Login Sign in
Login Sign in

Join thousands of pet parents and get vet-approved guidance, product reviews, exclusive deals, and more!

My Cat Ate String: Risks and What to Do

British Shorthair kitten playing with a string
Skip To

Cats are notorious for their curiosity. They love poking around and investigating whatever objects they come across. Unfortunately, this curiosity can sometimes lead to dangerous situations, such as eating a piece of string. Ingesting string or other linear foreign bodies, as they’re called, can pose serious risks to your kitty’s health.

What exactly are the dangers associated with this scenario, and what should you do if your cat ate string? Here’s what you need to know.

Why Do Cats Eat String?

A string might sound like an unappealing snack to us humans, but cats are drawn to it because of their hunting instincts. When a cat bats around a piece of string or picks it up with their mouth, the wriggling of the string can trigger their hunting instincts.

In the wild, cats follow a hunt-kill-eat cycle, often consuming their prey at the end of a hunt. Although your well-fed cat doesn’t need to hunt their food, those instincts are still built into their DNA. If they see the string as “prey,” they may feel naturally inclined to consume it after their play session.

To add to the allure, the sensation of grasping, biting, and pulling on a string can be satisfying for cats, akin to catching and manipulating prey.

There’s also a condition called pica, which compels cats (and other animals) to eat non-food items, like plastic, wood, and dirt. This behavior can stem from various factors, including boredom, stress, or nutritional deficiencies. String may inadvertently become a target for cats with pica tendencies.

It’s important to note that cats can be attracted to any type of string or string-looking object, such as:

  • Dental floss
  • Fishing line
  • Yarn
  • Holiday tinsel
  • Cords attached to toys
  • Ribbon
  • Drawstrings from clothing
  • Rubber bands
  • Hair ties 

Cat Eating String: Risks to Know

The risk when cats eat string is that it can easily get wrapped around their tongue or caught at the exit of their stomach, says Dr. Cameron Smart, a veterinarian at Veterinary Emergency Group in Tampa, Florida. “When this occurs, the string becomes anchored at either location.”

When anchored, the free end of the string will trail down the remainder of the gastrointestinal tract, Dr. Smart explains. The intestines will unsuccessfully attempt to move the string down for elimination. These repeated attempts can cause something called plication, where the intestines bunch up and narrow, causing an intestinal blockage.

This is a medical emergency that requires abdominal surgery to remove the string, says Dr. Smart. In some cases, the repeated sawing motion of the string along the intestinal wall can cause a tear (aka perforation) in the intestine, he adds. This tear leads to the leakage of intestinal material into the abdomen, which, if left untreated, can cause a life-threatening, systemic infection.

Signs Your Cat Swallowed a String

White and black cat playing with a string

Unfortunately, you may not always catch your cat in the act, leaving you unsure whether they’ve consumed string or not. However, there are certain indicators that suggest your cat may have ingested a string, including:

  • Lip licking
  • Pawing at their mouth
  • A piece of string hanging out of their mouth or anus 
  • Decreased appetite or refusal to eat  
  • Vomiting or dry heaving
  • Straining to defecate or diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unwillingness to lay down or inability to get comfortable  
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration (due to vomiting, diarrhea, and/or inability to keep food/water down)

My Cat Ate String: What to Do Next

If you saw your cat eat a string or suspect they did, don’t wait for symptoms to start — call your veterinarian or your local emergency animal hospital immediately for advice. While not always possible, knowing how much string your cat consumed is helpful information. 

“Typically, a string less than an inch can pass independently without intervention,” says Dr. Smart. Longer pieces, though, often require medical intervention to expel or remove.

It’s important to note that you should never attempt to pull the string out of your cat, even if you see it wrapped around your cat’s tongue or protruding from their anus. Doing so can cause serious damage to your cat’s esophagus and organs. You should also never attempt to make your cat throw the string up. Instead, take your cat to the vet so the string can be safely removed.

How to Treat a Cat That Eats String

If it’s known or suspected that your cat ate string, your veterinarian will advise you to come in for an exam. While strings are not usually visible on X-rays, your vet will likely still do an abdominal X-ray to visualize the intestines and see if there are changes consistent with having eaten string, such as bunched-up intestines. 

In cases where X-rays reveal no intestinal changes — and your cat is not displaying symptoms (including no visible string in their mouth or anus) — your vet may recommend a wait-and-see approach. This entails monitoring for symptoms at home and bringing your cat to the vet immediately if any symptoms occur. 

If X-rays detect intestinal changes, your cat is showing symptoms, or the string is visible, there are a few treatment options to consider. The choice of treatment will depend on your cat’s unique situation. Your vet may give your cat medication to induce vomiting, but this is only an option if the string was consumed less than four hours before the visit, Dr. Smart says. 

If vomiting is unsuccessful, an endoscopy might be recommended, but this is only useful if the string has not yet reached the stomach or intestines. An endoscopy involves putting a tube with an attached camera and instrument down the cat’s esophagus, grabbing the string with the instrument, and carefully pulling it out of the mouth.

If an endoscopy is not feasible or successful, a surgery called a laparotomy will be recommended. This involves opening the cat’s abdomen and exploring the gastrointestinal tract to locate and remove the string.

Cats typically need to stay in the hospital for a day or two following surgery. They’ll finish recovering at home for a couple of weeks.

Cats and String: Other Tips and Advice

Prevention is best when it comes to cats and string. By taking proactive measures to minimize their access to string and similar objects, you can significantly reduce the risk of your feline companions ingesting these hazardous items. Here are some essential tips to help prevent accidental ingestion of string:

Keep string out of reach: Store sewing supplies, craft materials, and other items containing string or thread securely out of your cat’s reach. Ensure that household items like dental floss, hair ties, and ribbon are stored in cabinets or drawers inaccessible to curious felines.

Avoid string toys: Do not use string, yarn, shoelaces, or other string-like objects as play toys.

Choose safe toys: Opt for cat toys specifically designed to withstand chewing and play without easily fraying or falling apart.

Provide alternative chewing outlets: Offer your cat safe alternatives for chewing and play, such as catnip-filled toys, interactive toys, puzzle feeders, and scratching posts. These outlets satisfy their natural instincts while reducing the likelihood of seeking out string or other unsuitable items.

Remember: a little prevention now saves a lot of worry later. Let’s keep our whiskered pals safe from stringy temptations by stashing away those loose threads and opting for safer playtime options.