Cats love to play with anything that moves - especially stringy items like thread, yarn, dental floss, ribbon, and fishing line. Unfortunately, if swallowed, these materials can lead to a dangerous problem called a linear foreign body obstruction of the intestinal tract.
Linear foreign body obstruction can happen in cats of all ages, but most frequently occurs in cats younger than 4 years old. The string or thread becomes lodged under the cat's tongue or in the cat's stomach and the remainder advances into the intestine. As muscular contraction of the intestinal wall (peristalsis) occurs, the intestine bunches up around the string, causing a partial or complete obstruction. As peristalsis continues, the string can become taut and cut into intestinal lining or even perforate through the intestinal wall, which becomes a life-threatening emergency.
Clinical signs of a linear foreign body obstruction include vomiting, anorexia, and lethargy. Your cat may also drool if the object is caught under the tongue. Do not attempt to pull or cut the string. Take your cat to her veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and take X-rays to reveal evidence of an obstruction.
If your veterinarian diagnoses a linear foreign body, surgery will be necessary to remove the material from the intestines and check for any perforations. After surgery, your cat will remain in the hospital (typically 2-4 days) for recovery and care.
To best prevent this dangerous problem, remove any string-type items your cat may be tempted to swallow. Also, if you see your cat chewing on anything suspicious, take it away immediately.