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My Cat Swallowed a Foreign Object: When to See a Vet (Expert Guide)

a siamese cat getting examined by a vet at the clinic
Image Credit: Sergey Nivens, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Genevieve Dugal

Vet approved

	Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats love to play with anything that they can get their paws on, such as buttons, kitchen foil, bits of string, threads, shoelaces, ribbons, cords, and yarn. Unfortunately, while playing with these seemingly harmless objects, our feline companions can accidentally ingest them, which can be dangerous and seriously damage their health.

If you suspect or see that your cat has ingested a foreign object, consider it a medical emergency. You should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Be aware that although it is possible that some foreign bodies will pass through the intestinal tract without incident, intestinal blockage (or obstruction) may occur on many occasions. If that happens, your cat can suffer serious, life-threatening consequences.

cat paw divider

What If Your Vet Doesn’t Answer the Phone?

  • Contact an emergency veterinary hospital: Many veterinary hospitals and clinics have 24-hour emergency services and can provide immediate care.
  • Monitor your cat’s behavior: Watch your cat carefully for any signs of distress or discomfort.
  • Do not induce vomiting: Do not induce vomiting unless directed by a veterinarian, as some foreign objects can further damage the digestive tract if regurgitated. Moreover, some at-home methods can do more harm than good.
  • Keep your pet calm: Stay with your cat, and provide a calm and comfortable space for them to rest. Avoid giving them food or water until you talk to a member of the veterinary team.

Why Is It So Dangerous If Your Cat Has Ingested a Foreign Object?

Any small, sharp object can damage your cat’s mouth, throat, esophagus, and other digestive tract organs. It can get stuck in their throat, preventing them from breathing, or in their esophagus, which can cause a tear or lead to an esophageal blockage.

Linear foreign bodies—which are long, thin objects like thread, hair ties, or yarn—can cling to the cat’s tongue while continuing their way through the digestive system. This type of foreign body is the most dangerous. This can cause bowel movements to stop or lead to intestinal perforation and even multiple organ failure.

Preventing your cat from playing with wires and strings and regularly inspecting risky areas—like the bottom of curtains and the sides of sofas—to make sure no wires are sticking out is a good way to prevent your pet from swallowing potentially dangerous objects.

Sick sad cat lying on the bed
Image Credit: Zhuravlev Andrey, Shutterstock

How Do You Know If Your Cat Has Eaten a Foreign Body?

If you suspect that your cat has ingested an object that they shouldn’t have, be on the lookout for the following signs:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing or panting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swollen or tense-looking abdomen
  • Absence of stools
  • Drooling
  • Dehydration
  • Bleeding from the mouth or rectum
  • A change in behavior or activity level

Tips to Keep Your Cat Safe

It’s essential but not always easy to keep potentially dangerous objects out of your cat’s reach. Felines are masters in the art of finding string and similar objects in the darkest corners of the house!

But do not despair: With willpower and proactivity, you can limit the danger and prevent your cat from swallowing any foreign objects in their path:

  • Start by storing away all your little treasures (rubber bands, small toys, coins, string, dice, paper clips, etc.), keeping them safe from your kitty’s curious paws.
  • Keep electrical cords and wires out of your cat’s reach, and try to bundle and secure them if possible.
  • Choose toys that your feline pal can play with safely. For example, a toy mouse might not be the best idea if your cat can easily pull off the little string tail!
  • Supervise (as much as possible) your kitty while they play so you can intervene quickly if they start nibbling on your favorite headphones.
woman owner petting and playing with her cat at home
Image Credit: Stokkete, Shutterstock


Final Thoughts

Do not waste time if you notice that your cat has swallowed a foreign object. You must immediately contact a veterinary clinic or an emergency veterinary hospital. Delaying treatment can lead to complications and life-threatening conditions.

In the meantime, don’t try to make your cat vomit, and keep them comfortable and monitored. Be sure to follow the vet’s instructions and stay calm: With the right care, your beloved kitty should be right as rain in no time!

Featured Image Credit: Sergey Nivens, Shutterstock

About the Author

Genevieve Dugal
Genevieve Dugal
Genevieve is a biologist and science writer. Her deep love for exotic animals has taken her worldwide to work and volunteer for several wildlife rehabilitation centers in Central and South America, Australia, and Canada. Genevieve is a Canadian expat who now lives in Argentina, where she wakes up every morning to horses and cows saying hello. She is the proud mom of three rescued dogs, Lemmy, Nala, and Pochi, and a frisky kitten, Furiosa.

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