This time of year, tinsel is a commonly found decoration adorning Christmas trees. As a decoration it seems harmless and attractive, however in the home of a pet owner, tinsel can be extremely dangerous.
Our recent hospital in-patient, Gia, could vouch for the troubles encountered with tinsel. The shiny strands draw in the eye of an often curious cat, and appears even more exciting to the feline eye as it shimmers when batted around. Many cats will ingest the tinsel, and when swallowed it can wreak havoc in the digestive system!
The tinsel strands tend to twist up inside the stomach and form a tangled ball. This can act as an anchor, keeping the main mass of tinsel in the stomach. A strand may also anchor around the base of the tongue. Longer strands attached to the ‘anchor’ will begin to journey through the intestinal tract. As these strands progress, the intestines squish together like an accordion, and the strands scrape and scratch against the inner lining of the intestines. Not only can this compromise the blood supply to the intestines, it can cause small openings in the intestine that allow the millions of bacteria from inside the intestines to spill into the abdomen and cause a severe, life threatening infection.
Pets affected by this scenario, known in the veterinary field as a “linear foreign body,” experience abdominal pain and vomiting. They normally lose their appetite and become very lethargic. After not eating and vomiting, they become dehydrated and weak.
Linear foreign bodies are often diagnosed with x-rays, and sometimes special contrast x-rays or ultrasounds are needed to diagnose this condition. Once confirmed, emergency surgery must be completed as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the intestines. Sometimes surgery is needed even if the diagnosis is not completely clear with x-rays to confirm the diagnosis and remove the foreign material if found.
Most cats recover with surgery. However, at times there is already too much damage done to the intestines and some patients will succumb to illness even with surgery. In other cases, multiple surgeries are needed.
Gia was lucky. She consumed a large amount of tinsel and began to vomit several times. After she brought up a ball of tangled tinsel, the vomiting stopped. Gia was given iv fluids to help her hydration after all the vomiting. Her x-rays showed that she had no evidence of additional tinsel stuck in her intestines, so no surgery was needed this time!
If you have pets (cats especially), we recommend NOT using tinsel! Please also see our news post on other holiday hazards. All of us at Bucksburn wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday season!