As the holidays are rapidly approaching it is important to note that one of the most serious conditions that affect cats (as well as other pets) is a linear foreign body. This refers to the ingestion of such materials as ribbons, strings, tinsel, or thread which in some instances may actually have a sewing needles attached. The condition’s severity stems from the possibiilty of intestinal obstruction and perforation within a matter of hours. Though a pet may easily be able to swallow a substantial length of string or yarn, once the foreign object begins to move through the digestive tract it is unlikely it will pass uneventfully. The parastalic (or squeezing) motion of the intestine attempts to push the object along but due to its shape and length the string or ribbon will become anchored often around a bend in the loops. The intestine continues to attempt to squeeze the string through but instead begins to bunch up along the linear foreign body resulting in the string beginning to saw through the bowel. As the pressure becomes greater along the surface of the intestine it will eventually give way opening a hole in the intestinal tract. Once this happens intestinal contents, and bacteria leak into the peritoneum, the cavity that holds the abdominal organs. This leakage results in a very serious and often life threatening infection known as peritonitis. At this point one should seek urgent veterinary care from your local vet or veterinary hospital. A pet with peritonitis will require immediate hospitalization, laboratory testing, x-rays and/or ultrasound evaluation of the abdomen and possibly soft tissue surgery.
As with many serious diseases in dogs, cats and other pets, prevention is often simple and superior to hospitalization and critical care. Strings that may have been used in food preparation hold a special attraction for pets since they often carry the flavor of a roast or turkey. But when it comes to cats, anything that is long and thin can become a life threatening weapon. The list is endless and the challenge great especially with children of all ages in a household. When it comes to strings, yarns, elastics, threads, wires, ribbons, cords and hair elastics remember that these are not acceptable toys for your pets. Most importantly if there is any possibility that your pet has swallowed any of these linear foreign bodies, don’t wait for the vomiting and lethargy to start. Seek veterinary care immediately. Never attempt to pull a string out that may be hanging out of your pet’s mouth or rectum. What you may think is a short length could stretch for several feet into the digestive tract. Merely putting tension on the cord could result in a laceration to the intestinal wall speeding the course to peritonitis. It is best to get veterinary care before the onset of symptoms. By preventing contact with these linear objects and seeking urgent care in the event of any suspicion of ingestion you can help to ensure your pet has a long and healthy life.