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My cat was playing with a string, then ate it. Is this a problem?

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Cat and bee string toy - credit: normanack on Flickr

Cat and bee string toy

© normanack on Flickr
Question: My cat was playing with a string, then ate it. Is this a problem?
This FAQ is a companion piece to the "My Kitten Swallowed A String - When Will Clinical Signs Appear?" FAQ.

Cats love to "hunt and catch prey", even if they never set foot outside. String, yarn, and "fishing pole" type of cat toys are popular ways to interact with and exercise your cat, but if left unsupervised, 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.

Answer: Cats and string do not mix, despite the popular image of cats playing happily with string! Same goes for other "string-like" items -- rubber bands (many cats, including one of mine, just love to eat rubber bands!), tinsel, Easter grass decorations, needle and thread, and window blind pulls. I even did surgery on one cat that consumed large amounts of rubber tubing! 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.

Why do cats eat odd things? (A condition called pica.) Reasons vary, but can be related to stress, boredom, attention seeking behavior, play behavior, or to the simple fact that the item tastes/smells good to the cat.

If an animal eats a string or similar object, it is termed a "linear foreign body". What happens if a cat ingests a linear foreign body? The intestines can become blocked or stressed/pulled/torn as the string bunches up and binds during intestinal peristalsis (wavelike muscular contractions).

Clinical signs may include any of the following:

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

So the answer to this question is... 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.

Text: Copyright © Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM. All rights reserved.
Image: Cat and Bee Toy © normanack on Flickr

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