Linear Foreign Bodies in Cats

A foreign body refers to a non-digestible (non-food) object lodged in the gastrointestinal tract.

Cats have a tendency to play with many objects that are potentially hazardous if ingested. Such, with the holiday season approaching, care must be taken to avoid harmful effects of our seasonal ornaments. Things such as string, yarn, or tinsel can cause what is referred to as a ‘linear foreign body.’ As it would seem, thin objects do not pass through the gastrointestinal tract so easily at times. If one end gets lodged somewhere in the upper gastrointestinal tract or under the tongue, for example, the natural movements of peristalsis can cause tension while trying to eliminate. The constant strain and sawing motion against the intestinal wall can lead to perforation and peritonitis (leakage of intestinal contents into the abdomen).

Clinical signs may include anorexia, abdominal discomfort, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, hiding, and unable to settle. In order to diagnose, a radiograph will be taken to identify any abnormal gas patterns or a “string of pearls” appearance of the intestines. If nothing is evident, an ultrasound is recommended to further diagnose as it provides a 3-dimensional image. Blood work may also be done to assess your cat’s overall health in case there is any other culprit behind the clinical signs presented. The only treatment is an exploratory laparotomy which involves opening the abdomen fully to explore all abdominal contents, opening and resecting necrotic tissue if necessary, and removing the foreign material. If no foreign body is found, biopsies may be recommended to aid in diagnosing clinical signs.

Postoperatively, your cat will need to stay at the hospital for 2-3 days on intravenous fluids and pain medication. They will be monitored carefully for any incisional leakage and fed small amounts of bland, canned food to help the gastrointestinal tract resume normal motility. Slowly, meals will be gradually increased until they are eating normally and sent home with an E-collar to prevent licking the surgery site. Pain medication will be sent home to keep them comfortable which facilitates appetite. Activity restriction is very important at this time to allow the incision to heal.

Complications are higher with this type of foreign body removal due to the trauma caused by the sawing motion on the intestinal walls, causing significant damage prior to surgery. The risk of intestinal leakage is greatest in the first 72 hours after surgery, once past this point, post-operative complications decrease exponentially. Recovery is uneventful once past this point. Read more here.

Written by: Briarwood Animal Hospital