Feb 06 2017

Is it Safe for Cats to Play With String/Yarn/Ribbons?


Last week, we had a kitten that came in because he was listless, lethargic, vomiting and straining to defecate. He had swallowed several pieces of thin yarn.

Most people who have pets enjoy playing with them and giving them toys. Unfortunately, unlike children’s toys, there are no proper regulations to ensure toys made for dogs and cats are safe. Sometimes, not understanding the danger, owners will let their cats play with string, yarn, ribbons, etc. This can be fatal to a cat. The reason is that cats have small barbs on their tongues. These barbs point backwards. The function of these, aside from making the tongue feel like sandpaper when he/she licks you, is to make grooming more effective. But, the barbs also make it difficult for a cat to remove a string or fabric from its mouth. So, if a cat is playing with or chewing on one of these materials, it goes back in the mouth and gets caught on the little barbs. The cat is not able to pull it back out again, and will reflexively start to swallow the whole thing.

The cat may choke on the string or it may lodge in the intestinal tract, and may need to be surgically removed. In the worst cases, the string or thread becomes caught in the mouth, either by wrapping around the base of the tongue or a tooth, or there may be a needle on the end of a thread that punctures the mouth or throat and lodges there. With one end of the string caught, when the intestines try to move the string along, it actually saws through the intestines. This causes multiple holes in the intestine, which need sutures and can lead to a massive infection in the abdominal cavity (Peritonitis). Without emergency abdominal surgery, the cat will soon die.

Dragging or waving around a string is a favorite way to amuse a cat. There is no reason to stop this game. You do need to use caution, though. Don’t let your cat play with these items unsupervised. And, put them away when they are done playing. Please don’t leave sewing, fishing or wrapping supplies out where the cats can get to them. Be cautious of lace, rubber bands, yarns, shoelaces, dental floss, fishing line, ponytail elastics and scrunchies, ribbons, etc.

Even though the image of a kitten and a ball of yarn is a favorite, it is not a good combination. Luckily, we were able to save the kitten from last week. The best treatment is prevention. So, please give your cats only safe toys.

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