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Holiday Hazards for Cats: Why String, Ribbon, and Tinsel Are Dangerous

Holiday Hazards for Cats: Why String, Ribbon, and Tinsel Are Dangerous

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Christmas season and gift giving occasions are an exciting time for families and friends, yet they pose a serious health risk to cats.

One of the most dangerous myths about cats is that string-like objects such as yarn, ribbon, bows, and tinsel are good toys for them.

Cats and kittens are very drawn to string, so they’re extremely vulnerable to the dangers of playing with string-like objects.

While it might be cute to watch, that fun and enjoyment can become very dangerous if things take a wrong turn.

Keep reading to learn why string, yarn, ribbon, and other items in this category are dangerous for cats.

Cat Tongues Can’t Handle String

Cats have rough tongues because they are covered with these barb-like structures called papillae that point toward their throat.

These barbs are what make a cat’s tongue have that sandpaper feeling.

The barbs help cats lick off any debris or loose hair when they’re grooming themselves.

For wild cats, the barbs are what help them remove an animal’s flesh from the bone.

These same barbs that help your cat with grooming and eating work against your cat when it comes to yarn and string.

Why? Because the barbs point toward the throat, guiding the stringy object down the esophagus.

This makes it very difficult for your cat to spit the yarn out.

Instead, they try to pull the string out with their paws or simply swallow it.

Swallowing a string-like object is the dangerous part.

An Intestinal Disaster

Once a cat swallows yarn or string, a very dangerous phenomenon occurs.

If the cat doesn’t poop the whole string out or vomit it back up, it could mean that part of the string has become lodged in part of their intestines.

The medical term for this event is a linear foreign body, and it could result in severe medical complications or even death.

Just like in humans, when cats digest something, the intestines move the food (or in this case, yarn or string) through the digestive tract.

However, when one end of the string becomes lodged, the intestines continue to try to moving down the tract.

The intestines then plicate (bunch up), like an accordion.

This is a very painful and life threatening condition for cats.

It is rarely caught in time.

For cat owners lucky enough to notice in time, the only way to remove the lodged string is with an expensive emergency surgery.

This is when pet insurance comes in handy.

In the event something like this happens to your cat, you know you’re financially prepared for it.

What do I do if my cat eats string?

If you see a string sticking out of your cat’s mouth or out of their bottom, do NOT pull on it.

This could cause the “accordion” phenomenon in the intestines.

Call the vet immediately. This is an emergency– the longer you wait, the worse it will get.

Your cat will likely require surgery to remove the foreign body.

The sooner you take your cat to the vet, the better.

Advances in Animal & Veterinary Science

Choking Hazards

A secondary danger of string-like objects is that your cat can get it wrapped around their paw, or worse, their neck.

Although it might seem cute and playful at first, a couple rolls in the wrong direction could cause suffocation or damage to a limb.

If your cat starts to feel trapped in the yarn or string, a common response is to run away.

This resistance can make the string wrap around them even tighter.

They could seriously injure themselves or even choke to death, so please be careful and supervise them!

[AUTHOR’S NOTE] I knit. I have to be very careful when I’m knitting to make sure that my cat isn’t entertaining herself with one of the many skeins of yarn I have.

She’s better about not playing with the yarn now that she’s older, but I don’t trust her with it when I’m not around.

If you knit or crochet and have a large stockpile of yarn, you can use the clear zipper bags to store your yarn.

Holiday Danger

More cats die from string-related injuries around the holiday season than any other time of the year.

This is because tempting objects are left unattended where cats can get tangled in them or consume them.

Part of being a responsible cat owner is knowing there are sacrifices you must make to keep your cat out of harm’s way.

No holiday tradition or decoration is worth risking your cat’s life.

Holiday season in particular is when many cat owners realize they will need to adjust their lifestyle for their cat.

However, these adjustments are a small sacrifice to keep your cat safe.

Follow these steps to avoid a life threatening accident.

1. Avoid tinsel entirely: If you choose to use tinsel, secure it somewhere you are absolutely certain your cat cannot access.

2. Keep ribbons and bows out of your cat’s reach: Be especially careful when wrapping or unwrapping gifts.

Keep a close eye on your cat and clean up immediately afterward.

If your cat cannot resist the temptation, secure him/her in another room until you are finished with the bows and ribbons.


3. Warn friends & family of the risk: It’s normal for guests to want to entertain your pets, but make sure they are entertaining your cat with the right toys.

Educate your guests (especially children) on the risks and provide them with safe alternatives to play with your cat.

4. Secure your cat: Holiday season can be chaotic and you may find yourself having a hard time keeping an eye on your cat.

If this is the case, secure your cat in a safe space with all their basic necessities.

For example, place your cat in a room where guests, gifts, and holiday decorations are absent.

5. Assume nothing: Just because your cat has enjoyed string-like objects in the past does not mean they’re exempt from the life threatening risks.

Remember, cats aren’t thinking about their safety. They simply want to play.

Don’t take any chances— eliminate the risk of danger regardless of how your cat has behaved in the past.

Why Do Cats Like String, Ribbon, and Yarn?

Your cat might love ribbons, strings, and yarn because of an instinct to hunt snakes.

In the wild, snakes can be either dinner or a threat. Cats will attack them to either defend themselves or hunt.

Stringy objects may trigger their instincts from the wild.

Safe Stringy Alternatives

Playtime is important to cats. Just because yarn and string are dangerous doesn’t mean you have to take the fun away altogether.

There are plenty of safe alternatives to give your cat the same thrill, but without the potential danger.

1. Rubber Snakes: Many cat owners have reported that rubber snakes are a great alternative for dangerous stringy objects.

Note: Cut off the rubber snakes’ tongues to make sure your cat doesn’t try to eat them.

Click here to get the rubber snakes on Amazon.

3. Interactive Cat Ribbon: This one is something you can have fun entertaining your cat with!

Click here to get the Interactive Cat Ribbon on Amazon.

**GOLDEN RULE** Any string or ribbon with a width of at least one inch is considered safe. For our UK readers, this is roughly 2.5 cm.

Final Word of Advice

If your cat can’t resist a good ball of yarn or a stray piece of string, you need to make sure those items are well out of paw’s reach.

Anything they swallow that is long enough to get stuck in their gut is potentially dangerous.

Even a small piece of string (like dental floss) can be dangerous for your cat.

Keep your home neat and tidy so you can make sure there are no string hazards.

Consider the alternatives listed above to satisfy your cat’s playful side.

SUMMARY: Why are Yarn, String, and Ribbon Dangerous To Cats?

  1. They can get lodged in the cat’s intestinal tract and cause the intestines to bunch up, causing an expensive medical emergency that requires surgery.
  2. Your cat can get tangled in them, causing them to choke, suffocate, or loose blood flow in a limb.
  3. Holiday season and gift giving occasions put cats at serious risk of life-threatening emergencies.

QUESTION: Did you know yarn, string, and ribbon were dangerous to cats? If so, how do you prevent accidents? If not, what will you do differently? Tell us your answer in the comments below.

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Saturday 1st of October 2022

When I was younger my mom took one of yarns my cat really liked to try to play with (she never let him get too far) and finger knitted it into something thick enough (like 2 in) that it wasn't dangerous anymore. That cat has passed on, but our new cat also adores it.

leta rosetree

Sunday 26th of December 2021

Discouraging to have so many dog pics with every Cat help Please, try to back off and keep them dsepsrate.

Vicky Martinez

Saturday 20th of June 2020

Was taught at a very early age to never let cats play with yarn string or ribbon it can kill them who ever thought it was a vhf ood toy for cats is not very smart

Janice Ellis

Sunday 26th of December 2021

@Vicky Martinez,

Francine Schuster

Saturday 20th of June 2020

My cat had tapeworms when I originally took her in. They would poke out of her anal area. I never tried to grab it. I took her to the vet and it took several treatments to get rid of those things, but she has been worm free since!

Doreen Timmers

Friday 20th of December 2019

I habe always tried to keep my cats from playing with string, ribbon and yarn.