The Dangers of Strings, Ribbons, and Yarn for Cats

Strings are extremely dangerous to cats, for a variety of reasons.

It's no secret: cats love strings. Yarn, ribbon, tinsel, thread, twine, shoelaces, rubber bands, hair ties, and cords are all prime targets for a cat's stalking, pouncing, and thrashing instincts. Unfortunately, these are all very dangerous items for your cat to play with unsupervised (or even supervised sometimes).

Why Are Strings Dangerous for Cats?

If you've ever had a cat lick you, you're aware of how rough the feline tongue feels. The reason for this is that a cat's tongue is covered with barbs that point toward his throat. These barbs are useful when cats groom themselves, for pulling out dead fur. In the wild, they would also help pull meat from bones to aid the cat in getting all of the food he could from his prey.

The barbs on a cat's tongue, because of the direction they face, do not allow a cat to spit anything out once it is caught on the tongue. Fabrics and strings are easily captured on the barbs, and then the item can only be swallowed unless the cat manages to hook it with his paws and pull it out.

But Why Is It so Bad If a Cat Swallows a String?

When a cat swallows a string or other similar item, the chances are high that he will develop a linear foreign body. This means that one end of the string lodges somewhere along the GI tract while the rest continues on. The most common places for strings to lodge are around the base of the tongue and in the bottom of the stomach, where it empties into the small intestine. This area of the stomach is the pylorus.

The intestinal tract attempts to move the string along as it would any of its other contents. However, since the other end of the string is lodged, the intestine actually plicates, or bunches up on itself. This effect is similar to what would happen if you tied a knot in one end of a drawstring, then pulled on the other end. The fabric would bunch up around the drawstring (Wendy C. Brooks, 2014).

Eventually, the tissue in the area around the plication can lose blood supply and begin to deteriorate and die. In extreme situations, the intestine can tug so hard on the foreign body that it tears through the tissue, allowing GI contents to spill into the abdominal cavity. This results in a serious condition called peritonitis. Peritonitis is the poisoning of the cat's system, and it will result in death if it isn't treated. Linear foreign bodies are a surgical emergency in cats. The foreign body, along with any dead intestinal tissue, must be surgically removed. This type of surgery is particularly dangerous and carries a higher risk of death than other types of foreign body removal surgeries.

Another Problem with Strings

Strings or any string-like object can become wrapped around any part of a cat that is rolling around and playing with it. This includes extremities like the paws and legs and the neck. Paws and legs that are wrapped tightly in strings can lose blood supply, and the need for an amputation is a very real possibility. Cats with strings caught around their necks usually begin to run frantically around the house trying to get away. This can result in the other end of the string becoming caught on another object, resulting in asphyxiation and death. Strings and cats just don't mix.

How to Avoid the Dangerous Consequences of Cats with Strings

Because of the multiple issues of a cat's barbed tongue, a linear foreign body causing plication of the intestinal tract, and entanglement dangers, strings, yarn, ribbon, and other linear objects are extremely dangerous for cats. Following are some ways to avoid this serious issue:

What Should You Do If You Know or Suspect That Your Cat Has Swallowed a String?


  1. Wendy C. Brooks, D. D. (2014, January 6). Linear Foreign Bodies. Retrieved from

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