Why Do Cats Like to Play with String?
Questions About Cats

Why Do Cats Like to Play with String So Much?

Cats are attracted to string. Similarly, if knitting is among your hobbies, your cat will likely be fascinated by yarn. String is an endless source of fascination and entertainment for cats.

A cat’s vision is geared toward sharp and sudden movements. This immediately stimulates the feline hunting instinct. String dangling and moving can be hunted. String also resembles common prey, but it will not bite back. Once captured, string also has a pleasing taste and texture to a cat.

Anything long and thin will be treated like string by a cat. This includes wool, tinsel, or ribbons. While it’s fine for a cat to play with these objects, they must not be swallowed. Used safely and supervised, string is a great toy. Left unattended, it can be dangerous to a cat’s health.

Why Do Cats Love String?

The sight of a cat playing with a ball of wool or string is a common cliché. Many stereotypes have roots in fact though, and this is no exception. Most cats, regardless of age, breed or gender, adore playing with string.

A cat’s string-based fun tends to revolve firmly around hunting and chewing. Animal Cognition ran an experiment on fifteen cats, rewarding the cats for pulling particular strings. The cats showed no sign of understanding the correlation between certain strings and receiving a treat.

This does not mean that string holds no appeal to cats. Many cats will spend hours happily toying with string or yarn. Doing so will satisfy a wide range of feline instincts. Just ensure you supervise this playtime.

Hunting Instinct

The main reason for cats to play with string is a hunting instinct. When cats glimpse a moving target in their peripheral vision, their prey drive is activated. This will immediately inspire the cat to hunt the string down.

This makes a loose-hanging piece of string tempting for a cat. It will see the string dangling and moving. A slave to instinct, the cat will creep up on the string, stalking it from afar. The fact that this prey is silent just adds to the mystique.

Hunting games with string can be a lot of fun for your cat. Just dangle the string, jerking it away when your cat makes its move. The string will remain agonizingly out of reach, so the hunt begins again. As long as the cat ‘wins’ every once in a while, it will enjoy the game.

String hunting can be pivotal to cats. All felines need to keep their hunting instincts sharp. This is ordinarily done using play. String and wool are certainly cheaper than many toys in a pet store.

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Resemblance To Prey Animals

Cats may also mistake string for a prey species. A dangling piece of string can resemble a mouse’s tail. If the cat captures this from the corner of its eye, it will immediately grow excited. Hunting instincts will kick in, and the game will begin.

The cat may also mistake the piece of string for a snake. A piece of string moving along the floor will resemble a slithering snake, after all. This will provoke one of two responses. The cat will flee, or the cat will hunt the supposed reptile intruder.

According to the Journal of Herpetology, some cats hunt and eat snakes. This is especially common in feral cats. Opinion on why this occurs is varied. Some experts believe it is because snakes and cats rely upon the same food sources. Cats are essentially eliminating their competition.

The sight of potential prey will also stimulate a cat with a high hunting drive. No matter how full the cat is, it will attack. Be mindful of this. The cat may try to eat its ‘kill.’ This can be dangerous for the cat. The swallowed string can wrap around the stomach, causing an intestinal blockage.

Pleasing to Chew

Swallowing string is never a good idea for cats. Many felines will enjoy chewing on string or wool, though. This is because the material provides a pleasing taste and texture sensation. Wool, in particular, will garner this reaction.

Chewing is not ingrained as strongly in cats as in dogs, but it remains instinctive. Cats chew primarily for entertainment, but also for self-soothing. A bored or stressed cat will instinctively chew string once captured.

Cats also chew string if it has captured it during play. This is, again, replicating the act of hunting prey. Many cats tear the skin from the bones of a fresh kill. The cat is reenacting this experience with the string. As string is usually thin, it’s easy enough to achieve.

If the string is thicker, it will feel like plastic to a cat’s teeth. This is a pleasant sensation for many felines. Most cats enjoy chewing electrical cables and wires. String is safer than this, provided it is not swallowed.

While playing with string, stop the game the moment your cat starts to eat. A little curious chewing is fine. Do not let this advance, though. If you immediately cease the game and put the string away, the cat will understand. It will avoid chewing in the future to prolong the fun.

Cats do not floss, so chewing on string and wool may actually be beneficial. Do keep an eye on your cat, though. Once a cat starts chewing string, it can turn into a frenzy. This must be managed, before your cat risks getting tangled up or strangling itself.


If your cat is chewing on string, ensure that it doesn’t have pica. Pica is a medical condition that sees cats compelled to chew and eat non-food items.

According to the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, string is a common item for cats with pica to chew. Shoelaces and threads were particularly popular in a study of afflicted felines.

If your cat has pica, try to understand why. Common causes include:

  • Stress
  • Dietary insufficiency
  • Dental pain
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Obsessive compulsion
  • Boredom

Provide your cat with other things to chew instead of string. Solid, indestructible plastic toys are best. In addition, review your cat’s diet and routine. Ensure your cat has sufficient attention, territory, and mental stimulation.

If lifestyle issues are responsible, the cat will conquer pica by itself. If this is not the case, talk to a vet. There will be a medical explanation for pica.

Chasing Games

As well as hunting, string gives cats something to chase. Drag some string across a room. Your cat will gleefully enter pursuit. Eventually, this will turn into a hunting exercise. Until then, the cat will track the object of its desire.

Chasing games are great for cats. They provide both physical and mental exercise. String may not be the best tool to use for this, though. The thrill of the chase will eventually get the better of the cat. The temptation to eat the string may grow too great.

If your cat enjoys chasing games, there are safer ways to play. Any reputable pet store will sell small balls designed for cats. Oftentimes, they will also contain bells. These sounds appeal to cats, stimulating two senses at once.

If your cat is adamant that only string will do, consider using a soft measuring tape. The type used by a tailor is ideal. Cut off any metal ends, and let your cat chase the tape. It makes a satisfying noise on the floor and the twisty nature will appeal to cats.

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Importance to Humans

String becomes increasingly fascinating to cats if it appears important to humans. If you are knitting or sewing, expect a cat to be particularly interested in your string.

Part of this is down to the fact that string is involved. As discussed, this will be irresistible to many domesticated felines. In addition, you are ignoring your cat in favor of this string-based activity. That’s a combination that no cat will be able to disregard.

If a cat wants attention, it will typically prevent an owner from continuing with an activity. This could include sitting on a laptop or book or stealing an item. When your cat sees you with string, an automatic playtime instinct is triggered.

What’s more, the cat initially thinks of the string as your property. As cats are territorial, this will not do. The cat wants the string for itself. Cats have a simple philosophy. “What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine too.”

How you manage this is down to personal preference. You could let your cat play with the string. Your cat will enjoy it, and you’ll boost your bond. This can set a dangerous precedent, though. The cat will assume that any time you use string is for play. This can become problematic. You will never be able to knit, sew or wrap a parcel again.

You must also be careful that the cat does not claim the string. Use our example of a ball of wool or yarn. If your cat considers the yarn to be its property, it will take it when alone. This could see the cat poked with knitting needles or hurt itself in other ways.

Is it Safe for Cats to Play with String?

Left to their own devices, cats would play with string for hours. Do not allow this to happen. Any play with string, wool or ribbons must be observed.

If you have string in your home, keep it away from your cat while unsupervised. Balls of yarn, in particular, will be irresistible to a cat. Your cat will unravel and chase the wool. That’s all good fun. If it then swallows the yarn, it’s a different story.

Even if your cat does not swallow string, it could face other difficulties. The cat may wrap itself up in the string. This can make movement difficult. Your cat risks tripping down the stairs. Strangulation is also an ever-present risk.

If you have string in the home, keep it in a drawer, box or crate. Ensure your cat cannot reach the string. A simple zip-lock bag is insufficient protection. Cats love to chew plastic. Your cat will eat its way through to the wool. That’s potentially two sets of problems.

Cats love to play with string for a number of reasons. Chief among these appears to be the desire to hunt. String stimulates a cat’s peripheral vision and resembles popular prey. As long as your cat plays safely, string can keep it amused for hours.