The foam part of the dart is soft enough to pass through the digestive tract in most cases, but the hard plastic tip seems to be particularly prone to causing an obstruction in the stomach or intestines of a cat. Its size, shape and texture mean that it’s too big to pass with ease along the narrower parts of the feline digestive tract. If the dart tip does cause an obstruction, the affected cat falls seriously ill, becoming inappetent, dull and often vomiting.
When the cat is taken to the vet, diagnosis is not always simple: blood tests, x-rays and ultrasound may be needed to discover the cause of the cat’s problem. And treatment is costly and risky too: the only cure is surgical removal of the object, an operation with a mortality rate of around 20 percent and a price tag of up to £5000.
Plastic tipped foam darts are a common and popular toy, but the risk to cats is not yet well known. Vets have been reporting hundreds of affected cats, with many sad stories to tell. Some cats are repeat offenders, with each incident requiring another operation to remove the dart tip. One young adult cat needed three operations in a six-month period. Cats don’t learn that darts are dangerous to eat.
In some cases, the high cost of the operation has meant that affected cats have been euthanised rather than treated. In other cases, cats have not survived the complex and hazardous surgery to remove the obstruction.
The issue should be an easy one to prevent, and awareness is the starting point. Simple measures, such as counting the darts at the beginning and end of play sessions, would significantly reduce the risk of the objects being accessible to cats. Most of the UK’s cats enjoy visiting gardens in their own neighbourhood, so even non-cat owners need to be aware of the potential hazard so that they don’t inadvertently put their neighbours’ pets at risk.
Campaigners are calling for a warning notice to be placed on the packaging of these toy darts: at least if the potential hazard is more widely known, special care can be taken to protect cats from this new risk to their lives.
A spokesperson for the RSPCA said: “This sounds like a very concerning trend and we would urge anyone who thinks their cat may have swallowed something likely to cause them injury to get in touch with their vet immediately. In this instance it would be wise for pet owners to have a think about any potential hazards in the home and make sure any small toys are kept well out of the way.
We would also advise anyone with experience of these projectile darts injuring their pets to make the appropriate manufacturers aware of the situation.”
Hasbro and Zuru were contacted for comments, but had not responded by the time of publication.
The real life story of Champers
Our cat Champers is just over three years old. One day in May 2020 he started vomiting and refusing to eat or drink. He was initially diagnosed with gastroenteritis but after several x-rays the vet spotted a blockage and he had an operation to remove a plastic object. The cost of the operation was over £4000.
In September 2021 he had similar symptoms. Again he was sent home with medication for his stomach despite pleas from us to look more closely at the x-rays. Two days later a wonderful vet spotted a blockage and performed an emergency operation as Champers was quite weak by this time. The vet was not sure if he would survive but he did. The operation cost a further £4000 and he was found to have swallowed the same plastic object as before.
Unbelievably, six weeks later Champers started showing the same symptoms. This time he was initially diagnosed with pancreatitis but eventually several x-rays and scans later another blockage was discovered. He then had his third operation in eighteen months at another cost of over £4000. The vet was very worried about him this time as he had not fully recovered from the last operation. He had swallowed exactly the same object again. We have been lucky to get the money back on insurance so far but we are not sure what will happen in the future. We also understand that some pets may have to be euthanised as not all owners are insured or would be able to afford the operation to save their pet if not.
We posted a picture of the plastic object on Nextdoor and it has been identified as the top of a Zuru X-shot plastic tipped foam bullet. These toys are often used in gardens and the bullets themselves are deemed to be safe as they are made of foam. Unfortunately the shape and size of them make them particularly attractive to predators like cats.
Champers has been kept indoors since November because of the risk of him swallowing another dart. He is a young, healthy cat and he is becoming increasingly agitated and his behaviour has started to deteriorate. Please could people make sure that if these guns are used all the darts are picked up from outside to protect pets and wildlife.