Having a cat in the house is always a liability to some extent. They knock your juice glasses off the counter, tip Christmas trees over, use your new couch as a scratching post, and take swipes at your feet when you walk anywhere near them. And yet, you still love ‘em.

Here’s another risk you can add to the list: Christmas tree tinsel. Sure, everything hanging on the tree is in danger of being knocked down and chased across the floor, but that sparkly, wiggly tinsel poses an additional danger.

Tinsel is soft and small enough for your cat to gnaw on it. If your cat swallows it—which many will try to—it can get stuck in the digestive tract. Tinsel (and the ribbon wrapped around your gifts) is known to veterinarians as “linear foreign bodies.”

The problem with linear foreign bodies like tinsel is that it can get wrapped around the base of the tongue or lodged in the stomach or intestines. Once it gets stuck, your cat will have a hard time passing the glittery tinsel through the gastrointestinal tract—you know, in their feces.

It gets worse. As the intestines try to pass the tinsel or ribbon, they might bunch up around the linear foreign body. The tinsel can also lead to intestinal perforation, a tear in the intestines that can cause the intestinal contents to leak into the abdomen. This can be life-threatening.

If your cat has swallowed tinsel and it gets stuck in their digestive tract, you might notice the following symptoms, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Loss of appetite

  • Dehydration

  • Lethargy

If this happens, contact your veterinarian. If it’s serious, surgery may be necessary to remove the linear foreign body.

An obvious way to prevent this problem is to skip the tinsel this year. There are other ways to add shimmer to your Christmas tree that your playful cat won’t want to nibble on. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of mischievous cats, find out another holiday decoration that might be risky for cats and dogs.


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