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What To Do If Your Cat Eats String

Is string safe for cats during playtime? Can I give my kitten a ball of yarn? What if my cat eats a string-like object? Learn this and more in this comprehensive article.

Tara Maurer holding cat smiling

Last Updated: January 12, 2023 | 4 min read

Cat eating string

One of the best parts of living with a cat is playtime. Playing with your cat can help promote positive behavior, ease stress, and improve your feline’s overall health. While you may think providing entertainment for your pet is a no-brainer, there are many common mistakes first-time owners make when providing toys and playing with their cat.

When feeling mischievous, your furry friend can make just about anything into a toy. While this can be super endearing, it may also pose a hazard if you’re not careful about providing a safe environment for your kitty. 

Ribbons, strings, yarn, and elastic bands may seem like fun toys for your feline to play with, but they’re extremely dangerous if swallowed. As your pet’s caregiver, it’s important to keep your space clear of cords and other dangerous household items that could threaten your cats. When playing with a stringed toy, always monitor your cat and keep them out of reach when the game is over. 

Why Do Cats Like String?

Cat eating ball of string
A rolling ball of yarn or a dropped piece of string may spark your cat’s instincts and set them on the hunt.

It’s not always easy to know if your cat has swallowed a string, especially if you’re away from home. Cats are very curious and like to explore their environment. Because of this, it is important to familiarize yourself with symptoms, procedures, and prevention of swallowing string.

Starting as kittens, cats use play to develop motor coordination, learn about their environment, and develop their natural predatory behavior. Think of playtime like make-believe hunting for your best buddy. Cats being natural predators attract them to movement, especially if that movement resembles that of their prey. After catching their “prey,” your cat may chew and ingest an item. This can be accidental or simply as an end to the hunt.

Any object that could pose a choking hazard to your cat should be removed from your cat’s reach. Any sting-like items can attract your cat, including:

  • Yarn
  • Twine
  • Ribbon
  • Rubber bands
  • Hair ties
  • Shoelaces
  • Tinsel
  • Fishing line
  • Dental floss

Dangers Of A Cat Swollowing String

A cat has backward-facing barbs on their tongue, which are extremely helpful for licking. These hooks, called filiform papillae, are what give the cat’s tongue a sandpaper-like texture. Papillae help cats groom their coats and, in the wild, clean tissue off the bones of their prey.

This same adaptation is what causes some objects to become stuck to the tongue. This is why string-like items can be so dangerous to cats. If the object gets stuck in the mouth and the intestinal tract while inhabiting the intestines, it can cause serious problems for your cat.

Linear Foreign Body

A foreign body refers to a non-food object that is stuck within your pet’s digestive tract. Vets call this a linear foreign body when the item is long and string-like. This can create an intestinal obstruction. 

Imagine your cat has swallowed a piece of string, but one end is attached to your cat’s tongue. As the string moves through the digestive tract, it is pushed through the intestines but cannot be eliminated since it is still anchored to the tongue. When this happens, the intestines can become folded and narrowed, making it impossible to pull the sting out. 

Intussusception

Intussusception describes a condition where a segment of the intestine contracts vigorously to force an object to pass. When an object cannot move, the bowel becomes inflamed and collapses, causing compromised blood flow and tissue death. 

Signs That Your Cat Ate String

If you are not in the habit of spending 24/7 with your cat, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of string swallowing: 

  • Coughing
  • Pawing at mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Straining to defecate
  • Diarrhea
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Restlessness

Contact your veterinarian immediately if you see these symptoms, as quick intervention is crucial for recovery. Typically, symptoms appear within one to two days after swallowing an object. 

My Cat Ate String, Now What?

cat chewing on ear bud wires
If your feline is calm enough, you may attempt to look into their mouth for the foreign object.

As long as your cat is not choking and can breathe, it is best to first seek veterinary support. If possible, try to remove the object using blunt-nosed tweezers or your fingers. If your cat is struggling, do not attempt to remove the object, as it could send the item down the throat.

If you see the string extending under the tongue and down the throat or from the anus, never pull the string. Seek medical attention immediately. Your vet will examine your cat, likely with anesthesia, and decide what step to take. 

If the vet cannot locate the string, but you know your cat recently ingested it, they may induce vomiting in your cat. If you are unsure of when the string was ingested, the vet may try to retrieve the item with an endoscope, which is a tube with a camera attached that is inserted into the mouth to the stomach. 

The vet may also recommend an abdominal ultrasound or X-rays to locate the string. Once located, your cat may require surgery to remove the blockage, which will require a hospital stay to confirm no complications from the surgery. 

If you didn’t notice your cat ate a foreign object but found pieces in their feces, it is still important to contact your vet. Your cat may not have eliminated the entire item and could experience additional symptoms in the future.

Prevention

The best way to prevent your cat from ingesting string is by “cat-proofing” your home and monitoring playtime. Follow these helpful tips:

  • Avoid purchasing toys that contain corded pieces and put away wands and other interactive toys when playtime is over
  • Keep string, twine, and ribbon packed away unless in use
  • Cover your waste basket to prevent your cat from finding discarded dental floss or other string-like items
  • Avoid dangling cords by tucking them out of sight and out of reach

Frequently Asked Questions

What If My Cat Ate String But Is Acting Normal?

If you find that your cat ate string but is showing no side effects, your cat should pass the string in 10 to 24 hours. Still, we recommend that you contact your veterinarian. If a portion of the string remains in the digestive tract, it could cause additional symptoms in the following weeks and could cause serious problems in the future.

Can Cats Play With Yarn?

No, cats should not play with any long, string-like toys, as they may cause choking, gastrointestinal obstruction, or even death. 

Final Thoughts

Providing your cat with daily enrichment through play is an important part of being a pet parent. Scheduled play can prevent bad behavior like chewing, promote normal sleep patterns, and build your cat’s confidence. While imagining a kitten chasing after a big ball of string may be super adorable, string-like objects are not a safe toy for your pet and should be avoided.

Overhead of cat head next to cranberries on white table

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