Light, airy packing peanuts can be fun for cats to chase, trap or even eat! Find him a new hobby, though -- those peanuts can cause intestinal blockages leading to illness, surgery or death. He might also suffer harmful effects from the toxins used in making some packing peanuts.
Types of Packing Peanuts
Packing peanuts are small, irregularly shaped, lightweight objects used to fill in space when packing and shipping boxes. They are most often made of Styrofoam, or polystyrene -- a type of chemical plastic that does not break down in the environment. Some packing peanuts are made of corn starch, which is biodegradable. To test a packing peanut for biodegradability, place it in a glass of warm water. If it dissolves, it's most likely made of corn starch and may not be overly harmful to your pet in small doses.
Your cat's intestinal tract may become blocked when he ingests any foreign, non-degradable material, including Styrofoam packing peanuts. Symptoms of a blockage or obstruction may include vomiting, lethargy, dehydration, weight loss, diarrhea or muscle weakness. Call your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these signs in your cat, because an intestinal blockage can be fatal if not promptly treated.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Intestinal Blockage
Ask your veterinarian about scheduling an endoscopy procedure. This involves the insertion of a tiny tube into your cat's intestinal tract, through which your vet will be able to examine any irregularities. Depending on the size of the object causing the blockage, it's possible the veterinarian can use the tube to extract it. Larger objects may require surgical removal.
Alternative Play Toys
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Keep your cat away from packing peanuts and other packing materials, including strings and corrugated treated cardboard, to guard against potential ingestion and associated intestinal blockages. If your cat enjoys chasing and capturing elusive objects, consider purchasing a nontoxic wind-up mouse, ball, feather or "lure" type toys that are safe and will entice your kitty into play. Even a paper bag can provide a curious cat with hours of safe fun.