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What Happens When a Cat Eats String?

My Vets Saved My Cat's Life and Gave Me a Christmas Miracle


As a pet owner, one of the most horrifying things you can hear from a vet is that she's taking your pet in for emergency surgery but she might not be able to save her. That was the phone call I got a few days ago, and to make things even worse, I was in a completely different state, more than 400 miles away, totally helpless.

My cats, Sherlock and Watson, had been with my parents while I was on vacation, and they were having a ball with all the extra space they weren't used to in our tiny New York apartment. But when my mom called me one day and said Watson was letting her pick her up and hold her, I knew something probably wasn't right. Watson is an extremely timid cat who is only 100 percent comfortable around me. Everyone else scares her. But I wrote it off as Watson just getting more comfortable with her surroundings. Two days later, my mom called me from the vet crying and said Watson might have diabetes and is so dehydrated that the vet isn't sure she can save her.

I thought that was the worst of it until she called back about a half hour later and said it wasn't diabetes, it was a string that Watson had swallowed that had gotten all tangled in her intestines. The string was wrapped around her tongue, preventing her from eating or drinking — causing the dehydration — and had started to pass all the way through her digestive system and almost out the other end. The vet, Dr. Judy Jackwood at the Orrville Vet Clinic, described to me what happens when an animal swallows what they call a linear foreign body.

The foreign body will pass through the digestive tract like anything else the animal swallows, but because it was tangled and stuck on Watson's tongue, it couldn't keep moving. However, the intestinal muscles keep contracting trying to push it through, and the taut string inside causes the intestines to bunch up on themselves. If the string is pulled too tight, it can act as a saw and cut right through the intestinal wall, shredding the organs. The bunching can also lead to necrosis and infection, so basically, it is all-around bad news.

Dr. Jackwood told me the only option was exploratory surgery but gently informed me she might open Watson up only to find out the damage was irreparable. At that point, they would just put her to sleep because the pain would be unbearable. Only a week before Christmas, the last thing I wanted to hear was that my baby kitty might not live through the night.

I told her to do everything she could to save Watson, despite the cost or the extensiveness of the surgery. She called me two hours later to say she wasn't sure she made the right decision, but she completed Watson's surgery and she had about a 50/50 chance to live.

Fifty percent chance to live is 50 percent better than dead.

I jumped in a car and drove the seven hours back to Ohio and spent all weekend at the vet with Watson while she slowly recovered. Three days after the surgery, Dr. Jackwood looked at me and said she was simply impressed with how tough Watson is. I brought her home that day.

Watson is sound asleep beside me now, showing no signs of any complications from her surgery and on the road to recovery. I will never be able to thank the entire staff at the Orrville Vet Clinic enough for taking a chance on Watson — who has never even been a patient there before — and taking such amazing care of her. They saved her life and gave me a Christmas miracle I will never ever forget.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Hedy Phillips
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