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Ribbon & Cats: How Dangerous Is Ribbon?

It’s no secret that cats have an affinity for playing with ribbon.

Anything that falls under the umbrella of ribbon-like objects, such as string, yarn, twine, tinsel, shoelaces, and even rubber bands have caught many a curious cat’s eye during playtime.

But should you let your cat play with ribbon? Is it even safe? Here’s what you need to know about cats and ribbon or stringy items.

Is Ribbon Safe For My Cat To Play With?

Playing with ribbon in a supervised scenario should be fairly safe. For example, if you’re playing with your cat by teasing them with a ribbon that they can playfully bat, then that’s a safe and fun way to play.

Chasing stringy items can also provide a healthy dose of exercise and mental stimulation for your kitty.

If you’re not directly supervising or interacting with your cat during playtime, then ribbon — along with any other stringy object or material — is not a safe toy for your cat.

While most cats will simply bat at and maybe chew on the ribbon, there are cats who opt to eat the object. Ingesting such items can have potentially deadly consequences for your cat.

Why Is Ribbon Dangerous For Cats?

cat wrapped in ribbon
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If a cat has ever licked you, then you’re familiar with the sandpaper-like texture of the feline tongue. The tiny barbs on their tongues are useful for a lot of things, such as grooming and consuming prey in the wild.

The direction of the barbs of the tongue don’t allow a cat to easily spit anything out — they usually have to swallow. So if a cat has an end of ribbon caught on their tongue, they may end up swallowing the entire ribbon.

When cats eat ribbon or long, thread-like items, a few things can happen. If the piece is small enough, your cat may pass it or vomit it back up. This is a lucky scenario for cats who eats ribbon.

If the ribbon or thread is long or thick, it can lead to a life-threatening condition known as gastrointestinal obstruction due to linear foreign body.

Linear foreign bodies develop in cats when they eat ribbon. This means one end of the ribbon is lodged somewhere in your cat’s GI tract while the rest of it is trying to get passed through. As your cat’s intestinal tract tries to move the trapped ribbon along, the intestine plicates, or bunches up.

Imagine drawstring pants. If you knotted one side and pulled the other side as hard as you could, the material of the waistband would bunch up. This is what happens to your cat’s intestines with a linear foreign body obstruction.

This condition can lead to a loss of blood supply to tissue in the area of the plication, causing that tissue to die.

In extreme situations, the intestine can work so hard that it rips near the plication, allowing GI waste to enter into the abdominal cavity. This can result in death if not treated.

Should You Take Your Cat To The Vet If They Ate Ribbon?

cat chewing ribbon
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Linear foreign bodies are surgical emergencies in cats. The longer your cat has a linear foreign body, like ribbon, lodged in their GI tract, the bigger the health risks become.

Surgical procedures for removing ribbon from the GI tract are considered riskier than other foreign body removal scenarios.

Prevention is key when it comes to life or death surgeries caused by ribbons or any other linear foreign bodies. Do not let your cat play with ribbon on their own. If you have any stringy toys that you like to use to play with your cat, make sure they’re securely put away whenever you are not home.

Take extra precaution during holidays and celebrations so your cat doesn’t accidentally ingest tinsel, streamers, or ribbon used to wrap gifts.

If you suspect your cat has eaten ribbon or stringy material, contact your veterinarian ASAP. Your vet may have you monitor your cat for a few hours to see if it passes naturally, or they may have you come in immediately to get x-rays and determine a course of treatment.

Either way, having your vet involved is the best way to make sure ribbon doesn’t become a foreign linear body in your cat’s GI tract.

Do you play with ribbon with your cat? Have you ever had to go to the vet because your cat swallowed a stringy item? Let us know in the comments below!

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