String, Yarn, and Other Linear Foreign Objects Are Dangerous for Pets
Most dogs and cats enjoy chewing on or playing with long, thin objects like string, rope, or yarn. However, what may seem like a fun toy or plaything can quickly turn deadly if ingested. Here’s what you need to know about strings and string-like items and why you should keep them away from your pet. (Scroll to the end for advice about what to do if your pet swallows any object they shouldn’t have.)
Why Are Linear Foreign Objects Dangerous?
When pets swallow these “linear foreign objects” or “linear foreign bodies,” as we refer to them in the veterinary field, they can become incredibly dangerous.
If your pet has swallowed a string or string-like object, contact us immediately. This is a serious, potentially life-threatening situation, and the sooner we see your pet, the better chance your pet has for a faster recovery.
The particular problem with linear foreign objects is that one end can get caught or wadded up in one part of the digestive tract, like the base of the tongue (especially common in cats), the stomach, or the intestine, while the other end of the object continues to move through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. When this happens, the string can become bunched up, much like an elastic drawstring in the waistband of sweatpants.
As the intestine tries to move the foreign object through the digestive tract, this motion can actually cause intestinal perforation if the object tears or saws through the intestine. If the contents of the intestine spill into the abdomen (a condition called peritonitis), the pet’s life can be at risk. Surgery is often required to remove the foreign body and repair any damage to the intestines.
What Linear Objects Should You Keep Your Pet Away From?
These long, stringy objects can spell trouble for dogs and cats:
- Carpet fibers (such as from looped Berber carpets)
- Dental floss
- Rope and rope toys
- String and toys with string
- Strings from damaged or chewed leashes
- Threads from clothing
- Threads from towels or blankets
If you know your pet likes to chew on or tries to swallow certain objects, make a point to keep them off the floor and out of your pet’s reach. Using child-safe locks on cabinets can help, as can using alternative decorations in place of ones that might be too tempting for your pet.
What Are Signs That Your Pet May Have Swallowed a Linear Foreign Object?
Signs that your pet may have swallowed a linear foreign body include:
- Abdominal pain or tenderness
- Inability to get comfortable
- Lack of energy/enthusiasm (lethargy)
- Refusal to eat or decreased appetite
- Vomiting or attempting to vomit
What Should You Do If You Think Your Pet Swallowed a Linear Foreign Object?
If you think or know your pet swallowed a piece of yarn, rope, or other long, string-like item, call us right away. The quicker we can get your pet into the hospital, the lower the risk of infection and other complications.
In the meantime:
- Do not try to make your pet vomit.
- If you see a string protruding from your pet’s anus, please don’t pull on it to try to remove it. Doing so may injure your pet.
We’ll perform a physical exam and use diagnostic imaging, such as digital x-rays and abdominal ultrasound, to help us determine whether your pet has swallowed a string or other foreign object, as well as the best way to help your pet.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if your pet is vomiting or showing other signs of possible linear foreign object ingestion.
The sooner you let us know that your pet swallowed something dangerous, the sooner we can start helping your pet.
What If My Pet Swallowed a Bone, Toy, Ball, or Other Object?
If you know or suspect that your pet swallowed any object that they shouldn’t have, like a bone, ball, piece of a toy, coins, batteries, socks, underwear, stockings, stones, refrigerator magnets, corn on the cob, food skewers, or other foreign body, call us immediately. Even objects that aren’t string like can cause serious, potentially deadly problems if a dog or cat swallows them:
- Not only can some foreign bodies cause a physical obstruction, but if they have sharp edges, they may puncture the intestine, which can cause an infection.
- Items like socks or underwear can unravel inside a pet, creating a linear foreign body.
- Some objects, like pennies and batteries, can be toxic.
- Magnets can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, but if a pet swallows 2 or more magnets, they can cause a painful, life-threatening condition.
The faster we can get your pet into the clinic, the quicker we can determine how we can help your pet.