Why Do Cats Like String So Much?

Kitten with ball of yarn.
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If you want to see pure happiness, give a kitty a ball of yarn. Second only to catnip, string is sure to bring your cat the highest levels of joy! Cats are generally sedentary and love to laze around the house. That goes out the window when string is around, giving them a surge of energy. But why is this? What is it about string that stimulates our cats so much?

Cats are natural hunters.

We are used to our cats cozied up on the sun-flooded carpet or sleeping on our beds. These calm felines, however, come from a long line of hunters in the wild. Cats out in nature have to hunt their prey. Many of the actions taken to hunt food resemble the actions house cats will take with string and other objects.

When a cat catches its dinner, it looks like the cat is "playing" with its food. The feline will pounce on the prey or push it around sheepishly with its paw. The cat is not actually playing or taunting its dying prey but making sure the prey is weak enough for final submission. This is the same "toying" we see cats do with string-like objects, whether they be yarn or long extension cords.

Ginger Cat Playing with a String
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While hunting in the wild, cats have some fierce competition: snakes. Cats that come from Asia or more tropical climates cross paths with snakes in the wild more often. A wild cat will instinctually try to kill a snake or at least deter the reptile from hunting in the cats territory. This natural instinct is so strong that when a house cat sees any long, thin, winding object like a snake, he can't help but attack!

Cats learn by playing.

Like all mammals, cats play more as youngsters. Play helps them to discover and explore the world around them as well as develop their physical and mental skills. Playing with objects, including string, helps them work on their hunting skills. Whether a cat will end up in the wild or not, he will naturally want to hone these skills.

Cats are visual.

Cats have a vision system that functions around motion. Combined with visual input, cats have "sense detectors" that they use to receive information about objects in front of them. Because a cat's vision is very sensitive to motion, "toys" that move, like winding, stringy objects, provide high levels of stimulation. If you move string around rapidly in front of a cat, you will notice how his eyes quickly and easily follow the string, never seeming to lose sight of it. This is because cat's are so visually in tune with motion.

Calico Cat Staring Down Laser
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String play helps with anxiety and boredom.

Just like humans, especially young humans, cats need sufficient physical and mental stimulation. Lack of activity can lead to depression, boredom and anxiety. If your cat spends approximately 15 hours sleeping or being inactive, this could be due to boredom. Other signs of boredom include fighting with other pets in the home, overeating, and over-grooming.

Anxiety in cats can develop with the anticipation of future dangers or problems. An anxious cat can be destructive, overly vocal, and have an increase of "potty accidents". String play can provide an avenue to harness and release anxiety.

Initial boredom or anxiety can develop into full feline depression which is a much more serious issue. String, or toys with strings, are a great tool to keep cats engaged and entertained. They will sharpen their hunting skills while keeping their minds alert, bodies active and spirits calm.

So go ahead, bless your kitty with a ball of yarn and let him destress and show off his hunting skills!