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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.


Cats and string just naturally seem to go together. All six of my cats are fascinated with anything long, thin, and narrow. This can be thread, yarn, fishing line, ribbon, twine, or anything similar. Rubber bands are fair game also.


In a supervised play session, allowing your cat to chase and play with string or twine can provide much needed exercise and mental stimulation. Attach a feather or two to the end of the string and the game may be even more fun for your cat.


But beware! Left unsupervised with these types of objects, your cat may actually swallow long lengths of the material, resulting in what is known as a linear foreign body.


Any foreign object your cat swallows can be dangerous and can cause serious complications. However, linear foreign bodies are particularly dangerous. In many cases, one end of the linear foreign body will anchor itself in one place while the rest of the foreign body continues to try to make its way through the intestinal tract. Frequently, this happens when the string (or string-like foreign body) loops itself under the tongue as the cat swallows. However, the string may also become lodged in the pylorus (the passage at the end of the stomach) or at another location along the intestinal tract. When this happens, the intestines can bunch up around the string and the string may actually saw through the lining of the intestinal tract, resulting in peritonitis, a severe infection of the abdominal cavity.


A similar danger exists when an unsuspecting cat owner finds a piece of string hanging out of the cat’s anus or mouth and attempts to pull the string out. Pulling on the string can cause irreparable damage to the intestinal tract. If you do find your cat with string hanging from his mouth or anus, do not pull on the string or otherwise attempt to remove it. Instead, transport your cat to your veterinarian as quickly as possible.


How dangerous can swallowing a linear foreign body be for your cat? Unfortunately, these types of foreign bodies can be fatal, especially if the situation is not dealt with immediately. In fact, I recently saw a case like this in my veterinary practice. The cat was a 3-year-old female named Luna that had been vomiting for at least two days before her owners sought care for her. By the time I saw her, Luna was relatively unresponsive. Her body temperature was far below normal. She was extremely dehydrated, very weak and quite thin. Lifting her tongue revealed a length of white string looped around the tongue. Unfortunately, Luna’s condition was too advanced and we were unable to save her.


As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is certainly true when it comes to cats and linear foreign bodies. Keep these items out of reach of your cat. If you use toys containing string, yarn, twine or fishing wire (such as cat wands) to entertain your cat, supervise your cat during play and lock the toys securely away when you are unavailable to supervise. Be sure to keep sewing boxes, craft kits and other items that contain string, twine, yarn, fishing wire, rubber bands, and similar objects locked away from your cat also.


Dr. Lorie Huston


Image: Leigh Prather / via Shutterstock


Comments  2

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  • Cats and String
    01/28/2013 04:44pm

    I have just been round the house and picked up one toy that could, when the cats are bored, pose a hazard as the string with feather was a long extension due to the toy being demolished. Thanks for the reminder, Dr. Huston.

    Our cats love the Hartz Mountain mini mice in different colors, in fact we have one cat who likes to hunt the ones previously sent flying under furniture and retrieves them. She makes little collections dependent upon color, which is a major surprise to us. We didn't think cats had color preferences.

    My husband has also fashioned another toy that was an advancement over the old milk bottle plastic tabs. He has taken about an 8" length of weed eater cord and kinked it in four sections to make a toy that can be hooked by paws and carried around. So far, probably because the plastic weed eater cord is very stiff, there hasn't been an inclination to chew on these at all, and there can be hours of fun -- especially while the household is trying to sleep. (-;

  • Danger to Kitties
    01/28/2013 05:49pm

    In my house, before a cat toy is given to the herd, I remove all stringy parts and tug ferociously on any part that might be removed and swallowed. Quite honestly, the cats don't care if the stuffed mouse or bird has eyes or a tail.

    I also l learned a valuable and expensive lesson about rubber bands awhile back. I large, thick rubber band was being used to hold a bathroom cabinet closed (Stan likes to shred toilet paper). None of the kitties had been observed fussing with the rubber band. One day I went into the bathroom and found a very tiny square of it on the floor. The rest of the rubber band wasn't to be found.

    I had no idea how long it had been since the rubber band had been "dismembered". None of the cats seemed to be in any distress. I went on the assumption that it was Stan, so off to the emergency clinic we went. They gave him injections to make him vomit. He didn't, but he surely felt terrible. I opted to have him scoped - better safe than sorry. No big, blue rubber band. They attempted an x-ray just in case it would be visible. No luck.

    So Stan and I came home. He was locked in one room for three days so I could keep an eye him as well as the litter box. No big, blue rubber band. Stan hissed every time I got near him and it took him a full week to forgive me.

    The rubber band has never been found, but I learned an $848 lesson to never, ever EVER have a rubber band, regardless of size or use, within the reach of kitties.

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