Ideally it would have the mouthfeel of a high-end pipe cleaner.
August 21, 2021 5:02 PM   Subscribe

My cat goes bonkers for pipe cleaners. I shape them into bracelets, fold the ends over with tweezers so there are no sharp points, and she will chase them, kill them, and carry them happily around the house for weeks. I really don't think pipe cleaners are a good toy for cats, and I'm looking for a substitute.

I mean, pipe cleaners are made of wire and bristles, and this cat is not winning any intelligence contests. These can't be good for her, right? The only other toy that she has been similarly enamored of was a broken dried gourd stem (yes we are fancy). The common denominators of these two beloved toys is that when they land on the ground they rock a little bit, and she can fit them in her mouth. So I am looking for toy ideas like that, that are not dangerous for cats to chew on.

I am happy to make toys rather than buying them, I think if cats know you paid money for a toy they are less likely to play with it.

Cat tax.
posted by Vatnesine to Pets & Animals (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My cat growing up was obsessed with the plastic rings you rip off of milk jugs, for just the same reasons I think. When I moved out of that house I had to consciously stop myself from ripping them off the jug and then just flinging them onto the floor.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:12 PM on August 21, 2021 [25 favorites]

I came here to say exactly what showbiz_liz just said. Pull 'em off the milk cap and throw them on the floor in front of the cat. Every cat I've ever had absolutely lost their shit over those things.
posted by bondcliff at 5:20 PM on August 21, 2021 [6 favorites]

I imagine the regular pipe cleaners are completely inert, as I assume most things are that 1st graders use in art projects at school (zero liability). Is the status quo acceptible?

If not, maybe wheel woolies with the handle cut off? They're bendable, too.

How about climbing rope or paracord? There are a variety of thicknesses often sold by the length, so you could experiment. You could even braid your own toys with custom stiffness and thickness if she goes for the stuff itself.
posted by rhizome at 5:23 PM on August 21, 2021

One of my cats loooovvvess little plastic springs. He will even play fetch with them. Be warned that they disappear, though - we have at least 30 hiding somewhere in the house that we cannot find.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 5:24 PM on August 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

Aw man, my cats LOVE those little coils/springs. Perfect for carrying around, and they act erratically on the hard floor which means no end of fun. Also the tops (as well as the rings) of any jug or plastic drinks bottle.
posted by nkknkk at 5:38 PM on August 21, 2021

I’ve spent so much money on the plastic springs. My sister’s cat likes regular hair ties, obsessively.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 5:49 PM on August 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Elastic hair ties are my cat's obsession. She can carry them around, bat them across the floor and lately has learned to shoot them through the air. She LOVES them.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:53 PM on August 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

We've spent embarrassing amounts of money trying to figure out what our cats might like as much as pipe cleaners. After two years and an entire basket of failures, we have yet to find a replacement. They love that they can bend them and throw them and, the part that worries me, chew them into bits. I'm so oddly relieved knowing that we're not alone in this!
posted by foxtongue at 5:54 PM on August 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Your kitty is beautiful! And a paper ripper like mine 🥰
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:55 PM on August 21, 2021

Tommy's favorite toys are also pipe cleaners, but pompons are a close second. Especially the sparkly ones.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:59 PM on August 21, 2021

My cat would 100% eat hair ties but the springs seem safe. The lids off water jugs also get attention until their inevitable disappearance under something, and are too big to eat which is nice for my nerves.
posted by Lady Li at 6:00 PM on August 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Well, there are little vine rings for small mammals to chew like this. Unsure about the size, probably too big.

Quick DIY experiment that won’t be too much effort if it’s not appealing to her:
Cut a strip of paper from a regular sheet, longwise, that’s a couple inches wide. Fold it in half along its length (hot dog style!). On the folded edge, snip into it, all along it, about halfway through the strip, every quarter inch or so - you are making fringe. Then, unfold it, you should have even slashes going all the way down the center of the strip. Continue to bend the crease back the opposite way you first folded it, and the fringes should kind of puff out. Bring the unfringed edges together. Take something thin and round like the handle of a wooden spoon or your thumb and wrap the strip around it, so it curls. You can puff and bend the fringe parts to give them more volume. You can take tape or maybe like, cat safe glue?? flour and water paste? the short ends together to make a ring or cuff, or curl it tightly enough so that it spirals. You can fold the corners over to kind of lock the sides together too. This is basically the way you make those little paper hats that go on turkey legs in cartoons, but bigger.
posted by Mizu at 6:22 PM on August 21, 2021 [1 favorite]


My cat (dead 24 years now) loved to play with them. He would spin 'em around like miniature batons. Later I'd find them, each end unwound a couple inches somehow, neglected, no longer of interest. First he found my discards, in the bathroom trash; once I observed his fetish I'd occassioanally treat him with a brand-new Q-Tip. The traditional wooden ones are still available, I believe.
posted by Rash at 6:27 PM on August 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

There are twisty-style hair curlers that your cats might go for? They bend very like pipe cleaners.
posted by humbug at 6:41 PM on August 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

rings cut from paper towel or TP rolls - I just slice them with a craft knife at roughly 1/2 inch. they bounce, they roll, they can be chewed. I've noticed the TP cores have gotten much floppier lately, so I only use the paper towel cores these days.

Rose stems, we noticed this when we cut some to length for a vase and left the bits on the table for a while. Now we specifically cut 4 inches or so and let it dry out, Maggie will carry these around for hours.
posted by buildmyworld at 6:51 PM on August 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Rhizome - I agree that pipe cleaners are relatively inert, but I’m worried that she will chew and swallow sharp wires or bristles and damage herself.

These are all great ideas! Keep ‘em coming!
posted by Vatnesine at 7:31 PM on August 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Monster number one loves to bat about wintergreen lifesavers that are still in the plastic wraper. Monster number two pays no attention to that concept.

Pingpong balls are going well.

Ms. Nibs loves a 2-3inch length of receipt paper crumpled into a ball-like bat-about toy.
posted by mightshould at 7:49 PM on August 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Two of my cats favor silicone wristbands, the kinds with logos or short messages on them. They have a nice bounce when dropped, are easy to carry in the mouth, and apparently have a lovely chewiness! I replace them when a side is chewed through and it's a strip instead of a round. Tiny pieces probably do get swallowed, but no sharp pokey bits at least.
posted by dorey_oh at 7:57 PM on August 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

You can actually buy fake milk jug rings in pet stores. In case you don’t drink anything that comes in plastic jugs.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:03 PM on August 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

I sliced a pool noodle into half inch slices and they are my cat Baby Goat's favorite toy. They roll well and are larger than milk jug rings and don't get lost quite as easily. He bites them but they are not crumbly.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:19 PM on August 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you are a person who enjoys a drink every now and again, our youngest cat goes absolutely bonkers for the metal cages that cover champagne corks. He will play with those for HOURS.

Also, he loves those springs others have mentioned, but those don't come with the advantage of letting you drink champagne to get them.
posted by pdb at 9:20 PM on August 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

My younger girl loves ping pong balls and the plastic straps that come with cardboard punnets of fruit from the farmers market.

If you want something your cat can pick up you can slice up a ping pong ball or mini golf-practice wiffle ball, and sand the edges.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:34 PM on August 21, 2021

My cat loved those cheap disposable cardboard nail files, the kind that come in packs of 10 or whatever. She would chew on them some, but she never really shredded them, so she wasnt eating them.

I would also take fur from her brush (she shed A LOT) and felt it into balls by rolling it firmly in my hands until it was solid and about the size of a ping pong ball. She would carry these around everywhere, bat them under the furniture, etc. Fortunately i never ran out of raw material for them so I could make them as fast as she could hide/lose them.
posted by ananci at 10:13 PM on August 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

If you're after the mouthfeel of a pipecleaner, I'd suggest a chenille cat toy.
posted by essexjan at 2:33 AM on August 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Cats I've lived with have loved milk jug rings and hair ties. One would always steal the seam ripper off my mom's sewing table, or steal pens if the seam ripper wasn't available.

Our current youngest cat loves fetching an old wool socks tied in a couple knots, which might have more of the mouth feel of a pipe cleaner, especially if you get a really fuzzy sock. He's also recently started carrying and batting around my son's silicone teething rings.
posted by abeja bicicleta at 4:08 AM on August 22, 2021

Hair ties (the larger the better, so scrunchies?) Are number one at our house
posted by socky_puppy at 5:22 AM on August 22, 2021

My cat growing up was obsessed with the plastic rings you rip off of milk jugs...

Umpteenthing this. Our cat went nuts for these things. She would jump straight into the air to grab one and chase it around. The best was when she would actually bring one to you, drop it on the ground and look at you with a "let's play" look. You'd toss it, she'd jump at it, then race off to get it, bring it back, drop it in front of you and start again. A cat playing fetch is some kind of fun.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:18 AM on August 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'd advise strongly against hair ties. Cat #1 had to have surgery for removal from stomach after swallowing bunches of them. $2,000 bill from the vet. And 6 months later, cat #2 had the same thing happen. The vet was pissed off. And so was my wife, since she does all the money stuff.
posted by baegucb at 9:02 AM on August 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Paper balls. Twisted paper.
posted by aniola at 9:09 AM on August 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

My cats shun most plastic cat toys but whenever they find a twist tie they go nuts for it. They also like foam golf practice balls, mylar puffs and these completely stupid cat toys from the local pet shop. They look like something a 10-year-old would make as a summer project but the cats love the damn things so much someone bit a hole in one.
posted by fiercekitten at 9:46 AM on August 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

My cats go absolutely mad for the capsules that come in Kinder eggs, probably because they are not perfectly round and thus move erratically when chased around the floor. If you can't get those specifically, any other sort of egg-shaped thing made of soft-ish plastic? The Kinder ones open so you can stick a large wooden bead or a bell or other noisemaker inside for extra fun, but that's not strictly necessary.

Paper balls, also. If I want to distract a cat I just ball up a sheet of printer paper and toss it and off they go. Every now and then I have to move the sofa to pull all the paper balls and Kinder capsules out from under it.

One of my cats absolutely loves this specific mouse toy (while ignoring all other mouse-shaped toys). She will pick it up and carry it around in her mouth, meowing, tail up like a proud huntress, and then leave it places. Often she drops it at my feet and waits for praise. A few times she's dropped it on my face while I was asleep. She also loves this Kong Kickeroo, which her breeder gave me. The other one ignores both the mouse and the Kickeroo, though.
posted by sailoreagle at 11:20 AM on August 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

rings cut from paper towel or TP rolls - I just slice them with a craft knife at roughly 1/2 inch. they bounce, they roll, they can be chewed. I've noticed the TP cores have gotten much floppier lately, so I only use the paper towel cores these days.
Similarly to this, when I got my second cat I had to change how I stored my washi tape rolls, because if any are left in her reach, she will make off with them.
posted by sailoreagle at 11:25 AM on August 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Mine loves q-tips as mentioned above, but I pull off as much of the fluff as I can before giving one to her so I don't worry about her ingesting it.

Wrapped cough drops are also a hit.
posted by doift at 11:53 AM on August 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Never tried this myself, but my friend’s cat adored OB tampons. They don’t have applicators so they kinda look like mice.
posted by mermaidcafe at 7:53 AM on August 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Small risk mitigation, if you're currently using craft store pipe cleaners, you could go to the smoke shop and get pipe cleaners made with cotton bristles (for actually cleaning pipes). At least then if anything gets loose, your cat will be ingesting cotton fuzz instead of plastic fuzz...
posted by yeahlikethat at 9:41 AM on August 23, 2021

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