We've all seen it. Those pictures or commercials of playful kittens or cute cats playing with a ball of yarn or some other "stringy" object. We look at these and say, "oh how cute!" And think that this is what we are supposed to give our cats to play with. Because of their curious nature and desire to hunt, these types of objects are usually very appealing to cats. However, swallowing yarn, string, shoe laces, rubber bands, ponytail holders, dental floss, thread, fishing line or even christmas tree and Easter basket tinsel can cause serious health risks for your cat. Fortunately my cat, Onyx, doesn't seem interested in any of these things but many cats are.
When a cat swallows one of these objects, called linear foreign bodies, their intestines can become obstructed or "blocked up." The main signs that owners notice is vomiting, loss of appetite, retching, pain in the abdomen, lack of defecation/sometimes diarrhea and lethargy. Younger cats are the main ones that that I see with this but this can happen in cats of any age. Some clients actually see the string hanging out of their cat's mouth or anus. If you see this, DO NOT attempt to pull it out as this can lead to more serious issues and internal damage. When you take your cat into your with suspicion of linear foreign body ingestion, the first thing that is usually done is a good oral exam and most of the time the string will be seen wrapped around the base of the tongue. When the cat is x-rayed, the intestines will usually appear bunched up like an accordion due to intestinal peristalsis (muscular contractions in the intestines) moving the string along the intestinal tract. This bunching of the intestines is almost a sure indication that a linear foreign body is present. These intestinal contractions can cause the foreign body to cut, tear or even cause one portion on the intestine to slide into another (called intussusception) which can all have dire consequences. Most of the time, the only way to remove the string object is through surgery. If the intestines are found to be damaged by the object the prognosis is worse because of the possibility of intestinal fluid leaking into the abdomen leading to infections and other complications. If you suspect your cat has ingested a linear foreign body, take him or her to see your veterinarian immediately! The sooner you take them in, the better the prognosis. Most cats recover within a few days after surgery and are back to their normal playfulness and appetite in less than a week.
Because of this risk, I say that cats and strings do not mix! Keep string-like objects away from cats or hide them where they cannot find them, do not buy toys that have strings attached and flush dental floss after you are done with it. By just doing these simple things you can keep your cuddly cat around and healthy for years to come.