By Hannah Shaw
Playtime is an essential component of kitten development, but some toys can pose health hazards. Here are six dangerous kitten toys you should avoid.
Nothing is more exciting to the mind of a tiny predator than a chance to practice their hunting skills, so it might be tempting to leave a kitten in a room with a peek-and-play toy and let them have at it. Peek-and-play toys include boxes, plastic circles, or other objects containing holes or slots that allow a cat to reach an arm in and move a ball. While they might be intrigued by the opportunity to seek out a hiding object, these toys can be dangerous for tiny kittens, whose body parts can easily get stuck in a hole. While an adult cat might reach in with her paw, a young kitten may reach in with her entire arm, and if she moves quickly (as kittens do), she may get stuck or pinched. Toys with slightly larger holes in them can entice a kitten to put her head inside, or perhaps her whole body…but what goes in does not necessarily come out as easily.
The good news is that it’s the ball they’re excited about—not the object containing it. The only benefit of the peek-and-play toy is that it helps encapsulate the ball to keep it from rolling out of sight, so instead, try providing the kitten with a shallow box with a ball inside of it, which they can chase freely and without risk.
A ball of yarn may have seemed like the gold standard back in the day…but not anymore. Stereotypical images of cats with yarn have misled consumers into thinking that this is a safe activity, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yarn and string are often swallowed by kittens (and cats) and are a common reason for emergency visits to the vet clinic. These “linear foreign bodies” can lead to gastrointestinal blockages or, even worse, become attached somewhere along the way and saw through the cat’s intestinal wall.
For a crafty toy that is kitten safe, try something felted, like a fuzzy felt ball. Felted toys can provide the same artsy appeal, without the choking hazard.
It’s not uncommon to see feathers incorporated into cat toys, but these avian amusements aren’t safe for kittens. Kittens learn with their mouths, and are likely to chew on anything you give them, so a delicate object like a feather may wind up being chomped in half, swallowed, and lodged in the throat or stomach. Wispy, downy feathers are especially dangerous, as they are so small that it is hard for a person to notice that a kitten is eating them before troubles arise. When it comes to cat toys, it’s best to leave feathers for the birds.
Cats are naturally drawn toward high areas and textured materials they can claw, so a cat tree might seem like a great housewarming gift for a new kitten. While it’s certainly important to provide feline-friendly vertical spaces in your home, young kittens who aren’t yet coordinated or large enough should not be given access to heights greater than they can handle. A kitten might be brave enough to get to the top of a 5-foot-tall tree, but they may find it a lot more difficult to descend. To avoid painful falls, wait until a kitten is at least 4 months old before introducing them to your tallest jungle gym.
In the meantime, encourage scratching behaviors by providing scratching posts and pads, and give kittens smaller objects to climb such as kitten-sized trees. Working in baby steps will help them develop the confidence to climb tall once they’re big enough for the real deal.
Kittens absolutely love to chase a rope toy (think kitty fishing poles), but kitten caretakers should be cautious about anything on a long strand. Rope toys can quickly wrap around a kitten’s neck or limb, which can cause them to panic or struggle and eventually cut off circulation. Due to the length of the toy and the small stature of the kitten, just a few rolls or kicks can tangle the kitten and result in strangulation or loss of blood flow to a limb. For this reason, rope toys should be used only if a person is actively manning the rope and monitoring to ensure the kittens are safe—they should never be left unsupervised with this type of toy.
To avoid the hazard altogether, try something that they can’t get tangled in, like a laser pointer. Kittens can chase a laser all day long without any risk of getting caught up in a dangerous situation, but some cats get frustrated if their hunt is never actually successful. Toss out a stuffed mouse or other prey-like item that they can catch and “kill” at the end of the game.
Many feline fans know that sometimes the best toys aren’t toys at all. However, you’ll want to be careful of objects that can hurt a kitten. Hair ties and twist ties might be enticing, but they can easily get swallowed or lodged in a curious kitten’s mouth. Children’s toys might seem harmless, but be wary of anything with beady eyes or small parts that can be chewed. Paper bags can be a fun hideaway, but could be fatal if the handles are left on and the kitten’s head becomes stuck.
A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if an object can accidentally be ingested or wrapped around a kitten, or if it can cause a kitten to get stuck or to fall. There are certainly many DIY toys that are safe for a kitten to play with, such as the classic cardboard box—as long as it’s free of staples and loose packing tape.