Tinsel and garlands are great ways to decorate Christmas trees. They’re easy, they’re shiny, they sparkle in the lights… what more could you want?
Well, tinsel and the tinsel-like garlands can actually be pretty dangerous for cats. If you have ever used these to decorate, you know that it doesn’t only end up on the tree. It ends up all over the house. You may find more tinsel between the cushions in March!
And cats love tinsel.
Why? Who knows. Maybe because it’s shiny and sparkly. No one is really sure. But they do love it. And they love to eat it.
Here’s where the problem comes in. Cats will eat the long strings of tinsel (or pieces of garland, or other kinds of string, thread, or ribbon). If they eat enough, it can fill up their stomach and cause a blockage (obstruction) there. If they have an obstruction in their stomach, your cat may be lethargic, not eating, and may vomit. There may be pieces of tinsel in the vomit, but not always.
Cats can also have problems with just one piece of tinsel. Cats tend to swallow strings whole, without chewing them into pieces. This is what we call a linear foreign body. With a linear foreign body, one end of the tinsel can get stuck in the stomach, but the rest of it goes into the intestines. The normal movement of the intestines is supposed to move food from the stomach through the intestines. Since the end of the tinsel is stuck in the stomach, the tinsel doesn’t move, but the intestines get all bunched up on the tinsel. This can be a very dangerous situation for cats. They have an intestinal obstruction, so they will be lethargic, not eating, and probably vomiting. The tinsel (or string) can cause more damage to the intestines, and can even cut through the intestinal wall. This can cause a severe infection inside the abdomen, outside the intestines, and can make your cat very sick.
Consider skipping the tinsel and garland this year. Use more ornaments, or plastic garlands, or even popcorn garlands instead of the shiny stuff. Bring sparkle to your tree with ornaments and lights!
If you do use tinsel or garlands, try to keep them out of reach of your cats. Keep your cats in a separate room until you have the tree decorated and the stray tinsel strands cleaned up. Keep the tinsel high on the tree where the cat can’t reach it. And always keep a close eye on your cats when they are near the tree.
If you see that you cat is lethargic, not acting normal, not wanting to play or be around people, not eating, or is vomiting, call us (or your regular veterinarian) right away or come in. If they have an obstruction from eating tinsel (or some other kind of string), it could be an emergency an they may need medical attention, even emergency surgery, right away.