There are so many cute crochet toys you can make for cats, like little amigurumi mice or fish. It’s a fun way to make something nice for your pet to play with. But are they safe?
Most crocheters report no problems after giving their cat crochet toys, but there are a few things to watch out for. Cats can rip up the toy and accidentally swallow pieces of it, which can cause an obstruction. Any small bits on the toy such as plastic eyes, tiny bells, or a glued on nose may pose a choking hazard if they come loose. Yarn and any other string-like material can be dangerous if swallowed, so the toy should be made secure so it doesn’t unravel.
Many accidents can happen even with store-bought toys. Samuel D. Stewart, DVM, a veterinarian at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital, says that most of the cat emergencies at the hospital is due to cats swallowing strings and threads, like the tails of mouse toys purchased from the store.
These can be extra dangerous when ingested because they can get tangled in the digestive tract. A crochet toy, if destroyed or not properly secured, can unravel and pose a similar hazard.
Stewart recommends removing any pieces from toys that are small and can come loose. He also recommends inspecting the toys after each play session to make sure that none of the parts came loose. Toys should be stored securely afterwards so the cat can’t destroy them when you’re not watching.
Stewart advises cat owners to “watch out for anything they can rip to pieces.”
This includes everyday items around the house that cats may play with, like balloons, plastic bags, pieces of foil, or even rubber bands.
Catnip toys can be particularly fun for cats. Stewart says it’s okay for your cat to ingest some catnip. But some cats can get carried away and tear the toy open to get at more of the catnip. This can cause them to accidentally swallow some of the yarn or fabric in the process.
Whether or not your cat is a toy destroyer may depend on her personality. Monitoring your cat’s play is a good way to learn what type of cat you have.
Yarn Itself Can Be Dangerous
Even though yarn balls are commonly depicted as a toy for cats, yarn can be really dangerous for our feline friends.
Because of this, it’s important to make sure any crochet toy yarn ends are secure and won’t unravel. Yarn and other crochet projects should not be available to cats unless they’re being supervised.
Some cats love to chew on yarn, strangely enough. This can be a problem because a piece can get lodged in the back of their throat, or the cat can accidentally inhale it. The cat may not be able to remove it herself. If you see this, remove the yarn immediately or dislodge it.
If the cat bites off a piece of yarn and manages to swallow it, it can cause an intestinal blockage. Sometimes, cats will vomit up non-food items that they swallow, or the item will pass through the body to be defected out later.
But other times, the item can become stuck and cause an obstruction. This is a serious problem that often requires surgery.
Yarn and other threads are especially bad for pets, because long pieces can loop around the tongue or some section of the intestine. When the other end moves down the digestive tract, the yarn can get stretched out.
As the intestines attempt to move food through as usual, the intestine can get scrunched up like an accordion, or even turning inside out. In some cases, this can lead to the string cutting through the intestinal walls. This a life threatening medical emergency that usually requires surgery to fix.
Even if your cat doesn’t ingest yarn, loose pieces from a broken toy (or from a crochet project) can end up wrapping around your cat’s paws or tail, cutting off blood supply. This can lead to pain and swelling, and if not noticed and removed quickly enough, parts of these extremities can die. This means toes, feet, or even tails can be constricted and fall off from yarn being wrapped around them tightly.
Toy Parts Can Get Stuck on a Cat’s Tongue
The tongues of cats are covered in barbs that face backwards, towards the throat. This is great for grooming and for getting every scrap of meat off of a bone. But these barbs make it harder for a cat to spit out yarn, or possible fabric.
Any type of string-like material would also be a hazard: tinsel, floss, ribbon, shoelaces, window blind strings, kitchen twine, rubber bands, and hair ties.
What to Do If Your Cat Ingested Part of a Toy
If you suspect your cat may have ingested something it shouldn’t have, call your vet for advice. They may have you monitor your cat for symptoms like vomiting, poor appetite, changes in pooping, or other changes in behavior.
If you notice any of these symptoms, take your cat to the vet or animal hospital immediately.
If you see a piece of string coming out of your cat’s behind, DO NOT PULL ON IT!
Pulling on it can cause fatal intestinal damage. Leave it, and contact your vet for advice immediately. Make sure other household members including toddlers and other animals don’t pull it.
Are Biodegradable Materials Safer?
Some think that biodegradable materials may be safer, so they’ll opt to make something out of cotton, bamboo, or soy instead of acrylic. But the choking, obstruction, and intestinal constriction hazards described above will still happen even if the yarn is biodegradable.
But it can take up to 20 years for cotton textiles to degrade, and up to 5 years for bamboo items to degrade.
Therefore, even if the yarn is in your cat’s body for days, it won’t be able to degrade quickly enough to not be a hazard.
Making Cat Toys Safer
Since crochet toys can unravel, some people recommend making toys out of wool yarn, then felting it. Felting causes natural fibers like wool yarn to fray and fuse with other fibers around it, leading to a more solid appearance.
Felted crocheted items are far less likely to unravel. If the cat is teething, she may be able to felt the toy herself in her mouth (but this should be done under supervision, especially if you don’t know how the cat tends to behave around toys.)
You can felt a crocheted toy by agitating it under hot water, with a little soap. Or you can apply heat and pressure to make the fibers fuse. Just be aware that this can shrink the toy.
Googly eyes, plastic noses, or safety eyes may look cute on a toy, but it’s better to leave off pieces like this that can get separated if you’re crocheting one.
Some people even recommend removing strings, feathers, and other ornaments from store-bought toys before giving them to pet cats.
With stuffed toys, try to avoid toys that have beans, nutshells, or beads in them as these can be a choking hazard if the toy gets ripped open.
Despite these hazards, plenty of people on crochet forums report that they’ve made cat toys for their cats which have lasted years without issue.
So there’s no need to become unnecessarily paranoid with these warnings. Cats can play with a lot of toys without hurting themselves.
But it’s important to supervise your pet during playtime, and to inspect toys before and afterwards, whether they’re handmade toys, or toys from the store.