by Nomi Berger
It’s an open secret that cats ENJOY playing with ribbon. In fact, anything resembling a ribbon – be it string, yarn or twine, shoelaces, tinsel or rubber bands – is a cause for kitty cat celebration.
There is, however, a fine line between safe play and unsafe play. Interacting with your cat by teasing her with a ribbon that she can bat at is both safe and fun, while watching as she chases a ribbon provides her with both physical exercise and mental stimulation.
On the other hand, permitting kitty to play with a ribbon without supervision is NOT safe. Although most cats may simply bat at and possibly chew on the ribbon, some will actually ingest it — with potentially deadly consequences.
The reason: the sandpaper-like texture of a cat’s tongue due to the tiny barbs on its surface. While useful for such activities as grooming and consuming prey in the wild, the direction of the barbs prevent them from spitting anything out, forcing them to swallow it instead. So if your cat has the end of a ribbon caught on her tongue, she will have to swallow the entire ribbon.
The results: if the piece is small enough, your cat may pass it or vomit it back up. If long or thick, part of it can lodge in your cat’s GI tract while the rest tries to pass through, causing a life-threatening condition known as gastrointestinal obstruction.
As your cat’s intestinal tract tries to move along the trapped ribbon, the intestine bunches up. This can lead to a loss of blood supply to tissue in the area of the “bunching”, causing that tissue to die. In extreme cases, the intestine can work so hard that it rips, allowing GI waste to pour into the abdominal cavity. This is a true surgical emergency. The longer your cat has that ribbon lodged in her GI tract, the greater the risk, and yet the procedure to remove it is considered equally risky.
If you suspect that your cat has eaten a ribbon, contact your vet immediately. You may be asked to monitor her for a few hours to see if it passes naturally or you may be told to come in to have her x-rayed and a course of treatment determined.
The key then, is both supervision and prevention, when it comes to kitties and ribbons. Never allow your cat to play with a ribbon (or any ribbon-like object) on her own. If you have any ribbon toys that you use when playing with her, ensure they’re securely stored whenever you’re not home. And be especially vigilant during holidays and other festivities when seductive streamers and tempting tinsel abound.