Cat Ate A Hair Tie: First Aid, Symptoms and Treatment

Last Updated on July 8, 2021 by Julia Wilson

What happens when a cat eats a hair tie?

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.

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

Choking

One or more hair ties can become lodged in the throat and cause choking. If the blockage is not cleared, the cat is starved of oxygen and will suffocate.

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).

If plication occurs, the gastrointestinal tract becomes blocked and the affected tissue can die. If trauma occurs in the large intestine, feces can leak into the peritoneal cavity leading to peritonitis which can be fatal.

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.

What should I do if my cat eats a hair tie?

If the cat has ingested one hair tie, check the mouth to see if it is still in the oral cavity and remove if you can safely do so. Do not attempt to remove a hair tie if it has broken and part of it has moved down the esophagus.

IT is always safest to err on the side of caution and speak to your cat’s veterinarian or an emergency veterinarian. They may recommend a wait and see approach, where the cat remains at home but is closely monitored by the caregiver for the onset of symptoms. Some cats may pass the hair tie out of the body (via the feces) without incident. Check the stools daily to ensure the hair tie has passed. If there is no sign of the hair tie within 3-5 days, contact your veterinarian.

How long does it take a cat to pass a hair tie?

A single hair tie should pass through the GI tract within 12-24 hours.

Can a cat die from eating a hair tie?

Hair ties can cause death by choking or damage the gastrointestinal tract, tissue necrosis and peritonitis which can cause death.

Clinical signs

The most common symptoms of gastrointestinal obstruction or telescoping of the intestines  include: 

Diagnosis

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.

Treatment

In some cases, the veterinarian may recommend a wait and see approach if the cat is not displaying clinical signs. Removal is indicated in patients who are symptomatic.

  • Induce vomiting: If the hair tie hasn’t passed through the stomach and into the small intestine, it may be possible to induce vomiting to help the cat bring the hair tie back up.
  • Esophagogastroscopy: If the hair tie is in the esophagus or stomach, it may be possible to remove it via endoscopy.  An endoscope (a long thin tube with a camera for the surgeon can visualise the GI tract) is inserted through the mouth and into the stomach. Once the surgeon has visualised the object, graspers are inserted through the endoscope which grasps the object, the endoscope is then withdrawn out through the mouth. This procedure allows the veterinarian to evaluate the GI tract for damage and is only minimally invasive.
  • Enterotomy: If the hair tie has passed through the stomach and into the small intestine, surgical removal under general anesthesia will be necessary. The cat is placed under general anesthesia and an incision is made in the abdomen to remove the tie. Damaged and necrotic tissue will be resected (cut out), and the healthy tissue will be reconnected in a procedure known as an anastomosis.

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.

Cost

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

Prevention

Unfortunately, we cats can’t understand the dangers associated with hair ties, therefore the safest way to prevent them from eating hair ties is to keep them out of reach of cats.

Redirect the cat by providing cat-safe toys and interactive games. Look for sturdy toys which don’t contain small parts that can be chewed off and swallowed. Provide different types of toys to prevent boredom and rotate regularly. Toys, along with a daily play session and cat trees will stave off boredom and reduce the likelihood of your cat getting into something potentially dangerous.