Issue 6: March 09
Dear Dr. Schelling,

My roommate told me the other day that I shouldn't leave dental floss lying around, as it could be dangerous to our house cat, Sophie. What,
is kitty going to start flossing? I thought my roommate was just getting
back at me for telling her to put the cap on the toothpaste and to
squeeze the tube from the bottom. But Sophie's a great cat (she helps
us all study) and I want to make sure she's safe. So is it true?
Is dental floss dangerous to cats?

– At least I floss


Dear At Least I Floss,

Your roommate is correct.

Although it isn't likely that Sophie would intentionally swallow the floss (or start a dental regime), she may investigate floss lying around or hanging over the side of a trashcan. The smell or the form may intrigue Sophie and cause her to investigate. If Sophie investigates with her mouth, the floss could get caught on the barbs on
her tongue.

Cats have very rough tongues with reverse-facing barbs called papillae. These barbs serve a variety of functions, including grooming. But the barbs also make it hard for cats to spit out things like string, so the string can get caught on the barbs and end up getting drawn further into the mouth.

This could result in the string looping under the bottom of the tongue and both ends going down the esophagus.

Another scenario is kitty swallows the string – which could happen quite unintentionally – and the string ends up anchoring to the intestinal tract. This results in the intestinal tract bunching up on itself, rather like an accordion, resulting in a life-threatening condition called an intussusception which would require surgery to resolve.

NOTE: If you ever see a string under a cat's tongue, don't pull on it as it could cause severe damage to the esophagus and/or intestines. Instead, immediately call your veterinarian or emergency facility if your vet's office is closed.)

Practical solutions include wrapping floss completely in a tissue when you dispose of it, using a covered trashcan in the bathroom, and/or placing the bathroom trashcan behind a kitty-proofed cabinet. So yes, your roommate is correct, but you can also tell her it is best to cap the toothpaste as human toothpastes may contain substances that could be harmful to Sophie.

Although toothpaste isn't necessarily as alluring as string to cats, some cats have very strange tastes and attractions. One of my cats, Suki, loves to lick the mouthwash bottle; she also goes crazy when I apply fragrance, and tries to lick it off me (of course I don't let her do either). So you just never know what kitty may or may not be attracted to.

-Dr. Schelling

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