Cats and tinsel can be an expensive combination, and it can prove fatal, too!
Tinsel is often a very attractive toy for cats. After all, its shiny, it dangles, and it’s something new in their environment. Few cats can pass it up – and even fewer can "pass it out".
When cats play with tinsel, they often end up swallowing some or getting some wrapped around their tongue, and this is when their nightmare (and yours) will begin. Fortunately, with awareness and some simple preventive steps, this is a common pet emergency that you can easily avoid. Read on to learn how...
Objects your pet ingests that then cause obstruction of their digestive tract are called 'foreign bodies'. There are two general types of foreign bodies that commonly obstruct the digestive tracts of cats and dogs.
- Linear foreign bodies: String-like materials (e.g. sewing thread, dental floss, fishing line, and many others) where one end of the strand becomes entangled or 'caught' at some point along the digestive tract while the other end is free to be moved along by the normal rhythmic movement of the intestines. This sets up a 'sawing type' action where the middle portion of the strand, the portion between the entangled end and the free end, becomes embedded within and eventually cuts through the intestine. This is not only painful for your pet, as you might imagine, but it also results in the spillage of intestinal contents into their abdomen. Its this latter consequence that makes this type of foreign body likely to be fatal without prompt and appropriate treatment (i.e. surgery).
- All others: Anything a pet ingests which causes complete or partial obstruction of their digestive tract through a means other than that described above for linear foreign bodies. These types of foreign bodies also typically require surgery (or endoscopy) for removal because of the damage they cause within the digestive tract, but that's a topic for another blog post.
Tinsel is a very common linear foreign body in cats at this time of the year, and one that can quickly deplete an already stressed savings account (you did get gifts for all of your loved ones, didn't you?). Be aware of this common holiday cat hazard to help prevent it.
If your cat is vomiting, lethargic, or not eating bring them for veterinary evaluation sooner rather than later. Delay in cases of linear foreign body obstruction will lead to a greater degree of dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and damage to the intestines. If you see tinsel (or any other type of linear material) protruding from your pet's rectum DO NOT pull on it!
If you do, you may cause significantly more damage than you are trying to prevent. You can carefully cut the protruding portion with scissors - just be careful not to cut their tail or their rectum in the process. It’s also a good idea, as gross as it may sound, to save the cut off portion of the strand and bring it with you to the veterinarian (I suggest putting it into a plastic bag). Bringing it along can help to determine the length of the strand still within your pet's digestive tract, and therefore how much needs to be retrieved surgically.
If you have cats, it’s safest not to use any tinsel in your holiday decorating. While it’s true that they may not play with or eat it, there really is no guarantee and it only needs to happen once.
Given that the complications and costs associated with medical care and surgical removal of linear foreign bodies often run in the $2,000-4,000 range, I imagine you will agree that it really is best to take the simple steps necessary to prevent it. Of course, the simplest of those steps is to not have any tinsel on the tree or anywhere else in your home if you've got cats. If you must use tinsel, keep a very close eye and be sure to keep your cats well away from it. (And from a realistic standpoint... start saving your money, because if you continue to use tinsel in your cat's environment, one day, perhaps not this year, but one day, your cat is very likely to need surgery to remove it from their digestive tract.)
Story by: Jason Nicholas-The Preventive Vet