The Cat Killer on Your Dresser

You may not realize it, but there could be a cat killer laying on your dresser in plain sight.

Every year, cats across the country are rushed to emergency rooms with potentially fatal blockages caused by the swallowing of hair ties.

“We see this situation pop up about once a month,” said Dr. Alyx Tracy, an Emergency & Critical Care Specialist with Charleston Veterinary Referral Center (CVRC).


While cats look adorable playing with bouncy, stringy objects like hair ties and rubber bands, they should never do so unsupervised (if at all), because swallowing them could kill them.

“It is cute to see a cat playing with a hair tie, but it is not worth the risk,” said Dr. Tracy.

Take the case of Juliet, who was brought to Charleston Animal Society along with two other cats by a Good Samaritan who said they had been left outside a home when their family moved out of state. Juliet seemed fine at first, but eventually she began not eating and then became lethargic. Radiographs showed she had an unusual sort of blockage in her stomach that would kill her if it was not removed.

What Charleston Animal Society Associate Director of Veterinary Care Dr. Leigh Jamison found was simply unbelievable -- a seemingly endless bundle of strings that continued to come out as Dr. Jamison surgically removed them. "I've never seen anything like it," Dr. Jamison said.

After everything was pulled out, the surgery team counted more than three dozen hair ties blocking Juliet's stomach, which had prevented her from eating or processing food. Tragically, the blockage caused a fatal buildup of fat in her liver. The emergency surgery and electrolyte treatment were not enough, and Juliet died.


Hair ties are like paper clips – if you have them, they end up everywhere and they’re hard to keep track of. That’s why experts say you shouldn’t encourage cats to play with hair ties, even when you’re watching, because there will always be that one that goes missing – and the question becomes did the cat swallow it?

Signs to look for include unusual vomiting, not eating and unusual tiredness. “Getting rid of a blockage means surgery,” said Dr Tracy. “Then, if the stomach or intestines don’t heal properly, it can cause damage to other organs, that could be life threatening.”

If you suspect your cat has swallowed a hair tie, go to your vet for an x-ray which can usually let you know what happened. If caught early enough, induced vomiting or a less invasive procedure called a “scope” could get the tie before it becomes a danger.


Along the lines of hair ties, there are other household dangers every cat owner needs to watch for. “Remember that your cat is like a toddler, if it’s small enough to put in their mouth, they will,” Dr. Tracy said.

  • Hair Ties
  • Rubber Bands
  • Nerf Dart Tips
  • Soft Ear Plugs