Why String and Cats Don’t Mix

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A cat with cat insurance plays with string.

I saw a case last week that served as a strong reminder of how rambunctious and mischievous kittens can be, and therefore, how important cat insurance really is. Kittens get into everything, and they can quickly get themselves into trouble if you don’t kitten-proof your home. Like the old adage says, curiosity can kill a cat, or at least make her very sick!

A cute little 5-month-old female kitten named Pearl presented to me because she had been vomiting for a week. She had been seen at another veterinary clinic five days earlier for vaccinations, but unfortunately the vomiting was not thoroughly addressed by the doctor.

As time went on, the vomiting became more frequent and more severe to the point where the kitten stopped eating and drinking. One evening, Pearl vomited up a one-inch piece of a tube made of spongy material. The owner had no idea what the object was, and Pearl continued to vomit throughout the night, so she brought the kitten to see me the next morning.

Examining Kitty
Upon examination, Pearl was quiet and subdued-not at all like a normal kitten. She was moderately dehydrated and had lost weight from not being able to keep her food down. Her belly was painful to the touch, and I felt a small, tubular mass in her abdomen. I suspected that the rest of that unknown object that Pearl had vomited up the previous night was stuck in her intestines.

X-rays of Pearl’s abdomen showed not only one but two suspicious areas of a possible foreign body. The small intestines also looked bunched up. This usually indicates that a cat has ingested what is called a “linear foreign body”, meaning a long, straight, narrow object such as string, yarn, thread or ribbon. Ingestion of linear foreign bodies can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening problems. Without pet insurance, surgery for this condition can also be quite costly for the owner. This kind of foreign body can cause the intestines to bunch up, as in Pearl’s case, just like if you were to pull a loose thread on the hem of a skirt or pant leg. Very fine linear objects, like thread, can actually start to saw through the intestinal walls where they are bunched together. This can lead to holes in the intestines, and bacteria can leak out into the abdomen potentially causing massive infection and even death. Pearl needed immediate exploratory surgery.

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Dire Surgery
Pearl was anesthetized and I surgically opened up her abdomen. I found two pieces of the tubular spongy material. One piece was stuck in the stomach where it narrows and empties into the small intestine. The other piece had made it almost all the way to the large intestine. That was the one I was able to feel with my fingers. The two pieces were connected by fine strands of thread that were causing the bunching in the small intestines. Fortunately for Pearl, none of the thread had cut through the intestinal tissue yet, but I had to cut open the stomach and five areas of the intestines in order to remove all the thread and sponge material. I saved the foreign object as a souvenir for the owner, but she still had no idea what it was or how Pearl had gotten a hold of it.

Get Better Kitty Cat!
Pearl recovered beautifully! The next morning she was standing in her cage, kneading her toes and meowing for breakfast. I fed her small meals throughout the day with no further vomiting, and she went home to a happy owner that afternoon.

The Important Lesson
Accidents can happen no matter how well we try to avoid them. That’s why it’s important to have a pet insurance plan in place to cover medical emergencies for your pets. Pet health insurance is becoming an increasingly attractive option as it may help provide the finances needed to afford excellent medical and surgical care. I urge all of my clients and pet owners in general to check out the options so that cost is never a factor when deciding on veterinary care for your feline companions.

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