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Ask Henry, Cat Questions

Q: I have a cat that loves to get into the bathroom garbage and play with dental floss. I have also noticed she is very attracted to string and I am afraid she may have eaten some. What do I do now?

A: 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.

So what happens if your cat eats string?

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 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 eats string:

Because of this risk, feline access to thread, yarn, string, and other linear items should be absolutely forbidden. If the item makes it through the intestines without anchoring, it may pass into the stool. 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.

So, 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. The best thing to do to keep your cat safe is to try and keep all the enticing string like objects away from your cat!

Q: I know my cat needs to go the vet but he gets so STRESSED out! It makes me not want to take him to the vet but I know he needs to go. Do you have any tips or tricks for making taking him to the vet easier?

A: No one looks forward to vet visits. Generally, no aspect of these outings is the high point of the day for cats or their owners, whether it’s extricating kitties out of hiding places, stuffing cats into carriers, or cats being poked and prodded by veterinarians. Although the visits are not pleasant, cats need veterinarian health checks at least once a year. Additionally, illness, teeth-cleanings, and changes in behavior can warrant additional vet visits. Here are some tips:

Acclimate your cat to the cat carrier.

The cat carrier can become fun to hang out in instead of an evil, threatening place. Change your kitty’s negative association with the carrier by converting it into a place where good things happen. Do this by playing with your feline around the carrier, throwing favorite toys in it and dragging toys around it. Placing small towels or clothing that have your scent on them in the carrier will also help reassure her. Tossing in treats that your cat adores can help change her point of view about it as well. Cats willingly settle into carriers when there is no negative stigma about them.

Make your cat like car rides.

The time to help your cat adjust to car rides is after she easily hangs out in the carrier. Put soft towels along with an item of clothing that has your scent on it in the carrier. Your scent will help comfort the little one. Cover the carrier loosely with a towel. Start a couple of weeks before vet visits. Place the towel-covered carrier, with the cat inside, on the floor behind the front seat. Reassure your cat with a calm voice. Repeat this a few times, and when she seems relaxed, start the car but do not drive it. After she is acclimated to the sound and vibration, drive the car a short distance. Repeat this every day, taking her on short car rides. To reduce the possibility of motion sickness, don’t feed her for several hours before hitting the road.

Get your cat comfortable in the waiting room.

You can make the waiting room experience a little more tolerable by positioning the carrier so that it faces a wall or back of a couch or chair. Although it’s not always possible, seek out a quiet place to sit that is animal-free. Cover the carrier with the towel and stay with your kitty – reassure her by talking softly to her and letting her smell your fingers. Cats usually don’t feel social when they’re in veterinary clinics. Politely discourage other cat lovers from becoming overly friendly with your kitty. Attention from strangers can be stressful, especially for cats who are trying to be inconspicuous.

Ask Henry

Henry’s helper is Sarah Smith, RVT PRG-C at Sugar Hill Animal Hospital.

Sarah joined the Sugar Hill family in May of 2014, after graduating from Gwinnett Tech’s Veterinary Technology program with a degree in applied animal sciences. A lover of creatures of all shapes and sizes, she has 3 dogs, 5 cats, many reptiles and chickens! Her special interest lies in helping pet parents cope with end of life decisions. So that she would be better equipped to serve people along this journey, she earned a certification as a Pet Loss Grief Recovery Specialist and then formed a support group for grieving pet parents. Please visit for more information.

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