Linear Foreign Bodies: Cats & strings, a dangerous combination!

Author: Jason Nicholas, BVetMed

Published: June 7, 2014

Updated: July 11, 2021

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string dangerous for cats
Does your cat like to play with strings? Do they like to eat rubber bands? Do you sew, or tend to leave dental floss out in the bathroom?

If you answered "yes" to any of the questions above your cat is at risk of developing a particularly nasty form of digestive obstruction known as a "linear foreign body."

Linear foreign bodies wreak havoc in your cat's digestive tract when one end of the linear (string or string-like) material gets tangled up around the base of their tongue, the exit from their stomach into their intestines (the pylorus), or anywhere else along the digestive tract. The tangled portion acts as an anchor, preventing it from being defecated out the other end.

The big problem arises from the normal, rhythmic activity of the intestines as they do their job and try to move the string along. Because one end of the string is anchored, the result is that the string begins to cut into the intestinal lining, causing both pain and the potential for spillage of digestive juices (and bacteria) into your cat's abdominal cavity. This spillage results in a condition called (septic) peritonitis, which is typically fatal without surgical treatment. This is certainly a condition and emergency that you want to prevent!

How to prevent linear foreign body obstruction

string dangerous for cats

To prevent your cat's suffering from a linear foreign body obstruction, exercise caution with strings and the like around your pets and consider the following recommendations:

  • Never let your cats play with strings unobserved—if they chew on them, take them away immediately

  • If you do use strings to play with your cats, always tie (or wrap) one end of the string around your wrist or finger

  • Use sturdy, covered wastebaskets in your bathrooms and be careful to always securely dispose of your dental floss

  • Don't leave rubber bands or hair ties lying around the house

  • Always be sure to safely discard any twine used to wrap the holiday ham, truss the holiday turkey, or otherwise comes into contact with meats—cats (and dogs) absolutely LOVE these strings

  • Pay close attention around the holidays, particularly Christmas and Easter, and birthdays when wrapping ribbons, balloon strings, tinsel, and Easter grass are all common linear foreign body culprits.

  • If you sew, knit, do needlepoint, or otherwise craft with strings, be sure to keep all of your materials well put away in enclosed cabinets or behind closed doors

If you ever notice any string, rubber bands, or any other linear material protruding from your cat's rectum resist the urge and DO NOT pull on it before you read this first.

Cat-swallowed-rubber-band-got-stuck

If you try to pull the string out yourself (or any other linear foreign object), you may cause significantly more damage (and incur more costs) than you are trying to prevent. You may try carefully cutting the protruding end with scissors to prevent it from getting caught on anything—just be very careful not to cut their tail or their rectum in the process.

It’s also a good idea, as gross as it may sound) to save the cut off portion of the strand and bring it with you to the veterinarian (I suggest putting it into a plastic bag). Bringing it along can help to determine the length of the strand still within your pet's digestive tract, and therefore how much needs to be retrieved surgically.

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