The Cat and the Oven Mitt: Odd Items that Cats Love

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Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo

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Hi, I’m Dr. Lauren! Read my introduction to learn more about me and my two adventurous cats, Pancake and Tiller.

The Cat Burglar may indeed be an apt description of certain feline propensities. Their ninja-like abilities to stalk, sneak, and silently pounce allow cats to get away with all sorts of mischief. Enter today’s topic: the odd things that cats like.

Growing up, we had a cat named Mr. Kitten. Or Kitten, for short. He started life with a much fancier and more creative name, but we also thought he started life as a girl. When we found out he was a boy, it was obvious he needed a new name, but we’d run out of steam, and names, and nothing stuck, so he became Kitten.

Kitten was a bit of an oddity, even as cats go: he liked to hop into the bathtub with me and walk around in the water, he loved pulling toilet paper from the bathroom and trailing it throughout the house, but his absolute favorite was the beloved oven mitt.

Mr. Kitten & The Oven Mitt

Go to remove something hot from the oven and no oven mitt in sight? Locate the cat, and you had better odds at also locating the mitt. Trying to wash an oven mitt was nigh impossible—he’d pull them out of the hamper, and burble while carrying them around the house. And if you did manage to successfully clean and dry one, chances are that he’d sneak into the basket before it made it back to the kitchen drawer, and he’d be off and running, oven mitt in tow.

But why do cats like these odd items? It’s a mystery. Some suggest that cats may have a certain attachment to such items and that they may experience a mothering instinct, treating these random objects like kittens, herding them throughout the house, and taking care of them.

Tiller's been fishing again!
Tiller’s been fishing again!

Tiller & Her Fish Toys

Tiller started life with a small slice of stuffed pizza and now has a series of stuffed fish toys that she routinely rounds up every night, to leave in various positions: grouped outside the bedroom; clustered at the bottom of the stairs, sometimes placed neatly in my shoes. It was a bit disconcerting the first few times, as I wondered if they were a vague cat threat (more food or you’ll be sleeping with the fishes!); so far, nothing seems to have come of it. Colloquially, when Tiller starts rounding up the fish in the house, we now say she is off “fishing” and leave it at that!

Pancake & Coins

Pancake, by contrast, used to really like coins. If a penny or a nickel fell on the floor, she was on it- batting it around until she could pick it up with her mouth. She’d then run around the house, carrying said coinage in her mouth. As a vet, all I could think was: foreign body! And quickly, that activity was curtailed!

Are There Risks Involved With These Behaviors?

Which leads to the downsides of this odd behavior:

There are some risks. Foreign bodies from ingesting these odd items cats seem to like is a real concern. Some of the more common foreign bodies that fit into this category include:

  • Hair ties
  • Coins
  • Rubber bands
  • Silicone (e.g. bottle tops, reusable straws)
  • Pieces of foam shoes (e.g. Crocs, flip flops)
  • String/yarn
  • Fishing flies/lures (especially with hooks, that represent a new level of danger!)

Another negative is a potential behavioral aspect. I remember once a colleague saying that even though her dog loved chasing the laser pointer, she refused to use it. Similarly, our university course on behavior echoed this concern. The thinking was that if the cat or dog could never actually catch the red dot, would that lead to ultimate feelings of unresolved frustration? For me, I just always think that the cats enjoy the experience as much as their much more frequent naps, but they burn far more calories in the game of chase, so I’m in the pro-red-dot camp.

Along those lines, I have heard discussion that allowing cats to partially act out these supposed mothering instincts (if that’s what they are doing), is similarly damaging to their psyche if the offspring aren’t actually completing their end of the bargain, and feeding back appropriate physical and emotional stimuli.

Even as a kitten Tiller was always looking for odd things to play with!
Even as a kitten, Tiller was always looking for odd things to play with.

The Story of the Cat Burglar

There’s also the rare risk of reprisal. Enter the discussion I had with a recent law-abiding cat owner, who truly had a cat burglar. I was examining her rather lovely short-haired cat, and complimenting her on what a great cat she was. Yes, said her owner…most of the time! But she’s been stealing things from the neighbors again…. The client went on to explain that her cat had now totaled various food items from the local street, including a few bags of microwavable rice, a few crusts of pizza, and a few days later, an entire slice of pizza.

Apparently, there had even been some neighborhood spousal accusations that some husband was throwing out various food items behind his wife’s back…when really, it was a neighbor’s cat thief at work! (Although I cannot condone illegal activities, I can certainly condone the cat’s choice in pizza!)

You might say that cats are truly odd, at heart, but isn’t that one of the reasons we love them all the more? Perhaps such odd behavior simply fits like a glove (or oven mitt). For me, I let Tiller have her fish, and try not to worry too much about the why as long as she seems happy. Pancake, however, is not allowed her coins. But that’s just my 0.02 on the matter…



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