Strings are found on a number of household objects and cats seem to find them. Playing with string can be fun but many cats also like to chew and eat string. This is unfortunately when problems can occur and it is important for owners to be aware of the risks string can pose to a cat.
Types of String
Strings from curtains, blankets, rugs, clothing, and other fabrics around the home, shoe laces, Easter grass, tinsel, cooking twine, craft string, fishing line, floss, yarn, rubber bands, hair and gift ribbons, and other stringed items can all cause issues for a cat. These items may only come out seasonally or they may always be present but if they are there a cat may decide to play with and even eat them.
Why Is String a Problem for a Cat to Eat?
If a string is consumed by a cat it is referred to as a linear foreign body. A string is never a good thing to eat but some strings are also worse than others for a cat to consume. Strings are a problem for a cat to eat because they disrupt the normal flow of the gastrointestinal tract and some strings even cause trauma to the stomach and intestines themselves.
The normal flow of the gastrointestinal tract works because of a movement called peristalsis. This is a rhythmic motion that moves food out of the stomach and through the intestines. If a string is stuck in one part of the stomach or intestines and the peristaltic movement starts to take the other end of the string through the rest of the intestines it can cause issues. The string can get stuck while peristalsis tries to pull it through the body. This is similar to a Chinese finger trap and can then cause the string to even cut through the stomach or intestines, especially if it is a string like tinsel or fishing line.
Signs a Cat Ate a String
- Not wanting to eat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Licking the lips
- String hanging from the mouth
- String stuck under the tongue
- String hanging from the anus
If you didn't see your cat eat a string but you suspect it could have you will most likely see some signs that should tell you to take your cat to the veterinarian. Vomiting and diarrhea are classic gastrointestinal symptoms that can occur with a number of issues including consumption of a string. A cat that ate a string may also not want to eat and have difficulty swallowing, especially if the string is stuck under the tongue. A stuck string is usually able to be seen if you look under your cat's tongue but this is a difficult area to examine in a cat. Drooling and licking of the lips are also signs that a cat may have a string stuck under its tongue. Finally, a decrease in appetite and lethargy will occur if a string was eaten and is starting to cause issues.
Sometimes a string that has been eaten is seen hanging from the mouth of a cat or even coming out of the anus of a cat. It is important to remember that if this is seen you should not pull on the string in an attempt to remove it. This can cause serious damage if the string is stuck on something internally.
Treating a Cat That Ate String
A cat that has eaten a string will need veterinary attention as soon as possible. Sometimes the string can be removed by causing the cat to vomit or gently pulling the string out if it is hanging but these things should not be done unless your veterinarian recommends them. Doing either of these string extraction methods inappropriately can cause even more harm to your cat.
More likely than inducing emesis or manually pulling the string out, your veterinarian will give your cat IV fluids for hydration and perform surgery to safely remove the linear foreign body. Surgery to remove any damaged portions of the intestines may also need to be done at the same time as the string removal but this will depend on how much trauma the string caused to the cat. Medication to treat pain and the symptoms the string caused will be recommended by your veterinarian.
Plotnick, Arnold, ACVIM. Linear Foreign Bodies In Cats. Manhattancats.com, 2020.