Cats and Linear Foreign Bodies – String, Thread, Ribbon, and the Like

Lorie Huston, DVM
By Lorie Huston, DVM on Jan. 28, 2013
Cats and Linear Foreign Bodies – String, Thread, Ribbon, and the Like

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

Lorie Huston, DVM


Lorie Huston, DVM


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