Cats and String – To Pull or Not To Pull?

Author: Jason Nicholas, BVetMed

Published: December 5, 2014

Updated: May 11, 2021

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cat and string dangerSomething stuck in your cat's butt?

Whether it's string, yarn, dental floss, the trussing from your holiday turkey, or tinsel from a Christmas tree, anything that's protruding from your cat's butt is of concern.

"To pull or not to pull?" – that is the question

If an accident happens and your cat does ingest something, “to pull or not to pull?” is the question that so many people ask. This is, of course, in reference to what action you should take should you notice something sticking out of your cat’s butt.

As with most things, there really isn’t a clear-cut answer. Every situation is a bit different.Cat with string coming of butt

That said, in most cases, you can initially attempt a very gentle tug to the string while someone else holds the cat to ensure the cat doesn’t run off. If the string comes out easily, great. However — and this is very important — if there is any resistance when trying to remove the string, you must stop pulling immediately and bring your cat to the vet for evaluation.

Why, you may ask? Because the resistance may well indicate that the portion of the string still inside your cat’s intestines is wrapped around something or embedded within the lining of their intestines, and by continuing to pull you may well cause a tear in their intestines or rectum that could result in pain, infection, or leakage of intestinal contents into their abdominal cavity. None of which you, or your cat, want.

Safely cutting the string from your cat

If you can do so safely (i.e. without cutting their tail or their rectum), you can use scissors to cut the protruding portion of the string prior to transport to the vet. This can help to decrease the chances that it will get tangled around something and cause problems of its own. Leave an inch or two hanging out and be sure to bring the cut portion with you to the vet so that they can see what type of material they are dealing with and gauge the approximate length.

Should I leave the string in and see if it comes out on its own?

It’s a good question. And of course, it’s not a very straightforward situation. It’s tricky because SO much of it depends on how your cat is doing in general and how close an eye you can keep on them (and their poos). It truly is always best to err on the side of caution and have your cat evaluated by your vet — once there, if the cat is otherwise doing well and/or you can’t afford diagnostics (x-rays, etc) and/or surgery, then at least your vet has seen and evaluated your cat and can talk to you about options and, if elected, give you home care recommendations and advise you on things to watch for.

Cat with tinsel coming out of buttIf you do decide to “wait and see,” safely cut the protruding string (as described above), and monitor your cat’s appetite, energy, comfort level, and litter box trips VERY closely. If your cat exhibits a drop in appetite, vomiting, decrease in energy level, signs of pain, straining and/or vocalizing within the litter box, or any other concerning signs, they truly must be brought to the vet immediately.

One other note regarding the “wait and see” approach… if you can see string wrapped around the base of your cat’s tongue, which may only be noticeable to you as a purple, swollen tongue, then it’s an indication that the “wait and see” approach is almost certain to fail and is too dangerous to risk, and you should just proceed with your cat immediately to the vet.

It goes without saying, but I'm the Preventive Vet so I'll remind you, that keeping long string-like items out of reach of your cat and leaving cat-safe toys for them to play with while unsupervised will go a long way to ensure your cat doesn't ingest a linear foreign body (as we call it in the profession) and cause your cat a lot of discomfort and potentially life-threatening harm. Read this article for more information on the effects of linear foreign bodies and other ways to protect your cat.

Also, if you're so inclined, here are a few DIY cat toys you can make that are safe and your cat might really enjoy.


Have fun and play safe!

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