Why Do Cats Like Rubber Bands and Hair Ties?


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why do cats like rubber bands

I think by now we know that cats are unpredictable individuals. I mean you buy them the softest sleeping bed that was ever made, and they’ll still choose to sleep in the box it came in.

If your cats are anything like mine, then the same goes for toys. I buy them a fluffy ball; they’ll go for the clothespins. I buy them a few catnip-infused mice and they’ll go for my rubber bands or hair ties instead!

Why do cats like rubber bands and hair ties? Cats love to hunt string-like and bouncy objects that they can chew. Playing with rubber bands and hair ties may seem harmless, but if ingested rubber bands can damage your cat’s intestinal tract and may require surgical removal. So it’s important to watch your cat closely or offer other toys.

If you’d like to know more about why do cats like rubber bands then let’s unravel this mystery!

Why Do Cats Like Hair Ties and Rubber Bands?

Cats are curious creatures, and you can find them playing with the most unusual things. They can spend hours entertaining themselves with empty boxes, paper bags, and even dirty socks! And while their love both for cardboard boxes and paper bags has been explained, what’s the allure of hair ties, rubber bands, and scrunchies?

Feline Hunting Instincts

What a lot of people might not understand about cats is that when they play, they engage in predatory behavior, which is essential for their wellbeing. Because of their size cats in the wild prey on small animals like rodents and birds that they can carry home or just consume on the spot.

That’s why cat toys are usually designed to resemble the same kind of prey our feline friends usually go for. These toys are small, they’re easily tossed around and if they’re interactive toys then they usually look like mice or have feathers.

Mikel Delgado, co-author of recent research supports this idea by saying, “the patterns of behavior are similar, and the things that entice cats to hunt also get them excited about toys.” 

While rubber bands might not seem to look like prey to us their small size, chewy texture, and jumpiness mean that they’re quite alluring to cats. It’s quite evident that rubber bands, hair ties, and even ribbon-like items can be very entertaining, and perhaps by taking them away from your cat you make the hunting game even more exciting!

Hoarding

Some cats might actually enjoy keeping hair ties and rubber bands as a sort of trophy. According to Dennis Turner, a Swiss-American biologist, “cats are opportunistic hunters and must be ready to stalk and catch any prey they discover by chance – even if they’re not hungry.”

So, while you see a hair tie or rubber band, our cats see a chance to capture prey and maybe even save it for later. This food storing or caching behavior can actually explain a lot of unusual feline behaviors including why so many cats scratch around their food or water bowl

And as for your poor collection of hair ties, I’d suggest you look under the couch because that’s where I find mine!

They Like The Material

Another possible reason why your cat is so fascinated by rubber bands is the chemicals in them. Cats have a keen sense of smell, and according to VCA hospitals “humans have 5 million olfactory receptors that detect aromas, while the feline nose has 45 to 80 million!”

This powerful sense of smell means our cats could be smelling things in rubber bands or hair ties that we just can’t appreciate. The folks at Canidae point out, “some plastics have other chemicals in them that have interesting smells which can attract cats. It’s possible that cats detect a smell that mimics pheromones.” This can could possibly explain a lot of feline behavior around synthetic material like rubber and plastic and it’s one of the theories we used to explain why cats like to lick shower curtains, too. But it could also help explain why cats enjoy playing with hair ties and rubber bands so much!

Along with the interesting smell, your cat might enjoy the texture as they chew on it and the sound it makes when they run around chasing it. A hair tie can also have your scent on it which might also attract your kitty because they want to reclaim it, or because it gives them a sense of familiarity.

Stress

Playing is part of a cat’s nature, but in certain cases different stressors can lead to your cat showing excessive behaviors that include hunting, sucking, and chewing on different objects. If you notice your kitty showing signs of excessive chewing on rubber bands and other similar objects, then your kitty might be stressed, and this is their way to self-soothe.

VCA hospitals explain that “the owner should try to identify environmental or social changes that may contribute to anxiety and the behavior.” They also suggest that “if a source of stress or conflict can be identified then a specific program to resolve these problems may need to be implemented.”

If you’re not sure what the best solution is for your kitty to feel safe again then try getting in touch with your vet or a feline behaviorist who can help you determine the source of your cat’s anxiety and the perfect solution for your furball.

Should You Worry About Your Cat Playing With Rubber Bands?

There are different objects, some weirder than others, that your cat might enjoy playing with and that’s not necessarily bad. Toys are very important for your cat’s wellbeing since they can’t go out and explore vaster surroundings full of potential prey.

Toys help stimulate your cat’s mind and get them to express their hunting instincts and hone their pouncing and chasing skills in the safety of our homes. It’s a great way to get your cat to exercise, to blow off some steam, and keep themselves entertained while we’re asleep or simply away.

Unfortunately, not all objects and even manufactured toys are safe. Pet insurance companies actually warn pet owners about the dangers of certain items and materials, which all have some things in common. They’re mostly string-like items like elastic yarns, ribbons, toys with small parts inside or small enough for your cat to swallow, and among them you’ll also find rubber bands.

Unless of course, they’re using rubber bands to play music, like this little fella!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBDlJcKuo0c&ab_channel=SillieNelson

Jokes aside, these types of objects and toys that fit into these kinds of characteristics can be quite dangerous and even prove fatal. That’s why it’s important to always keep potentially dangerous toys, hair ties, and rubber bands away from your kitty, especially when you’re not around to keep an eye on them!

Why Do Cats Eat Rubber Bands?

While not all cats actually eat non-edible things, it can also happen by accident. I’m sure most of us have had an unpleasant experience of accidentally swallowing a candy or gum, at least once in our lifetimes.

There are, of course, cats that can end up consuming these seemingly harmless little toys purposefully and it can be helpful to know the reason behind such an unreasonable behavior.

It’s A Form Of Pica

The reason your kitty might be so prone to stealing your rubber bands, hair ribbons, and ties to play with and in some cases eat them, is a certain condition called pica. This is a compulsive behavior in which your cat will suck, lick, and even consume inedible items.

According to some studies, there’s no particular reason why pica may occur in domestic cats and it wasn’t necessarily caused by “suboptimal environment or early weaning,” but instead cats with pica “were less commonly fed ad libitum than healthy cats.”

There are other studies that have found that Burmese cats like the Siamese were more prone to pica and Maine Coon cats enjoyed wool sucking. According to Arnold Plotnick a feline specialist, “pica accounts for approximately 2.5% of abnormal behavior in the domestic cat.” It also seems that some cats will turn to this suckling behavior after experiencing high levels of stress.

Malnutrition, Anemia, and in some cases boredom has been associated with this condition. Removing items and certain materials from your home as well as redirecting your cat’s behavior with the help of positive reinforcement can help you control your cat’s impulses, but that won’t be enough.

To figure out what is triggering this kind of behavior and if your kitty actually has pica a visit to your vet is essential. This way you’ll be able to find out if there’s actually a health issue that’s at fault or if it’s mental in which case a professional feline behavioralist can help you deal with it in the best ways possible!

Destructive Behavior

Rubber bands can be quite entertaining because of their texture and bouncy nature and a cat can easily get lost in their own hunting game. Cats that tend to be a bit more aggressive especially during playtime might enjoy biting these kinds of stretchy materials excessively, which can result in partial or complete ingestion.

This extreme immersion could be part of feline destructive behaviors like scratching the furniture or even attacking your legs as you pass by. According to vets the best way of putting a stop to such outbursts is making rubber bands inaccessible and less attractive, as well as spending more time with your cat and playing with them to prevent boredom!

It’s important to remember while we may see these behaviors as “bad” because they might cause damage to our house, they’re part of their nature and they’re only bad if your cat’s health is at risk. As pet owners, we have the responsibility and to control their environment, not only by taking everything harmful that they may find fun but by also adding safe toys, cat trees, and play sessions to keep them happy.

As we mentioned before this kind of destructive and excessive behavior could also be routed in neglect or stress caused by a major change. You might have recently moved or adopted another pet which can cause anxiety as well as jealousy. All of which can be managed by paying more attention to your kitty’s needs or talking with a behaviorist to help you lessen their anxiety.

OCD

If you’ve noticed that your kitty is kind of obsessed with rubber bands and hair ties and that they chase them around your house, lick, and chew on them excessively then it could be an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

According to studies compulsive disorders in animals can occur without them suffering from dermatologic, neurologic, or other medical conditions. The few factors that can cause this kind of compulsive behavior are usually stress-related. So once again it’s important to establish what changed in your cat’s routine or life altogether.

Sadly, some owners end up reinforcing this behavior or in some cases cause it by punishing their cats. It’s also possible that your kitty has more than one manifestation of their OCD. Did you notice any repetitive, exaggerated behaviors that don’t have a purpose like, pacing, repetitive vocalization, and in the case of rubber bands it’s licking, chewing, and eating them?

By paying close attention to your cat you might find more signs of compulsive behaviors like eating different fabrics like wool, or even digesting their own fur while they’re grooming.

Mental disorders that could be unique to each cat or can develop with age are also possible causes for OCD. That’s why it’s important for your vet as well as an animal behaviorist to examine your cat and help you find what is causing this rubber band obsession and if OCD is to blame.

What To Do If Your Cat Swallowed A Rubber Band?

As much fun as your kitty might be having by running around your house chasing after a rubber band, these things can be quite dangerous. Even if your feline companion isn’t planning on eating them it can happen by accident.

Because these accidents can happen even if we’re careful it’s important to know how to handle them. If you suspect that your cat swallowed a rubber band you can open their mouth and check to see if it’s still in there and if it’s free to move, then you could gently remove it.

If you feel any sort of resistance or if it’s too deep, then the first and only choice is taking your cat to the vet as quickly as possible. A professional will be able to remove it without causing any damage to your cat’s esophagus or lining of the mouth.

In case you don’t find anything in your cat’s mouth upon examination and the rubber band they were playing with is nowhere to be found then once again it’s time to see your veterinarian. 

While some objects can pass through the gastrointestinal tract uneventfully, rubber bands are notoriously difficult to pass and can cause serious damage.

Remember that early intervention can save your cat’s life!

Other Weirds Things Your Cat Might Be Eating

You might’ve noticed your cat’s enthusiasm over rubber bands, hair ties, and scrunchies, but this doesn’t mean that your kitty can’t have other nonedible passions in life that they enjoy secretly chewing on or even eat!

Knowing what your cat might be eating on the side can help you keep an eye on them and better regulate this behavior.

Wool

The most common material cats use to chew, suck and even ingest is wool and according to research, it’s 93% of cases. As mentioned, Maine Coon cats are also very prone to wool sucking and this behavior in cats overall usually happens during a kneading session.  

You may find your cat knead and bite their woolen blanket for example or a soft jumper you own. It’s usually a behavior related to self-soothing and grooming can also be part of that behavior, usually caused by stress or it’s a habit they’ve carried from their kittenhood into their adult cat life.

Just like rubber bands, wool sucking can be dangerous, and it can appear in cats who suffer from the condition previously discusses called pica. Because kneading can seem harmless the chewing and ingestion can go unnoticed.

That’s why make sure to check any wool or soft fabrics your cat enjoys kneading and look for missing pieces that’ll tell you whether they also enjoy the taste of wool and not rubber only.

Electric Cords

I know rubber bands can seem a strange choice for a meal and wool doesn’t seem too appetizing, but electric cords just sound crazy! Unfortunately, they’re not crazy and because electric cords have the same bouncy flexibility as rubber bands many cats are interested. 

Veterinarians at the University of California, Davis try to warn cat owners to be more careful with electric cords, especially during the holidays when they can be found all over the house. If your kitty ends up chewing on a light cord, which isn’t especially thick and insulated they can easily get electrocuted.

According to these veterinarians “respiratory distress is a sign of electrocution, as well as a burn mark across the lips or tongue.” Their advice is that you immediately visit your veterinarian in case you notice such signs.

Plastic Bags

Cats love bags and I think everyone by now knows it for a fact! They like to hide in them, scratch them and unfortunately, some like to chew on them and as you probably figured out also eat them!

The reason behind such fascination can be the sound the plastic bags make when you play with them as well as the strange texture. According to Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist at Tufts University states that this behavior is a mild version of a compulsive disorder called wool sucking and it’s rooted in pica.

What’s important to note is that Dodman explains that this preference for plastic is a “texture-specific eating disorder, meaning the cats just like that texture.” And he also adds that “it’s not dangerous unless the cat is ingesting the plastic, which can lead to intestinal blockages.” So while hanging out and sitting on a plastic bag is fine, things can quickly become dangerous if you find your cat eating the plastic.  

Ribbons

One of the most fun and dangerous objects cats enjoy playing with are ribbons and many owners use them to play with their lovely furballs. The problem with such objects is that if ingested they can cause serious damage to the gastrointestinal tract by creating an obstruction, which will prevent food pass through the stomach and the intestines.

Vets also refer to such long objects like tinsel or ribbons as a “linear foreign body.” These linear foreign bodies can cause infection, but they can also cause a tear through the intestines causing “leakage of gut content into the abdomen.” Not good. 

If you think your kitty has swallowed a ribbon every veterinary clinic will advise you the same thing, bring your cat for examination! It’s also advisable to keep such objects away from your kitty when they’re alone and be especially careful around the holiday seasons when most gifts usually come with ribbons.

How To Stop Your Cats From Eating Rubber Bands?

Cats can be sneaky, and this stealthy attitude can make it difficult to figure out that they’re doing something wrong in the first place. For new cat owners, this rubber band enthusiasm might be a strange behavior to come up against and it might even seem harmless, but it’s important to deal with it before it becomes a habit and your cat ends up being hurt.

Limit Your Cat’s Opportunities

The first step you need to take when you notice that your cat has an unhealthy interest in rubber bands, hair ties and any object that can cause damage is to provide them with a safe alternative. If your cat enjoys chewing, then you could try dry food high in fiber or dental foods and treats.

The next step would be to provide your feline companion with companionship in the form of play. I think sometimes we forget to spend interactive time with our cats that will stimulate their hunting instincts. 

Feline researcher Mikel Delgado states that “cats can’t really get lost in the hunting experience like they can when someone else is moving the toy.” That means interactive play is always best!

Reduce Your Cat’s Stress

According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Society of Feline Medicine, “All cats have the same essential environmental needs. Unfortunately, many cats live in homes that are missing some key elements, and this results in stress-related disorders as well as unwanted behaviors.”

So, a great way to minimize your cat’s unwanted and unsafe behaviors is to find the root of the problem. There are several possibilities explaining why your kitty enjoys excessive playing with rubber bands, but it’s usually their way to feel safe or manage stress with play behavior. 

Choose Safe Toys Instead

So, you’ve taken all necessary precautions and there are no hair ties, no rubber bands, and other dangerous objects your cat likes to nibble on, and you might wonder how are you going to replace them?

Toys made for cats can still be unsafe and if you decide to buy toy mice make sure they don’t have any small removable details. If they do they try to remove plastic eyes, noses, or any other part they could swallow. If a toy has feathers try to not leave your cat alone with such a toy in case they’ll end up ingesting them.

Try to pick interactive toys from strong material fabrics rather than a string, and if you’re not sure about a toy then don’t leave your kitty unsupervised. Now, if you find that your cat doesn’t play with anything unless it’s a rubber band then perhaps you haven’t offered versatile and stimulating enough alternatives.

A good toy can be a game-changer for your cat, literally!

You can start with investing in a few different toys to see what brings out the inner hunter in your kitty. One of my cats prefers soft mice and the other will only play with me when I use a ribbon or a wand that I can bring into life. You also don’t want to spend a fortune which is why my go-to starting toy are these sturdy and very budget-friendly mouse toys on Amazon. While they don’t perfectly mimic a rubber band, they are a lot safer and the catnip will help keep cats interested. 

Schedule A Vet Consultation

Paying attention and keeping an observant eye over your cat’s wellbeing is very important, but a professional can always help. A trained vet will be able to give you personalized advice to help you cope with whatever problems may arise. That’s why regular vet visits are vital to your cat’s physiological and psychological wellbeing.

So, even if your cat hasn’t swallowed a rubber band, you might want to get a few tips and suggestions on how to deal with your cat’s excessive behaviors then the vet clinic is the perfect place!

Closing Thoughts

Having a feline companion will teach you to expect the unexpected and marvel at the unpredictability of your furry friend! If for instance, you’re thinking that loving rubber bands, hair ties, and all sorts of ribbons can hide no dangers, your cat will be there to prove you wrong.

This just goes to show that being a cat parent is a great responsibility and that we must always be vigilant. What’s also important to remember is that mistakes can happen, and accidents may follow, but a visit to the vet is the best decision in these situations!

Marina Titova

Marina was cat-struck 8 years ago. It was early autumn when Dante, her grey cat, found her and adopted her. They’ve been inseparable ever since. Dante has been a great cat-teacher and BetterWithCats.net seemed like the perfect place to share his cat-knowledge.

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