Cats And Strings: The Hidden Danger Of Letting Your Cat Play With Strings

Posted on: 19 October 2015


Nearly everyone has seen delightful photos of cute kittens playing with strings. There is no doubt that kittens and cats enjoy playing with strings and will often ferret out scraps of ribbon or yarn as their playthings. You may think that offering your cat strings to play with is a good way to keep her occupied. You probably enjoy watching her antics while she plays, too. What you may not know is that strings pose a danger to the health of your cat.

What is so dangerous about strings?

Many cats chew and swallow strings. This in itself can be a problem as they are unable to digest the string and it may become tangled in the stomach or intestines creating a blockage. When this happens you cat will not be able to digest and pass her food and will likely need to be rushed to an emergency veterinarian (such as After Hours Veterinary Emergency Clinic Inc). But, that isn't the greatest risk your cat faces when she plays with strings.

Sometimes, the cat will swallow as she chews and a loop of the string can get stuck under the tongue. The ends of the string are pulled through the digestive system with the loop still attached to the tongue. When the string is pulled taut by the action of the digestive system, your cat can suffer severe internal damage. The string may sever the intestines or it may pull them into a knot. Because they can no longer get the oxygen and blood flow they need, the intestines may quickly begin to deteriorate and decay inside the body. This will cause your cat considerable pain and may cause death without immediate attention from the vet. 

How do you know if your cat has swallowed a string?

Your cat may suddenly appear unwell. She will cease eating and drinking and will not visit the litter box as usual. She may become lethargic or hide from you. Don't be fooled if your cat purrs when you pet her. While cats purr when they are happy, they also purr when they are in pain. If you cat looks and acts unwell and you suspect she has swallowed a string, call your vet immediately. Time is of the essence as her health can deteriorate within hours. This is not the time to wait until morning or until your regular vet opens for the day.

Can you just pull out the string?

No. Even if you can see the string looped under your cats tongue, this is no time to play veterinarian yourself. Pulling on the string can lacerate your cat's stomach or intestines and put her at greater risk.  

What will the vet do?

How the condition is treated depends on how long the string is and how much time has passed since your cat swallowed it. Your vet may perform one of three procedures.

  1. Your vet will gently tug on the string. If there is no resistance, he may be able to pull the string free, but by the time your cat shows signs of feeling unwell, it is usually too late for this procedure.
  2. Your vet may snip the string to release it from your cat's tongue. There is no guarantee that she is out of danger, but she will likely swallow the string and it may pass through her system without further incidence. If this is the case, you will typically see improved appearance and a return to normal behavior within a few hours.
  3. Your vet may take x-rays or other tests to determine the location of the string and perform emergency surgery to remove the string and correct any tangled intestines.

To avoid potential problems with strings, always supervise your cat when she plays with ribbons or other strings. Alternately, tie one end of the string to an overhead object where she can play with the dangling end, but cannot chew and swallow the string.