How to Care for a Cat

Cat Toys

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Yarn can actually cause serious medical problems in your cat.

It's like something right out of a Norman Rockwell painting: a fuzzy little kitten tumbling around with a ball of yarn. Well, old Norman apparently never had to rush his cat to the vet for emergency surgery to get a couple of feet of that yarn unraveled from the poor cat's digestive tract. Yarn and string can turn even the most disinterested cats wide-eyed and playful but should never be left where cats or kittens can get at it on their own. Besides choking and intestinal blockage dangers, a cat who gets tangled up in string or yarn -- even during supervised play -- can panic and injure himself, possibly fatally. Take special care to keep sewing thread and dental floss out of feline reach; it's much finer and can become imbedded in the tissues of your cat's mouth, stomach, and intestines.

Cats will turn anything shiny, crinkly, or small enough to bat across the floor into a toy. Since Tabby doesn't have hands, he has to pick up these makeshift toys in his mouth, where they can be easily swallowed (or if not easily swallowed, can cause choking). At best, a foreign object in your cat's digestive system can trigger vomiting or diarrhea, but it can often be much worse. Keep things like paper clips, foil, and rubber bands safely tucked away.

Cellophane candy wrappers are particularly dangerous. Cats can't resist the crinkly texture, and the sugary residue makes them a cinch to get eaten. The wrappers can liquefy in your cat's stomach, coating the lining and blocking the uptake of nutrients from food.

What makes for a safe cat toy? Here's what to look for:

Something sturdy. If it can get tossed, thrown, gnawed, clawed, batted, kicked, licked, and repeatedly pounced on without coming apart, it's a good cat toy. Catnip-filled toys encourage play, but most cats like to eat catnip and will try to lick and chew their way to that scrumptious herbal filling. Catnip toys made from light fabric or felt will most likely be in shreds--and the shreds in your cat's tummy -- within a week. Ditto for plastic or vinyl toys that can be chewed up, cracked, or shattered.

No (re)movable parts. Catnip mice with yarn tails; crinkly cater- pillars with bug eyes; oversized plush "bumblebees" with glued-on felt features, and plastic mesh balls with tantalizing little bells inside are four of the more popular cat toys. But they share a common failing: small and potentially dangerous parts that come off. If you can pull or peel a part or decoration off a cat toy, the odds are your cat can, too. In fact, go ahead and try it with all your cat's toys -- it's better to have some catnip mice without tails than make a trip to the vet to get the tails out of your cat's stomach.

Something fun. A toy just isn't a toy if your cat won't play with it. Cat owners are often disappointed--and frequently annoyed -- to find that the $100 worth of custom cat toys they bring home get passed over for a piece of crumpled paper or a simple table tennis ball. Cats like games that involve what they do best: climbing, running, leaping, stalking, and pouncing. Pick toys that encourage those behaviors, and your cat is bound to use them. That's the allure of the table tennis ball -- it rolls and hops and skitters away when your cat pounces on it, encouraging batting and chasing. Cats see moving edges better than stationary objects, so toys that wiggle, bob, or weave fascinate them and trigger the stalking and hunting reflexes.

In our final section, we will cover perhaps the most important part of caring for you pet -- finding a good veterinarian. Finding a good vet for your cat is just as important as finding a good doctor for yourself.