What Should I Do If My Cat Ate String?

Kitten playing with string
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Cats love to hunt and catch prey, even if they never set foot outside. String, yarn, and fishing pole cat toys are popular ways to interact with and exercise your cat. If left unsupervised, however, your cat may ingest the string and cause potentially serious damage to the intestinal tract. Find out what to do if you suspect that your cat has eaten a string.

Cats and String Do Not Mix

Despite the popular image of cats playing happily with string, cats and string to not mix. Same goes for other "string-like" items such as rubber bands, tinsel, Easter grass decorations, needle and thread, and window blind pulls. The fishing pole type of toys are also very popular and may be tempting for cats to consume the feathers or the enticing "bait" part of the toy. Electrical cords and electronics charging cables are additional dangerous string-like objects that cats may chew or swallow.

Why Do Cats Eat Odd Things?

Eating odd things is a condition called pica. The reasons vary, but it can be related to stress, boredom, attention-seeking behavior, play behavior, or to the simple fact that the item tastes or smells good to the cat.

Dangers of Linear Foreign Body Ingestion

If an animal eats a string or similar object, it is termed a linear foreign body. If there are no complications, the cat should pass the string in the feces in 10 to 24 hours. However, there is a risk that the intestines can become blocked, stressed, pulled, or torn as the string bunches up and binds during intestinal peristalsis (wavelike muscular contractions).

Signs and Symptoms

In uncomplicated cases of eating a string, your cat may have no symptoms. If there is difficulty in passing it through the digestive system, you may see signs in one to two days of ingestion. These can include:

  • Vomiting or dry heaves
  • Anorexia or decreased appetite
  • Straining to defecate or diarrhea
  • Painful abdomen
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Dehydration (due to vomiting)

When to See the Veterinarian

Call your vet as soon as you notice your cat ate the string to find out the best course of action for your pet and the circumstances. Do not pull on the string if you see it in the mouth or extending from the anus. That can cause the gastrointestinal tract to accordion, with the risk of tears and infection. If any of the more concerning symptoms are noted, get to the vet as soon as possible. If your cat seems to have passed all of the string, an examination is still warranted as you can't be sure how much they ingested.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Be prepared for the visit with a good description or example of what your cat ate. Your vet will do a physical examination, which might be enough for diagnosis and recommending treatment. To make things more clear, your vet may order blood work or radiographs. If your cat can't pass the linear foreign object or if there are complications like perforation or infection, the veterinarian may need to perform an endoscopy or surgery.