String Eating in Cats

Kitten Playing With a String

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Cats are curious naturally and love to investigate new sights, smells, and tastes. Sometimes, this curiously can lead them into trouble. Both kittens and adult cats also love to play with string, yarn, and the like. But this brings with it the risk that your cat will eat the string, which can lead to serious complications in some cases. As a cat caregiver, you need to be aware of the dangers of string ingestion and the signs that the string is still in your cat's gastrointestinal tract.

Why Do Cats Swallow String?

Cats are amazing, intelligent creatures. Their lifestyle reflects the predatory skills and behaviors needed to hunt food in the wild. A cat’s day includes the need to rest, stalk, chase, pounce, kill, play, eat, and groom among other things. Hunting is an innate behavior in cats meaning it’s an instinct and normal behavior for all cats. String and string like items move very similar in the way it twists and curls in the cats grasp to the prey cats hunt and at the end of the hunt cats eat so this can cause some cats to chew and ingest these items. Also, cat play is mostly mimicking the hunt prey cycle for your cat and some cats may love to chew on things and not have cat safe options to chew. 

Cats can be attracted to a variety types of string including  

Yarn

Dental floss

Fishing line

Easter grass

Holiday tinsel

Ribbon

Rubber bands

Shoe laces

Cords attached to toys 

And any other similar thread-like item 

What Happens When Cats Swallow String?

It is best to keep strings and string like items away from your cat and if playing with a toy with string, it should be used with supervision to help prevent your cat from ingesting it. 

There are various severe complications that can happen if your cat swallows a string with the most common issues being a foreign body obstruction. The term foreign body refers to any non-food object located with the digestive tract of a dog or cat. When this is a long, thin, string, type object, it is referred to as a linear foreign body. 

Although it would seem that linear foreign bodies should pass uneventfully, this is not always the case.  The string can become wrapped around the base of the tongue or anchored in the stomach which can be a choking hazard, cause the cat to swallow the string, or if the string had a needle attached, the needle may pierce the stomach or intestines and more. 

A gastrointestinal blockage meaning If one end of the linear foreign body becomes lodged at some point in the gastrointestinal tract, such as at the base of the tongue (an especially common location for linear foreign bodies in cats), in the stomach, or in the intestine, the free end of the foreign body will trail down the remainder of the gastrointestinal tract. Since the string is wrapped around the internal organs, the intestines will attempt to move this linear foreign body down the gastrointestinal tract for elimination but since the linear body is unable to move, this will result in the intestines to bunch up and narrow. This is an emergency and lead to painful swelling in the cats stomach and the cat will be unable to eat until the item is removed. 

If the linear foreign body does not cause immediate blockage, it can also harm your cat by causing perforation of your cats’ internal organs. Think of a string rubbing these organs, this may cause the organs to perforate and puncture which will prevent the organs from working appropriately and lead to internal bleeding, another emergency. 

Symptoms of String Swallowing

In many cases, caregivers are not aware their cat ingested a string but do notice the symptoms which is why it’s important to be aware of what they are and contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice your cat is not acting themselves. Early intervention is crucial and can make a life-or-death difference for your cat.  

If there are no complications, your cat should pass the string in its feces in 10 to 24 hours. The problem is that it's often impossible to know how much your cat ingested and whether any remains in its digestive system.

Monitor and contact your veterinarian if you notice one or more of these symptoms in your cat, these symptoms can happen quickly or may be noticed more slowly over a few days after your cat ingesting the string. Typically, symptoms appear within one to two days. However, it's possible that a cat ate something weeks prior and showed only minor symptoms.

  • Anorexia or decreased appetite
  • Vomiting or dry heaves
  • Straining to defecate or diarrhea
  • Painful abdomen
  • Restlessness, unwilling to lay down or get comfortable
  • Withdrawn or hiding more than usual
  • Fever
  • Depression/lethargy 
  • Dehydration (due to vomiting)

What To Do If Your Cat Ate String?

If you observed your cat playing with a string and chewing on it; then the string was gone. You should monitor your cat for any symptoms and contact your veterinarian.

If you see the string under your cat's tongue (extending down the throat) or protruding from the anus, it's important to never pull the string. 

Always call your veterinarian for advice when you believe your cat has swallowed a linear foreign object. If you see the string around the tongue, take your cat to the vet so it can be removed safely.

You should also see your veterinarian if any of the more serious symptoms have developed. Even if you think the cat has passed all of the string in its feces, there may still be some in its stomach or gut that's causing problems.

How To Prevent Your Cat From Eating String

Management and prevention is key to helping prevent your cat from ingesting string. 

·       Avoid tinsel and ribbon in the house around the holidays and if using it to wrap gifts, closely monitor your cat and put the gifts away from where they can be reached by your cats

·       Keep yarn and other string like materials up and away from your cats when not in use

·       Have a waste basket that’s closes with a lid in your bathroom to help prevent your cat from ingesting dental floss or other string like products, its more common than you think!

·       Supervise your cat when playing with wands toys and other toys with string 

·       Provide your cats with enrichment daily and meet their physical and mental needs to prevent boredom and stress related chewing 

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.