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My Kitten Swallowed A String - When Will Clinical Signs Appear?

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Kitten playing with ball of string - image: toby-won-kenobi on Flickr

Kitten playing with ball of string

© toby-won-kenobi on Flickr
Question: My Kitten Swallowed A String - When Will Clinical Signs Appear?
This FAQ answers a forum post from a viewer who is aware of the dangers of string ingestion, but is wondering when signs will show up if string is still in the gastrointestinal tract. This FAQ is a companion piece to the "My cat was playing with a string, then ate it. Is this a problem?" FAQ.
Answer: FREYTAS asks: "I have a 3.5 month old kitten who decided to chew off and swallow the elastic string portion of his toy. He passed quite a bit of the string in his stool today, however I do not know if more is present in his intestines. Does anyone know how soon after ingestion of string that a cat might show the signs and symptoms of a linear foreign body (string stuck in the intestine) such as lethargy, vomiting, and fever?"
Original forum post

Thank you for your post. You are correct to be concerned. How concerned will remain to be seen, as it is probably impossible to know how much string was ingested.

The good news is that you did see string being passed without apparent trouble. If a string is seen either under the tongue or protruding from the anus, it is important to never pull the string that may be visible. This can make the damage much worse as the string "accordions up" the gastrointestinal tract, possibly tearing fragile tissue.

The appearance of clinical signs can be immediate or more long term, depending on the amount of foreign body material ingested and where it is hung up (if at all). I once saw a young cat who had eaten rubber tubing 2 months prior! The cat had not been 100%, but was still eating, active, etc. Most often, signs will appear 1-2 days.

Possible clinical signs from string ingestion:

  • vomiting or dry heaves
  • anorexia or decreased appetite
  • straining to defecate or diarrhea
  • painful abdomen
  • fever
  • depression
  • dehydration (due to vomiting)

I would still recommend seeing your vet for a quick check. This is definitely a case of "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". If there is any string present in the gastrointestinal tract, the longer you wait leaves more time for tissue damage, infection and possible rupture to occur. Your vet can help you determine the best course of action.

Your vet will start with a physical examination and palpation and that may be all that is needed. If there is any question, additional workup may be performed; such as radiographs or blood work.

On a related note to all pet owners: please use supervision and caution with pet toys. Toys are great for fun and exercise, and I do recommend them. It is important to anticipate that pets may break, tear, or as in this case, ingest part or all of a toy, causing problems.

Related article on pet toy safety:
Presents for Pets - Safety considerations when buying gifts for pets

See also:
This FAQ is a companion piece to the "My cat was playing with a string, then ate it. Is this a problem?" FAQ.

Hopefully the string has passed and things will be just fine. Always good to be alert of this very real danger.

Text: Copyright © Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM. All rights reserved.
Image: Kitten with Ball of String © toby-won-kenobi on Flickr

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