cat playing toy
Image Credit: ANURAK PONGPATIMET, Shutterstock

2. Feathers Feel Good to Cats

Feathers provide a unique texture and weight for cats to play with. When cats rub up against feathers, the feeling is similar to a massage that they find pleasurable.

Since cats are sensitive creatures, they appreciate the softness and lightness of feathers more than most other materials. The weight and movement of feathers also make them more stimulating when they interact with them. That’s why you may often notice your cat playing with a feather toy longer than other items.


3. Feathers Are Colorful and Stimulating

Cats respond positively to the colors and shapes of feathers. Most feathers have bright colors, which can grab your cat’s attention and make them want to explore further.

Feathers provide a three-dimensional object that can move in multiple directions—something cats find rewarding and stimulating.

cat and feather toy_Pixabay
Image Credit: Pixabay

4. Cats Can Eat Feathers

Feathers are not the primary feline diet, but they do eat feathers when they hunt animals like birds. Cats have an instinct to lick feathers. That’s how they remove some of the feathers from their prey’s bodies so that they do not end up ingesting too many of them.

When cats lick on the prey’s feathers, they pluck most of them out. In the same way, cats will also lick and pull on toy feathers, which can make them swallow some.


5. Feathers Are in Some Cat Foods

Feathers are also used in pet foods. These feathers have been through hydrolysis. It is a process in which feathers are broken down into small components so that cats can digest them and get nutrients from them.

Hydrolysis releases the amino acids in the feathers that cats need for a healthy and balanced diet. However, these feathers are particularly chosen for cat foods. You should not simply pick up random feathers from the ground and feed them to your little buddy.

orange cat eating on an orange bowl
Image Credit: Okssi, Shutterstock

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Can Eating Feathers Cause Health Complications in Cats?

When playing with feathers, cats might ingest some of them. While a few feathers are not a cause of concern, over-ingestion can lead to several health problems. Here are some of them:

Poor Digestibility

Cats cannot digest feathers, so they are likely to pass through their digestive system undigested, or they can even cause an obstruction. Indigestion can result in constipation and abdominal discomfort as the cat tries to pass the feathers.

Some signs of intestinal obstruction are:
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Drooling
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of appetite

The feathers found in cat food have been hydrolyzed. So, the cat’s stomach does not have any problem digesting them, but this is not the case with the feathers your cat finds outside or plucks from their toy.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

If a cat eats too many feathers, they could get caught in their throat and cause vomiting and diarrhea. Feathers can also cause gastrointestinal irritation, which triggers diarrhea as a response.

Toxic Dyes

Most cat toys with feathers have artificial feathers. These feathers often contain toxic dyes that give them color. If your cat ingests these feathers, the dyes will enter their bloodstream and cause health complications.

Sick cat in animal hospital
Image Credit: Kachalkina Veronika, Shutterstock

Internal Blockage

If your cat ingests too many feathers, they can get stuck in their digestive system and cause an internal blockage. The shaft of the feather is often the reason for obstruction. Thus, you should dislodge the feather from your cat’s stomach or throat immediately.

Choking

Choking is not as common in cats as in some other pets, but if the shaft of a feather gets stuck in a cat’s throat, choking might occur. In such a situation, it’s important to clear your cat’s airway as soon as possible.

The sign of choking are:
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Drooling
  • Retching
  • Gagging
  • Labored breathing
  • Panic

If your cat is conscious during this, you should keep them calm. Get immediate medical attention. If your kitty is unconscious, wrap them in a towel or a blanket to prevent injury. Then, open their mouth and pull their tongue forward. Try to remove the stuck feather with a pair of tweezers or your hand. If you cannot reach the feather, perform the Heimlich maneuver or take your cat to the vet immediately.

Can Cats Digest Feathers?

Feathers comprise a protein called beta-keratin. It is the same protein that is also present in the birds’ claws and beaks. Since it’s not easy to digest this protein, cats will typically vomit out the feathers they have ingested.

cat vomitting
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Cats like to play with feathers and for the right reasons. For one, feathers are soft and feel good on your feline friend’s skin. Cats are also naturally programmed to lick feathers because their prey has feathers. When they hunt, cats take off most of the feathers from their kill to make ingestion and digestion easy.

Cats also like feathers due to their beautiful and bright colors. While playing with a feather toy isn’t much of a concern, you should keep an eye out for your cat ingesting feathers. Cats have a natural mechanism to vomit out ingested feathers.

But if there are too many feathers or the shaft lodges in their throat, your cat might choke or experience gastrointestinal irritability. Get medical help immediately in such instances.


Featured Image Credit: Lucky Business, Shutterstock

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