Cat ate fleece ribbon
February 15, 2013 7:30 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday morning, I woke up to my cat chewing on the remains of this cat toy. Noooooo. What do I do? (I have called the vet.)

They advised me to bring him in if he starts vomiting, refusing food, acting strangely, etc.

I'm not sure how much he ate. The ribbon was 48" to start with and it's about 26 now, but looking back, I have noticed small pieces off the end missing before so I think that both cats have been gnawing on this thing for several months. Yes, I feel terrible for not realizing it before. Both of these cats are chewers and I am usually vigilant about putting hazardous toys and objects out of their reach, but apparently I blanked. My guess is that he got between 6 and 12 inches of it this time.

So... I spent yesterday monitoring him and giving him frequent doses of hairball gel, expecting him to upchuck or keel over at any moment. Instead, more than 36 hours later, he seems fine. He has not thrown up. He is eating normally, running and playing, and has spent the afternoon napping next to me as usual. He doesn't seem uncomfortable, and isn't sensitive to touch anywhere on his abdomen. Here he is today. I'm also pretty sure he pooped today sometime -- I found two stools in the box a few hours apart from each other and it seems unlikely that they are both from the other cat. But no sign of the ribbon.

Among my questions are:

1) How long can something like this hang out inside a cat? If this was going to become an obstruction, would he probably have started showing symptoms by now? His appetite, energy and behavior all seem normal as far as I can tell. Not that I, like, obsessively Googled this and read every anecdote on the subject I could find, but: Most people said their cat vomited or passed it. However, one cat apparently died a month later in surgery after eating the entire 4-foot ribbon. What? Is it likely that a cat could live with such a large obstruction for weeks without showing symptoms? It seems like the animal would stop eating and defecating after a day or two if the pipes were clogged... no?

2) Can fleece disintegrate in the stomach? The fabric on this toy is pretty sturdy and before this happened, I didn't think they could ingest cloth this thick without gagging, even if they could rip it. I was in the habit of putting it away because I was worried about them getting it tangled around their necks or limbs, not actually eating it.

It seems to me that when it comes to cats and "linear foreign bodies," as they're called, it either becomes a big problem or it doesn't, and there's not much you can do besides watch and wait. I'm hoping my little friend will be okay, but I'll absolutely have him seen if anything changes. I see a lot of stories about string and floss, but I wonder about thicker fabrics like this and also how long an obstruction can actually be there before it starts to affect the cat's behavior.

I also just wanted to draw attention to this specific toy, because I think it's a pretty common one and I had no idea it was stringy enough to end up inside of them. Just when I thought I'd overanalyzed every conceivable household hazard!
posted by perryfugue to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My vet's first suggestion was to check and make sure it wasn't hooked on a back tooth.
posted by gilsonal at 7:41 PM on February 15, 2013

My very small dog has eaten fiberfill from inside her toys (and weirder indigestible things: cigarette butts! earplugs! half a qtip!), and it usually passes in a day or two, in one big, weird poop. The polyester fleece probably won't disintegrate. If the cat tore pieces off and ate them separately instead of swallowing it in one big lump, though, you might have to pick through the poop (ew, I know) to find traces of it. If the cat is eating, pooping, and acting normal, and doesn't have any belly pain, it's probably just still working its way through.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:45 PM on February 15, 2013

Practical advice: If the cat is normally allowed outside, quarantine her inside so you can inspect her poop. Clean out her litterbox right now so it's fresh. You want to make sure she poops in the next day or so, and that you're seeing either the ribbon or pieces of it. If she's acting weird, take her in, cats are excellent at masking pain.

My dog is a notorious inedible thing eater, so I've gone through this more than once. I feel your pain.
posted by zug at 8:16 PM on February 15, 2013

My serial fabric eater had to have a craft pompom surgically removed a few years ago. She started showing symptoms that something was wrong after two days, eating and then throwing up partially digested food repeatedly. The third morning she would demand food and then refuse to eat it and demand food again even though her full bowl was sitting right there. She was also visibly losing weight (she's a tiny lean cat though), there had been no BMs in two days and by the afternoon of day three, she was atypically low on energy and spent much of her time hunched over (in the bread loaf position but not a comfortable happy loaf). She had xrays on the morning of the 4th day where the pompom was clearly visible lodged at the top of her small intestines, surgery quickly followed and she was back home again the next morning. That time, it was a near-total blockage.

Later that year she chewed off and ate the 6" leg from a toy spider. The leg was about as big around as a pencil and made of a double thickness of a velvet-like fabric (about half the mass of that toy you linked, we also had one of those before I purged all the soft toys from the house). Her eating slowed down a little and her energy was slightly down but I didn't realize she had this partial obstruction in her until she started howling in her litterbox one morning and had to be manually assisted (oy).

1) if he's showing any unusual symptoms at all, wisk him off to the vet. Don't wait as long as I did. This was the nth time my cat had eaten a pompom and the previous ones had come back out without fanfare which is why I foolishly waited.

2) The fabric won't digest. The spider leg was still festively purple and orange in color on the parts that were visible and if I were not so completely grossed out, I could have washed it and reattached it with no one the wiser. Her surgically removed puff and the ones she pooped out were only slightly smashed down and showed little signs of having been through a cat GI tract. Chewin' cat has also eaten rabbit fur toys and feathers: those seem to get broken down a bit more but still come out as a recognizable wad. Based on how the spider leg came out I think it was in her intestines in a unknotted/unfolded line which allowed some food and waste to get past it but had it doubled up on its trip we would have had to go for Surgery #2, which is probably how that one cat got by for a month.
posted by jamaro at 8:33 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's the "string" nature of the thing that is the problem in this case, if it does become a problem. Thread, tinsel, etc = linear foreign body. It tends to exist as a linear object rather than just a blob/mass of stuff in the small intestine, meaning that it is a length of line/string that follows the twists/turns of the GI in string form. The GI has musculature that moves the masses within from nose to tail, but inside a tube that takes a large number of hair-pin turns and with a string-y thing, an end (either end) can hang up on a curve somewhere along the way. Then, the musculature of the tube attempts to move the stringy object down the path but it is hung up somewhere, and the tissues begin to break down along the areas of friction, especially around the bendy areas of the GI. So it's not an "obstruction", per se. Worst case is the small intestine losing its integrity, possibly dying in some areas, and leakage of gut contents into the abdominal cavity.

Won't necessarily happen to be worst case. But be prepared for it anyway. As everyone upthread says: Take him in at the first sign of anything. Anything at all. Pay close attention to appetite/water consumption/litterbox/sleeping/general demeanor. If he needs surgical intervention its best if known and done ASAP, and you will not miss the early signs if you are watchful (you can't miss late signs, but you CAN be too late to (successfully) intervene by then.

I am not a veterinarian, but feel reasonably qualified to answer because I am a vet tech in the ER biz since 1984, and have seen a few hundred of these cases go down.
It's already been a day and a half, give it another 72 hr of vigilance.
And: the toy you linked to may have enough mass in it's body that even though it is a linear object it could "ball-up" and behave/be more like a true obstruction. Distress signs will be similar/same as linear FB so just be on patrol for anything "off". And if you find/see any string-y thing hanging out the behind, DO NOT pull/tug on it. Straight to the Doc for that!

Also: Handome Kitty!
posted by bebrave! at 10:12 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing you can _do_ now if you haven't already: contingency planning in case he turns up sick Saturday evening or Sunday.
posted by amtho at 11:49 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding bebrave! about not pulling something out of kitty's butt. I was young and not really ready to spend money at the vet and sort of a do it yourself person when it came to small medical procedures like I would use crazy glue to close one of my own cuts, when my cat ate about 8-10 inches of a ribbon off of a gift. A day later there was about an inch sticking out. Rather than call the vet, I put on a latex glove and slowly removed the ribbon from the butt. Kat turned out ok in the end, but I would have to say that was the worst mutual experience I ever had with another living animal/human. Kat was in pain and it was gross and it was causing me much anguish. I should have spent the $200 to go to a vet. In hindsight, I would have spent up to $5,000 to avoid that. I am also quite sure there is a better way.

Kats don't like to be bathed and they don't appreciate you pulling things out of their ass.

Very adorable cat!
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:04 AM on February 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

If they've been getting after it over time, kitty may have been able to sort of gnaw bits off - so there may not be a linear obstruction. If it were one of mine, I'd probably have xrays done now before things got bad - xrays aren't that expensive (at least, here, and comparatively) and it may provide you with some peace of mind or plan of action.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:21 AM on February 16, 2013

I would think it could only help to give the cat petromalt or vaseline or other greasy slippery things to lube the inside of the cat.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:57 AM on February 16, 2013

Will you please come back and let us all know how all comes out in the end (sorry)?
posted by bebrave! at 12:24 PM on February 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Hi all -- I am cautiously happy to report not much has changed since my post. His appetite and energy have not gone down at all, and there have been regular, normal-sized deposits in the litterboxes... these are good signs, I hope. But still no ribbon. Argh. For more background info, I should add that he and his sister are almost 2 years old, don't go outside, and eat dry food almost exclusively. (We feed them raw chicken sometimes, but they turn up their noses at wet food.) They usually poop once a day each.

I'm encouraged, but baffled that I haven't seen it come out yet! It has now been almost 3 days. One litterbox contribution I dissected yesterday (can't be sure whose it was, neither of them took responsibility) seemed to have a lot of hair, but these cats eat clumps of hair and fur off the floor regularly. We try to keep up with vacuuming and hairball prevention, but they just seem to find stuff to get into. This is the first time I've actually seen either of them eat an object, but I have caught the male cat carrying off earplugs, guitar picks, bobby pins and even a sock of mine.

Anyway, I'm going to continue watching him carefully for several days. My hope is that it's what some people have already suggested: He chewed off pieces of it rather than a big strip. I will definitely update again when something happens. Thank you guys so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences.
posted by perryfugue at 9:33 PM on February 16, 2013

Random thought: is it possible he pulled the end of the toy off, dragged it somewhere, and hid it (or abandoned it after getting bored)? Under the couch, between the washing machine and the wall, that sort of thing? Maybe it isn't inside the cat at all.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 12:38 AM on February 17, 2013

That would be such a relief, BJE! When it happened, I looked around and under furniture to see if he did just that... couldn't find it.
posted by perryfugue at 4:29 PM on February 17, 2013

My old cat Rasha had exactly that toy and loved to eat it. Over the course of months or years he managed to eat about two feet of it, even sometimes dragging the whole thing into his water bowl to soften it up. Never had any digestive issues with it.

Anyhow, the funny thing was that we didn't notice he was eating it until we noticed it was really short. But there's no way he'd chewed off a big piece of it, he was always just pulling on the very end. So I think there's a good chance that he's only eaten a bit of it and you've only noticed the length difference because it was finally enough to be significant.

Cats are so weird.
posted by mendel at 7:14 PM on February 18, 2013

Hi all: Just wanted to say my cat is still doing fine, more than a week later. He never showed any signs of discomfort and has continued to eat, drink, lounge, play and eliminate normally, so I think at this point we're in the clear. Never saw it in the litterbox, either, so he must have chewed it into small pieces and I missed it. And I have learned my lesson about leaving them alone with anything they could ingest or choke on...

Again, thanks so much for all your support!
posted by perryfugue at 11:48 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

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