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The 12 Days of Christmas: Pet Hazards Series (Day 1 - Tinsel)

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DAY 1: Tinsel

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...

The danger of "foreign bodies"

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. It's this latter consequence that makes linear foreign body obstructions more 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 article.

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?). Being aware of this common holiday cat hazard can help prevent it.

What to expect if your cat swallows something

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 (their butt!) read this BEFORE doing anything!

If you pull the end that's protruding, you may cause significantly more damage than you are trying to prevent. The article above describes everything you should do in preparation for going to the vet or if you want to take the "wait and see" approach. 

Avoid this pet hazard

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 not have any tinsel on the tree or anywhere else in your home if you've got cats. But if you must use tinsel, keep a very close eye and be sure to keep your cats well away from it. 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.

Another very common linear foreign body type is covered on Day 9 of the 12 Pet Hazards of Christmas. Check it out and stay safe this holiday season.

Tinsel is Day 1.
Just to be safe check out all the other "naughty" days in the 12 Days of Christmas Pet Hazards series.

 

Topics: Cat Health, Cat Safety, Christmas pet hazards, To pull or not to pull, Linear Foreign Body, Tinsel, Dangerous Cat Toys, Pet Hazard, Cat Toys

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Please do not ask emergency or other specific medical questions about your pets in the blog comments. As an online informational resource, Preventive Vet is unable to and does not provide specific medical advice or counseling. A thorough physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinary-patient-client relationship is required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet is having an emergency or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic medical conditions, please contact or visit your veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

Please share your experiences and stories, your opinions and feedback about this blog, or what you've learned that you'd like to share with others.

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