cat ate short piece of string
Behavioral Problems

My Cat Swallowed String – What Should I Do?

Cats don’t always have a healthy relationship with string, ribbons, and wool. While cats love to play with and chew on this material, it can be ingested, leading to an intestinal blockage or other health problems.

Never pull on loose string hanging from your cat’s mouth or bottom. The string may be wrapped around a body part or internal organ. Cut the string short with scissors and monitor your cat’s behavior closely. In a best-case scenario, the cat will pass the string in its waste. If this does not happen, schedule a veterinary appointment ASAP.

Try to prevent your cat from eating string by taking it away as soon as you see the cat chewing or playing with it. However, if your cat does swallow string, learn the warning signs and associated health risks.

What Happens If My Cat Swallowed String?

A cat eating string is never an incident to ignore and hope for the best. To maintain safety, keep cats far away from any of the following items.

  • String
  • Wool and yarn
  • Ribbons
  • Thread
  • Dental floss
  • Fishing line
  • Tinsel

Small quantities of string will pass naturally through the digestive tract. If the string becomes trapped though, serious illness is likely to follow.

Gastrointestinal Blockage

The biggest risk to your cat is gastrointestinal obstruction. This occurs when a foreign object prevents food from entering the cat’s digestive tract. String can wrap around internal organs, causing them to bunch up and narrow.

This leads to painful swelling in the cat’s abdomen. The cat will be unable to eat until the obstruction is cleared – usually through surgery. Any food the cat tries to consume will quickly be regurgitated.

Early intervention is critical as string is considered to be a linear obstruction. The Journal of Small Animal Practice declared this issue fatal in 37% of cats impacted over a 4-year study.

cat ate string but is acting normal

Snagging

Even if the string does not cause immediate obstruction, it can snag on other body parts. This could be under the tongue, for example. This becomes a choking hazard. String can also snag inside a cat’s digestive tract.

If string becomes snagged, it will not pass in waste. Eventually, it will start to curl up. This will become increasingly dangerous. The string will eventually form a larger mass, like an ingestible hairball. A gastrointestinal blockage then becomes inevitable.

Perforation

If you rub string tightly across your skin, you will notice how tough it feels. Do this long enough and you’ll likely draw blood.

Now, imagine this occurring inside of the body. String rubbing against a cat’s delicate internal organs can cause them to perforate and puncture. This will prevent the organs from working appropriately and lead to internal bleeding.

This risk is most pronounced in cats that swallow thread. In theory, this material is small and thin enough to pass through the digestive tract. If the cat also swallowed a needle, though, perforation is likely. The needle can become trapped in the body.

What to Do If Cat Ate String

Under no circumstances pull on any string that hangs from your cat’s mouth or bottom. You are only seeing the tip of this string. It could be tied around your cat’s tongue, bowel, or intestines. Even the gentlest tug could cause irreparable damage.

A vet will offer advice, and likely ask you to bring your cat to surgery. An x-ray can then be performed to assess potential damage.

Even if you cannot attend a surgery, notify your vet of the incident. The decision make be taken out of your hands at a later date. The more information your vet has, the more effective treatment will be. 

If your cat has string in its mouth, you must seek immediate help. The string may be wrapped around the cat’s tongue. If not, it could still be causing a throat blockage. This will make eating and drinking impossible.

If string hangs from your cat’s bottom, you may be able to buy some time. This suggests the string is working through the digestive tract. You can take home healthcare steps to begin your cat’s treatment.

Cut the String

Your first step is to cut the string. Trim the string as close to your cat’s bottom as possible. Remember, you are not yanking the string – just cutting.

This will make the eventual excavation of the string easier. Do this as quickly as possible or your cat will tug the string itself.

Encourage Elimination

If string is hanging from your cat’s bottom, the digestive process has begun. If you are lucky, the cat only ate a small piece of string. This will pass through the body naturally, not getting stuck or snagged anywhere.

Speed this process up by encouraging elimination and passing the string faster. There are several ways you can achieve this.

  • Encourage your cat to drink water to soften stools
  • Avoid feeding kibble, only providing wet food
  • Play with your cat – movement stimulates the bowel
  • Provide a laxative. The Canadian Veterinary Journal recommends Lactulose, Benefiber or polyethylene glycol
  • Rub Vaseline or KY jelly on your cat’s paws. The cat will lick this off, softening the stool
  • Rub a warm washcloth on your cat’s anus

Check your cat’s waste. It should take no more than 24 hours to purge a piece of string. Even after this time, you must watch your cat. It may display warning signs of complications resulting from swallowing string.

Observation

It can take a cat two or three days to display symptoms related to eating string. While the first 24 hours are vital, you cannot relax after this time.

Watch your cat carefully as it goes about its business. There are multiple warning signs that all is not right with the cat. Keep an eye open for any of the following behaviors:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty eliminating
  • Consistent diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Trouble breathing
  • Vomiting or dry heaving if the cat has not eaten
  • Swelling and tenderness around the abdomen

If your cat displays any of these symptoms or behaviors, make an urgent veterinary appointment.

Professional Assistance

A cat that is clearly unwell after swallowing string will require an x-ray or endoscopy. This will help a vet see if the string has remained in the body. If it has, the vet needs to know where the string is located.

If possible, the vet will treat the issue by purging. This means inducing vomiting and diarrhea. Alas, this is rarely effective. If the string has not passed naturally within 24 hours, it is unlikely to do so.

Prolonged issues following the swallowing of string suggest the material is wrapped around an organ. In this instance, surgery is required. The cat will need to be anesthetized. An incision will be made to access the string. The vet will then remove the foreign object.

Surgery in senior cats is not without risk. Unfortunately, it is the only option in the event of an intestinal blockage. This problem will not right itself with time and patience. The string must be physically removed by a skilled hand.

Why Do Cats Eat String?

If string is dangerous for cats to swallow, you may wonder why they do so. Cats are typically safety-conscious animals. Unfortunately, they are also driven by instinct. Many cats find string irresistible.

There are three primary explanations for a cat to eat string. Understanding these will help you assess the risks of your cat eating string. Feline behavior will also give insight into how to prevent your cat from taking such risks.

Curiosity

Vigilantly keeping a cat away from string is sensible. Unfortunately, it also builds a cat’s fascination with the material. Cats become increasingly curious about objects they are not permitted to engage with.

Your cat will seize upon any opportunity to play with string. This will quickly become a fun game. The cat will enjoy watching string unravel. That’s not a problem, unless the cat gets its paws trapped in string.

Unfortunately, cats do not just explore the world with their eyes and paws. They like to use their mouths. Everything new a cat encounters is a potential snack in the cat’s mind. The cat will likely lick, chew and swallow the string, attempting to learn more about it.

cat ate string and is not pooping

Hunting Instinct

Cats love to play with string. It appeals to feline hunting instincts. They can unravel a ball of string, or another long, thin object, and chase it. What happens next depends on how sharp your cat’s hunting instincts are.

The purpose of this game is capture prey. The string is taking the place of a live rodent or bird. Once the cat leaps upon the string, it will continue batting and playing – or swallow it. This depends on whether your cat prefers to eat live prey or hunt for sport.

If your cat eats its prey, string will be irresistible. It looks like a rodent’s tail, or the entrails of a small animal. The cat will find itself in a feeding frenzy. A cat can swallow a dangerous amount of string before realizing its mistake.

Pica

If your cat has a habit of eating non-food items, it may have pica. As explained by Applied Animal Behavior Science, 93% of cats with pica enjoy eating wool. Wool has the same impact on a cat’s body as string. Your cat may also turn to string as a yarn substitute.

Pica is a psychological condition in which a cat feels compelled to eat inappropriate materials. This activity floods the brain of a cat with pica with rewarding chemicals. This encourages the cat to repeat the behavior.

Oriental cat breeds are widely reported to be likeliest to experience pica. Most cats grow out of the habit by the time they reach middle age. This is a relief, as the impact can be particularly severe in older cats.

If your senior cat is displaying behaviors associated with pica, it is likely due to stress. Sucking and chewing on string and wool can be soothing for a tense cat. Upgrading to swallowing material is where the danger arises. Your cat’s stress must be reduced.

If you suspect that your cat has eaten string, watch vigilantly for at least 72 hours. If the string passes in waste and no adverse symptoms present themselves, you had a lucky escape. If not, take your cat to see a vet.