The Dangers of Hair Ties to Cats

A lot of cats love to play with hair ties, batting them around the floor and throwing them into the air. These seemingly benign products pose a serious risk to the gastrointestinal tract of cats when ingested.

What happens when a cat eats a hair tie?

There are three primary risks when a cat ingests hair ties:

Gastrointestinal obstruction

Obstructions can occur anywhere along the GI tract from the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines. When this happens, food cannot pass through the GI tract and out of the body.

For the curious, click here to watch a veterinarian remove a large number of hair ties from the stomach of a cat.

Plication of the intestines

When a cat ingests a linear foreign body (a foreign body that is long and thin, in this case, a hair tie or a bunch of hair ties), one part of it can become lodged, often at the base of the tongue, the esophagus or the opening of the stomach (pylorus), which acts as an anchor. The other part is propelled along the GI tract by peristalsis, which is the wave-like contraction of the GI tract to push food along until it becomes taut. The GI tract below the lodged tinsel will creep up the trailing part of the tinsel and become plicated (folded).

Death to gastrointestinal tissue

The elongated elastic cut into the bunched up intestines leading to life-threatening peritonitis (Inflammation of the membrane which lines the abdominal wall and covers the abdominal organs) or cutting off blood supply which causes the tissue to die.

Clinical signs

The most common symptoms of GI obstruction or telescoping of the intestines is vomiting and loss of appetite. Other symptoms can include lethargy, abdominal pain, and reduced or absent defecation.


The veterinarian will perform a physical examination on the cat and obtain a medical history from you. It may be possible to feel the accordion-like plicated intestines during abdominal palpation.

Diagnostic workup:

  • Baseline tests: Biochemical profile, complete blood count and urinalysis to evaluate the overall health of the cat and to rule out other causes of vomiting.
  • Xrays: Will reveal the blockage and/or bunching up of the intestines and abnormal gas patterns.
  • Ultrasound: If an x-ray is inconclusive, the veterinarian can perform an ultrasound, which provides a 3-dimensional view of the intestines. This can also provide information on the location and the length of the foreign body as well as evaluate the intestines.
  • Barium contrast: To look for telescoping of the intestines. This involves feeding barium to your cat, which coats the lining of the intestines, then performing an x-ray.


Surgical removal (enterotomy) requires general anesthesia, followed by one or several incisions in the abdomen to remove the hair tie(s) followed by surgical resection to remove any necrotic intestinal tissue.

Veterinary staff will monitor the cat post-surgery. Intravenous fluids, antibiotics and painkillers will be administered during this time. Most cats will be well enough to go home 24-72 hours after surgery.


The cost of abdominal surgery to remove foreign objects and/or repair tissue can range from $800 to $4,000.

Julia Wilson is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time. Full author bio Contact Julia