Cats and string go together like peanut butter and jelly, like salt and pepper, like claws and couches.
Cats actually have a natural predisposition towards string (or, as super-technical vets call them, “items with a linear foreign body”) partly because string-like toys likely make them think of snakes. Felines have an instinctual urge to capture and kill snakes from an evolutionary standpoint which is probably why they love nothing more than to pounce on moving threads.
So, your cat was playing with a string…and then he ate it.
0-30 minutes in: Call the Vet
It is imperative that you call a veterinarian immediately if your cat ingests a string, yarn, dental floss, or any other long, threaded object. If it happens outside regular business hours, contact an emergency vet or an in-home vet in your area. If you’re unsure how long or thick the string was or even if you’re unsure whether your cat ate it, call the vet to set up an immediate appointment.
Why? Because eating a string can be life-threatening for your cat. Ingestion of a “linear foreign body” can lead to something called gastrointestinal obstruction, and it can happen quickly. This condition is a serious one, caused when the string-like object gets stuck somewhere along the intestinal tract. As your cat’s intestines try to expel the string, they wind and bunch themselves into a knotted mess, making it all but impossible for the digestive system to function. Over the course of a few hours or days, the string can actually lacerate the intestines leading to sepsis, leakage of bacteria inside the body, or peritonitis, either of which can result in death.
30 minutes – 1 hour in: Monitor Your Cat
Although unusual, some immediate signs of distress are possible if your cat has eaten a large amount of string. Symptoms like vomiting, shaking, heavy panting, or seizures should be treated as medical emergencies in this instance; get your cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
It’s also a good idea to periodically check your cat’s mouth for signs that the string was not fully swallowed. Occasionally, a string will become lodged at the back of a cat’s throat or even tangled around a cat’s tongue. If you can see the string and it pulls without any resistance at all, gently try to remove it from your cat’s mouth.
It is very important that you never forcefully pull a string or any other foreign object from deep within your cat’s mouth or if it is protruding from his anus. Although it’s tempting to remove the problem-causer immediately, the string may be anchored to something inside your cat’s body…pulling on it can result in serious harms to his internal organs.
1 hour – 2 hours in: Prepare for the Vet
Know what to expect once you get to the vet or once a trained veterinarian arrives at your home. Depending on exactly how long it has been since your cat swallowed the string and/or what symptoms he is showing, your vet may recommend any or all of the following:
- Complete physical exam
- Induced vomiting
When in doubt, call the vet. If your cat is showing any signs of abnormal behavior, your vet may be able to help you determine whether or not an intestinal blockage is to blame. To prevent string-swallowing from happening, avoid giving your cat any toys that contain string, yarn, fishing line, or other linear bodies, or at the very least, supervise them carefully as they play. And if your cat ingested a string a few days or weeks ago? If he hasn’t clearly passed all of it in a bowel movement, go see your vet. The string could be doing internal damage that hasn’t resulted in symptoms just yet.