Did you know string could seriously damage your cat, and it is not an uncommon occurrence? Linear foreign bodies can occur in any animal ingesting a string-like item (such as thread, yarn or ribbon) but cats are particularly prone.
What is a foreign body?
Simply put, a foreign body is exactly as it sounds, something that is not supposed to be there. Foreign bodies can be inhaled, swallowed or even something stuck in the ear canal or a splinter in the skin.
Why are linear foreign bodies so dangerous for our cats?
Most cats tend to enjoy playing with or chewing long thin items such as string, thread, yarn or tinsel. You may think a long thin object would be able to pass straight through their digestive tract and out the other end. Unfortunately, this is not often the case as often the offending thread becomes lodged at some point in the gastrointestinal tract. This could be around the base of the tongue, in the stomach or intestines. A length of the thread can still trail further through the body and become stuck numerous times.
The intestines try to move the foreign body further through the intestinal tract and pass it from the body. But, the thread is stuck, it can’t move so instead the intestines can end up bunching up and telescoping over themselves (plication). The repeated ‘sawing’ motion of bunching up over the thread can lead to perforation of the intestine. Through this opening, intestinal contents can leak into the abdomen and cause life-threatening peritonitis.
This great graphic from Cat Watch shows the anatomy of your cat’s digestive system.
Joey’s caring owner has very kindly given us permission to share his story to help raise awareness of the signs to look for and the need for urgent veterinary attention.
Joey began vomiting profusely one evening. He vomited twelve times in the space of a few hours! Earlier in the day, Joey had been his normal, happy self but now he had no interest in eating or drinking and was lethargic and generally miserable. His concerned owner contacted the clinic, knowing something must be wrong and attended an appointment with our vet, Sarah.
Joey is an indoor cat and does not usually chew toys or furnishings. On examination, he was found to have an elevated heart rate, raised temperature and a sore tummy. On checking his mouth our eagle-eyed vet spotted a thread around the base of Joey’s tongue. Alongside his other symptoms, the alarm bells rang, Joey may have a linear foreign body!
Joey was admitted for sedation and further examination, an x-ray and the use of our endoscope (a long thin tube with a light and camera) which confirmed a double-stranded thread extending from Joey’s tongue into his stomach. We were concerned it could extend further into his small intestine.
After a discussion with Joey’s poor worried owner, we agreed the best action would be to anaesthetise him and perform an exploratory surgery (called a laparotomy) and possible gastrotomy (an incision into the stomach) to assess the whereabouts of the thread and extent of any damage.
While preparing for surgery we ran a blood test to check Joey’s e.g. kidney parameters and dehydration status and placed Joey on intravenous fluids to support him throughout his procedure.
Joey’s small intestine was indeed plicated (bunched up) and generally inflamed. Our vet carefully made two small incisions and was able to remove the whole length of thread, which also had numerous hairballs attached and entangled, adding to the problem.
The incisions were sutured and Joey’s abdominal cavity was flushed with a sterile solution to avoid peritonitis. As you can see by the picture below Joey had managed to swallow an enormous length of thread, possibly from a rug.
Joey was hospitalised on intravenous fluids for a couple of days following surgery. This allowed our team to carefully monitor his recovery while bringing down his temperature and supporting him with pain medication and antibiotics. We slowly introduced food and stimulated his appetite with some tasty, small, easily digestible diets. While recovering, brave Joey enjoyed a visit from his owner.
Joey was soon back home where he belonged with his family, fellow felines and the family dog. We are pleased to report after lots of TLC he is now feeling much better and recovering well.
Joey’s cautionary tale highlights exactly why you should always contact the clinic ASAP if your cat becomes suddenly unwell or exhibits out of character behaviour; if left without veterinary attention his story may not have had a positive outcome.