Hidden Danger

Linear Foreign Bodies

Being imaginative creatures, cats love to play with a variety of string-like objects. Shoelaces, sewing thread, ribbon, yarn and dental floss are most popular, but cats also find great pleasure in playing with curtain pulls, fishing line, rubber bands, and all forms of string. Unfortunately, cats are prone to swallowing these homemade toys and are faced with the potentially fatal consequence of what is medically termed a “linear foreign body“.

Cat’s tongues have barbs which make it virtually impossible for them to “spit out” a string once it is on its way down the esophagus. Signs of a ‘linear foreign body’ can include gagging, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, lethargy, a painful abdomen, and perhaps a fever. You might even see a string-like object protruding from your cat’s rectum or mouth. Take your cat to your veterinarian immediately. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to pull the object out. You will only be jeopardizing your cat’s life.

Below are some of the most common dangerous linear foreign bodies:

  • Many people have small, open trash containers in their bathroom.  Dental floss is a very common danger. Throw used dental floss away immediately in a covered trash container.
  • A needle and thread is another common linear foreign bodies that cats ingest, and they are extremely dangerous! Needles that get swallowed will often lodge in the stomach, or may make it further down the GI tract into the small intestine.
  • Always clean up carefully after yourself if doing sewing, knitting, crafts, and any other activities that create tempting foreign bodies for your cat!
  • Yarn, String, Fishing Line – All of these commonly used materials are very tempting for cats to play with and chew on.
  • Many cats will actually swallow these materials, and like the needle and thread, they quickly become life threatening linear foreign bodies that require surgical extraction.
  • Butcher’s Twine – Butcher’s twine is the cotton string used for tying up meat products, and this is a particularly type of linear foreign body to see in cats because the twine is tasty and infused with meat juices!
  • Make sure that when you unwrap your meat and remove the twine that you throw it away in covered garbage that is inside a cupboard that your cat cannot access.
  • Rubber Bands, Hair Elastics – Common items that cats love to bat around and play with: dangerous when swallowed.
  • Holiday Linear Foreign Bodies (Tinsel, Ribbon, Easter Basket Grass) – A beautiful addition to any Christmas tree, tinsel is unfortunately also very attractive to cats, and some kitties may go so far as to ingest tinsel; consider alternative decorations rather than risking your cat’s safety over the holidays.
  • Be very careful to put ribbons and Easter basket grass into a covered garbage container right away during the holidays. Your cat may be having the time of his or her life playing with these items, but if it should swallow any of these items it could end its life.


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