Ask a Vet: My Cat Ate String — What Should I Do?

Tinsel and ribbons are very dangerous if cats eat them.
Tinsel and ribbons are very dangerous if cats eat them. Cat and Christmas ornaments. Photography by Tibanna79 / Shutterstock.

A while back I wrote a post on Dogster about an unfortunate incident involving my canine pal Buster, some blades of grass and a dangler (or, as I called it, a dingleberry). I described in detail the trials and tribulations of trying to extract grass blades from the anus of a prancing dog. A comment on the post caught my eye and it’s especially relevant right now with all the strings, ribbons, tinsel and other long, shiny objects that humans use to deck the halls and wrap holiday gifts. Cherry writes about the time her cat ate string:

I had a similar problem except it was with my cat and a string she had eaten. It was dangling out of her butt and I had to pull it out. LOL!

A hairless cat with a ball of string yarn.
A hairless cat with a ball of string. Photography by Dan Kosmayer / Shutterstock.

Cats and string — an iconic pairing that actually does not mix

It sounds like things worked out well for Cherry’s cat, and I’m very happy about that. However, there is a big difference between a few blades of grass that were known to be only a few inches long, and a string that could be any length at all.

The image of a kitten playing with a ball of yarn is engrained in the collective psyche. I don’t know that Normal Rockwell ever painted it, but it would surprise me if he hadn’t.

Cat ate string? First, let’s talk about what type of string

Unfortunately, it turns out that yarn is very dangerous for cats. So is string. And dental floss, fishing line, Christmas tinsel, Easter grass, ribbon, and any similar long, thread-like item. These items, when ingested by cats or kittens, have the potential to lead to a life-threatening condition called gastrointestinal obstruction due to linear foreign body. The condition is every bit as scary as its name implies.

What happens if your cat eats string:

A gray and white kitten with string.
Cat ate string? Here’s exactly what happens. Photography by SilverV/Thinkstock.

Linear (thread-like) items wreak havoc when one end of the item becomes snagged or anchored somewhere in the body. A common place for this to happen is under the tongue — the linear item can become wrapped, and thus anchored, around the base of the tongue and then swallowed.

However, the tongue is not the only place where linear items can snag. If any portion of a linear item becomes anchored anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract, problems can occur. The intestines will try to work the linear item through and towards the anus. But if the item is anchored, it can’t be moved. Instead, the intestines move themselves, and natural intestinal motility causes the intestines to become bunched up. This bunching leads may lead to life-threatening blockage of the intestines that requires surgery or endoscopy to correct.

As the intestines bunch, pressure placed on them by the foreign body or by the bunching itself may cause perforations in the intestinal walls. Thin, strong foreign bodies also have the potential to directly lacerate the intestines. Intestinal contents (including loads of bacteria) can then leak through the perforations and lacerations, leading to sepsis and death.

What to do if your cat ate string:

Because of this risk, feline access to thread, yarn, string, and other linear items should be absolutely denied. However, it is not a foregone conclusion that a cat will get into trouble every time it eats string. If the item makes it through the intestines without anchoring, it may pass into the stool. That is where Cherry’s situation becomes relevant to this discussion.

Sometimes a small portion of a very long piece of thread or string will protrude from a cat’s anus. In such cases, pulling on the string can have catastrophic consequences. If the string is long enough, traction on it can cause lacerations or serious damage to the walls of any portion of the gastrointestinal tract with which it is in contact.

Therefore, if you find your cat with a dangling string, my recommendation is to very carefully cut the string near the anus. Monitor the cat carefully until the entire thing comes out. If any unusual symptoms occur — especially vomiting, loss of appetite or lethargy — or if you have any doubts about the situation, seek immediate veterinary attention.

It’s generally safe to gently extract a linear item from the anus if (as in the case of Buster’s grass blades) you know it is short, and you know how to do it properly. But if you have any doubts, don’t pull. Cut instead.

This piece was originally published in 2017.

Thumbnail: Photography by Tibanna79 / Shutterstock.

Tell us: Has your cat ever ate string? What sort of string was it and what happened?

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48 thoughts on “Ask a Vet: My Cat Ate String — What Should I Do?”

  1. My kitten ????‍⬛ ate some string about 2 weeks ago and now she is Pooping all over my house and I noticed that a some of that string is sticking out of her butt ????what should I do

    1. Bring her to the vet so it doesn’t obstruct or cause necrotic conditions in its intestines. Which would be BAD.
      NOT a vet here. Did research on it for another cat.

    2. My cat just ate a small piece of fabric its thing but im not sure if he can poop it out im very worried bec of what the internet told me and im not sure if i could go anywhere outside home rn its very late what should i do

  2. I’m just wondering if I need to get my cat a checkup. We bought a few balloons for my young siblings and the balloons are tied with ribbon. My cat ate a pretty short piece and I saw that she pooped it out when I cleaned her litter box. But I catch her still trying to eat more. I haven’t seen her eat any yet but who knows. She hasn’t had symptoms though

  3. So my cat swallowed a piece of yarn about 2-4 inches long. At first I wasn’t too worried, but now I’m slightly more concerned. Can a short piece of yarn do that much? She’s acting normally too.

    1. Just a tiny update: she’s eating and drinking normally, and doesn’t appear sluggish. I’m watching over her until everyone else wakes up so we can talk everything over.

      1. My cat just did the same thing! Did everything turn out ok? He seems fine too, it was only about a 2-inch piece but I’m worried I should take him to the vet.

      2. Hey! This is exactly what just happened to my cat and im full on panicking- did yours turn out okay? Did you end up taking them to the vet?

  4. My cat recently ate a metre of nylon ribbon. It was very fortunate that I was home at the time and caught her in the act, though I was not quick enough to catch her before she swallowed it all! I got her to the vet straight away and she had to have emergency abdominal surgery to remove the ribbon. Four weeks later and she’s fine now but it’s not an experience I want to go through ever again!

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  6. My kitten eats everything. She has a form a pica so I have to be very careful what she can get into. All her toys have to be carefully screened. One day as I was cleaning I lay the cat teaser on a chair and the next moment I looked there was no string. After combing the area for chewed up string we went off to the vet. $3,000 later she is string free ( they did an endoscopy after trying to get her to trow it up). Now all teasers are kept up high out of reach. She cannot play with any toys except balls unsupervised.

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  11. This is a real thing. I had to put my cat to sleep last night due to a perforated intestinal tract and obstruction. He was fine just a day or so ago. I’m heartbroken and am posting in case someone out there can be helped knowing this really is a serious thing.

  12. Hi there my cat got some way doom in now i dont know what to do she doesnt eat or drink anything and shes just lying what can i give her to feel better thanx Natasha shes 5 mnths old

  13. Came home to find one of my three ctas had thrown up a long piece of ribbon. No idea which one. Two of my cats regularly get in the bath tub and I have seen a couple of very small droplets of blood, diuted with water so I could tell the original size was tiny, but again, I don’t know which one. Not sure what to do. None act abnormal. And no one is peeing outside the box and none seem to mind when I press around on their bellies or bladder areas.

    1. My cat eatS A long yarn string. Estimated about 4 feet long. He throws out what he eated. After we saw one and half feet long yarn came out his aectum, then we realize he has eaten A ling string. we cut the string. tha cat stoped eating. we went to A vet. they told us need an xray to see where the string was. I know it is hard to see A string from xray. so I asked againg if xray can see tge string. they comfirmed the claim. after the xray was taken, the vet told us that the string blocked the cat intestinal tract. and the cat feels pain. we only have two options. surgery or put the cat down. it costs $1500 for the surgery. we cannot offer it. it costs $130 to put it down. the vet suggests me make decision asap. the vet suggests to put down the cat now if we donot want to do the surgery. we desagree. I want to give the cat couple of days to fight the string. so we paid for the vet visit with xray. the vet gave us some pain killer for the cat. when i got home i forced to feed the cat with 20ml olive oil. 5 ml pains killer. some water, some vaseline on outside of cat mouth to let it eat. and give it some milk. next morning, inject some baby mineral oil into rectum. next norning, the cat pooed out one foot string. we think cat has more in his system. so kept feed it with water, olive oil, milk, and vaseline. after one more day, the cat pooed out some broken down string fiber. we know now the cat can survive. but it still do not want eat. so I will feed it with water, milk, oil for couple of days until it will eat by itself.

      1. Hi there,
        We suggest you work with a vet on this. Here’s more info on how to afford vet bills. We hope your kitty feels better!

  14. My 7 month old kitten ate a piece of chive? She has gotten sick a little bit. She is acting like she is tired, when normally she is very active. I don’t have even $1.00 for a vet. What can I do for her at home? Please help? Thank you

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for commenting! We suggest contacting your vet if you are worried about your cat so your vet can examine your cat thoroughly.

  15. My cat ate one of the strings that come on shirts to help them stay on hangers. I cut it them off the shirt and set them on the bed and didn’t notice that he ate one of them as I was doing other things. I managed to get the second one away from him before he ate it also. It was maybe 4 or 5 inches long and made of silky fabric. Should I wait and see if it comes out on it’s own after a few days or call the vet and see what they say?

    1. My cat recently ate 8 inches of yarn she pooped it out a few days later we still took her to the vet though to make sure she was ok

  16. Hi, so my cat tore off the string to a cat teaser. It is pretty long and thick. Should I wait to see if he starts vomiting?

  17. My cat ate some yarn. A piece was hanging from his rectum. I was not sure about pulling it right away and he pulled away from me . He chewed a part off from his rectum then I pulled the rest out . It came out easily .shortly after ,he ate some dry food and threw up . I think he threw up because of chewing the string from his rectum which had poop on it . I am worried there is more yarn inside of his intestines. Should I be worried ? He seems to be fine .

  18. I need a little help..
    Okay so i was cleaning today and my cat got a hold of some sewing thread.
    And she was like eating it but i didnt notice, But when i tried to pull it out of her mouth it only pulls out so far then gets caught on something then she freaks out and runs away and i dont wanna hurt her. And im afraid something bad might happen..

      1. So my cat I guess ate string because the vet didn’t see anything in the xray. They didn’t feed him for 2 days while there and he was weak before we took him. He had the runs and was puking white foam. They sent him home because my father in law didn’t want to pay for surgery. Can it fix itself and how long until I know it’s hopeless….

        1. Hi there Abigail,

          Thanks for reaching out! Here is an article for more information on cat vomiting:

          Let’s Talk About Cat Vomit

          Additionally, here are some articles on cat diarrhea:

          Wondering Why Your Cat Has Diarrhea? What Causes Cat Diarrhea and What to Do

          Cat Diarrhea — When Is It a Concern?

          We suggest taking your cat to another vet for a second opinion and for more help. For more information on affording vet bills, please see these articles:

          Need Help with Vet Bills? How to Get Help With Your Cats’ Vet Bills

          9 Ways to Find Affordable Vet Care for Your Cat

  19. We have a cat that would eat hair ties (we think it is a form of pica). We didn’t realize she was doing it until we’d see the little piece of metal lying around with chewed-off rubber parts hanging from it. Scared us so bad, but she never seemed to have any problems from it (although I’m not the litter cleaner, so I can’t speak to if/how they left her body). We were more worried that she’d actually eat the metal part and do some serious damage that way. We now use much thicker ones that she chews on but doesn’t try to swallow. We still try to keep them away from her, but she’s so attracted to them.

    And when I was a kid, my parents always put tinsel (like Christmas icicles) on their tree. Fragile strands of aluminum, about 6-8 inches long. So fascinating and delicious to our pet cats, but again no problems with that, thankfully. I wouldn’t do it today, but my parents just joked about the sparkly poop.

    1. I’m no doubt older than you, but when I was a kid the icicles we hung on the tree and played with were made of thin strips of lead. They hung straight but were easily breakable and fell apart if we weren’t careful putting them on. Probably would not cause the problem with the cat intestines since they fell apart. Those were banned in the 60’s when the geniuses decided the lead was poisonous. (It’s amazing I or any of my childhood friends are still alive.) They were replaced with plastic which would no doubt cause the problem for the cats.

  20. My cat has always had a thing about string, cotton, thread and even hair. She managed to eat a length of string about a foot long. I spoke to the vet for advice and he asked to see her. She was admitted for a series of different x-rays – none of which showed up the string – and given various emetics to try and get it quickly through her system, but still she didn’t pass any string. In the end, they began to wonder if she’d actually eaten any in the first place. It wasn’t until two weeks later that it finally reappeared in her litter tray. A tight bundle of dehydrated string. How she managed to keep it in her system for two weeks, none of the vets knew. I was just relieved she’d got rid of it.

    1. I am so glad to hear that! I hope that happens with my cat because he ate a string from a teaser toy I’m guessing sometime last night and I am really worried about him. Thank you for this hope ????

      1. Hi Sarah — If your cat ate a string, we suggest contacting your vet for next steps. Best of luck, hope your kitty feels better!

  21. We’ve learned these lessons the hard way. One cat tore at the box spring until it shredded into threads. We noticed she was foaming at the mouth one day and the vet discovered she’d ingested the fine polyester strings, which had gotten stuck around her tongue. Thank God it wasn’t too far down, they were able to extract it under sedation and we blocked her access to the box spring with plywood. Another cat had to be euthanized after eating a hair tie, which caused a blockage that jacked up her immune system and spurred some weird wasting disease. All thread, yarn, hair ties, etc are now either banned from the house or kept in inaccessible places.

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