Help! My Cat Ate a Hair Tie! What Should I do?

Why do cats eat hair ties, what are the complications, and what should you do about it.
| Updated: August 17, 2023
Group of bright colored hair ties for my cat ate a hair tie featured image

If you have a cat, you know how much cats love to play with small objects like hair ties. Or worse, you found out that your cat accidentally swallowed one. Yikes! If a cat swallows a hair tie accidentally or intentionally, it can cause very serious problems in its digestive system. Getting them to the vet quickly will help their chances the best, but your sweet kitty may still need emergency surgery.

Why Do Cats Eat Hair Ties?

Hair ties are one of the most common items cats play with. They come in bright, interesting colors, and the stretchy elastic makes them entertaining for hours. If you’re a cat anyway. They are also easy to grab and fling around.

Cats are naturally curious and playful animals. They love to explore new things, and their natural hunting instinct makes small objects that move or make noise extra exciting. Of course, hair ties don’t move around on their own. (Despite how it feels when you can’t find one) But when a cat bats it around or launches it across the room, it is now moving and becomes a game. Cats really could give self-play toddlers a run for their money.

Unfortunately, leaving hair ties out creates a risk for your cat. They can accidentally eat a hair tie while playing with it if it gets stuck in their mouth, throat, or around a tooth. On the other hand, they might intentionally eat one. Seems silly to us; hair ties don’t look very appetizing to me. But your cat might just like the taste or texture of it, or they could have a condition called pica.

What is Pica

Feline pica is a very common disorder that mainly affects young cats. Most of them grow out of it as they age. Pica causes cats compulsively eat things they shouldn’t, like non-food items. Cats with pica often eat rubber bands, strings, and even plastic bags, for example.

This, of course, makes it a very dangerous disorder. Any of those items can cause choking or intestinal blockages, which can be fatal or lead to abdominal surgery.


What Are the Symptoms of Hair Tie Ingestion in Cats?

If your cat swallowed a hair tie, you might not notice right away. Some will even pass it in their stool without ever having any problems. But other times, cats can develop serious complications. The most common clinical signs of hair tie ingestion to watch for are:

vet examining a cats sides and abdomend
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Straining to poop
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Shock

These symptoms can mean a hair tie or other foreign object caused an obstruction or perforation in your cat’s gastrointestinal tract. This can be life-threatening and requires immediate veterinary attention. If untreated, your cat can suffer from infections, sepsis, and death.

How to Prevent Your Cat from Eating Hair Ties?

There is one foolproof way to prevent your cat from getting ahold of hair ties and other objects it shouldn’t have. Keeping them picked up, put away, and out of reach. I know, I know, that’s impossible, and it really is. But doing your best to keep things out of sight and out of reach will go a long way to protecting your fluffy kitten.

Avoid leaving hair ties on counters, tables, the bed, the floor, etc… You can also try to get other types of hair clips or pins that are less appealing to your cat.

Another good way to keep your cat from eating or playing with hair ties is to give them plenty of toys and activities. There are thousands of different toys like balls, feathers, mice, and more that will satisfy their curiosity and hunting instincts to keep them mentally stimulated.

If your cat does have pica and eats non-food items compulsively, your best bet is to consult your veterinarian for advice.

Your veterinarian may want to run some tests to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may cause pica. They might prescribe some medications or supplements to reduce your cat’s stress or anxiety levels. Additionally, they may have some behavioral training or environmental enrichment techniques you can try to help your cat cope with pica.


What Do I Do If My Cat Ate A Hair Tie?

If you believe your cat has eaten an elastic hair tie, first look in the mouth or esophagus (throat); if it is and you can see the hair tie, try to gently remove it. If your cat fully swallowed it, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. They will most likely want you to bring the cat in for observation and tests, depending on the severity of symptoms. Some common diagnostic tests are:

  • X-ray images
  • Ultrasound
  • Blood Tests
veterinarian holding a cat on an xray plate to take radiographic images

Do not try to induce vomiting unless told to by your vet. Every situation is different, but in many cases, this can make things much worse.

Depending on the results of the tests (like where the hair tie is and if it’s stuck or not), and the condition of your cat, there are a few different procedures your veterinarian may perform:

  • Induce vomiting: Your vet might give the cat medication to make them vomit, hopefully bringing the hair tie out as well. This is only effective if the hair tie is still in your cat’s stomach and not the intestines. This procedure should only be done by a veterinarian since it can have some risks and complications.
  • Endoscopy: It can be difficult to get a cat to vomit, even with proper medication. So more commonly, your vet will insert a flexible tube with a camera and a tool into your cat’s mouth and down to their stomach or intestines. They will be anesthetized for an endoscopic procedure. The tool can then be used to grab and remove the hair tie. This is a minimally invasive procedure that does not require surgery, but it can be unsuccessful if the hair tie is too large or too deep in the small intestines.
    • Additionally, during an endoscopy, your vet can check for possible damage. If a hair tie gets stuck, it can slide back and forth (due to the elastic) in a sawing motion, damaging the tissue it’s pressed against.
  • Surgery: If the hair tie is deeper in the small intestines or stuck, it’s likely that surgery will be needed to remove it. Abdominal surgery involves making an incision in your cat’s abdomen and opening its stomach or intestines to remove the hair tie. This is the most invasive and risky procedure, but it is necessary if the hair tie has caused a severe obstruction or perforation that cannot be resolved by other methods.

The recovery time and overall prognosis of your cat will depend on the type of treatment and extent of the damage caused by the hair tie. Your veterinarian will give you care instructions for helping your cat after the treatment. Commonly given instructions are:

  • Pain medication and antibiotics as prescribed
  • Feed a bland diet or wet food for a few days
  • Monitoring eating, drinking, and pooping habits
  • Check the incision site regularly for signs of infection or bleeding
  • Keep them in a quiet, comfortable place
  • Restrict their activity and prevent them from licking or biting their wound
  • Following up with your veterinarian to check the healing and remove stitches if needed

Will Hair Ties Always Cause Issues When Swallowed?

Hair ties can cause serious issues in cats or none at all. Without taking her to the vet, there is no way of telling at home. It’s possible that surgery to remove a foreign material is necessary, and at other times the hair tie might pass on its own with no serious complications.

Always call the vet and at least get them in the loop before deciding what to do.

If your cat is showing no symptoms and your vet recommends watching her at home, you’ll want to check the stools daily to see if the hair tie has passed. A cat laxative may be recommended to help things along as well.

In many cases, a single hair tie is unlikely to cause problems. But if you don’t know how many there were or your cat hasn’t passed the hair tie after a couple of days, you’ll want to bring your cat to the vet. 

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Shayna Easton
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