What is Foreign Objects Stuck in the Throat?
You may hear your veterinarian call a foreign body stuck in your cat's throat an esophageal obstruction, gastrointestinal (GI) obstruction, pharyngeal obstruction or airway obstruction. All of these terms simply mean your cat has swallowed an object that is too large to pass through the GI tract or has become trapped in the respiratory tract.
Cats inspect the world around them with their tongues and mouths. This habit can sometimes get your feline friend into trouble and threaten her health. Sometimes a cat eats an object that is too large to pass through her upper digestive tract, namely her esophagus. These foreign bodies can become lodged in the esophagus or airway, obstructing digestion or airflow. A foreign body can also cause inflammation or injury to the esophagus or airway, leading to pain and discomfort. If you fear your cat has a foreign object trapped in the throat, visit a veterinarian right away. Depending on the size and location of the object, an esophageal or pharyngeal blockage is a life-threatening condition.
Symptoms of Foreign Objects Stuck in the Throat in Cats
Cats with foreign bodies lodged in their throats will behave differently depending on whether the airway or esophagus is blocked. A cat with an esophageal obstruction may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:
- Trouble swallowing
- Attempts at swallowing
If your cat's esophagus is only partially obstructed, the signs may be less noticeable. Symptoms of partial esophageal obstruction in cats include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Inflammation or infection of the esophagus
A cat with an obstructed airway might exhibit any of the following symptoms:
- Breathing loudly
Causes of Foreign Objects Stuck in the Throat in Cats
Typically, a cat suffering from this type of obstruction has purposefully licked, swallowed or otherwise ingested the foreign body. You may even have seen your cat swallow the offending object. Some toys, especially yarn or string, can be swallowed by your cat during playtime. Food may also obstruct your cat's airway if she eats too quickly or fails to chew properly. Only diagnostic procedures performed by your veterinarian are sufficient to determine what type of foreign body has become stuck in your cat's throat.
Diagnosis of Foreign Objects Stuck in the Throat in Cats
Your veterinarian will need to perform chest and neck x-rays in order to diagnose your cat's partial or complete obstruction. Signs that the object is obstructing the lower respiratory tract, such as coughing or trouble breathing, will lead a veterinarian to x-ray your cat's chest. If your veterinarian suspects the upper respiratory tract and upper airways are obstructed, he or she may use a scope as part of the physical examination. These tools make it easier for your veterinarian locate the foreign body.
Foreign bodies lodged in the GI tract are usually visible with a typical head or chest x-ray. If your veterinarian cannot locate the foreign body on an x-ray, he or she may perform a contrast esophagram, where your cat swallows a radioactive dye to assist with imaging. An esophagoscopy, whereby your veterinarian will feed a scope, or camera, down your sedated cat's esophagus to visualize the foreign body, may be performed. A scope can also be used to examine any esophageal tearing or irritation caused by the foreign body.
Treatment of Foreign Objects Stuck in the Throat in Cats
Your veterinarian's first priority when treating a foreign object stuck in the throat of your cat will be to retrieve the object as soon as possible. If the foreign body is trapped in the upper esophagus or upper respiratory tract, it can be removed through the mouth using endoscopy and forceps or using a balloon catheter, depending on its shape and size. If the foreign body is particularly dangerous or sharp, an endogastric tube can be fed through your cat’s mouth to shield the esophagus while the foreign body is retrieved.
If it is too dangerous or difficult to remove the foreign body through your cat's mouth, your veterinarian may choose to push the object into her stomach where it can pass through the remaining GI tract safely. An airway obstruction can also be encouraged to dislodge itself with flushing of the respiratory tract with lubricating secretions. If none of these retrieval methods are appropriate, your cat may require surgery to remove the foreign body. This surgery is fairly common and generally safe, with a 93% recovery rate.
If your cat's esophagus has been injured or inflamed by the foreign body, treatment of the esophagitis, or irritation, may be required. Anti-inflammatory and pain medications can relieve discomfort while your cat heals.
Recovery of Foreign Objects Stuck in the Throat in Cats
Once the foreign body is removed, cats generally recover quickly. Still, it is important to schedule a follow-up appointment with your veterinarian to ensure your cat is not suffering from esophagitis, pain, or infection. Injury and irritation diagnosed at follow up may require medication or other treatments. If persistent, you may need to provide your cat with a diet of softer foods and small, frequent meals to calm irritation. Depending on the severity of the abrasions, antibiotics may be required to prevent infection of the damaged tissue.
As previously mentioned, the rate of recovery following one of these obstructions is high and requires little ongoing management beyond close supervision of your cat's eating habits.
Foreign Objects Stuck in the Throat Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My 11 month cat has been gagging a lot lately without really throwing up. He also has poor appetite and lethargy. He has lost his meow and also started snoring. His vet performed a full X-ray and did blood work. But there was no sign of foreign objects or infection. He had a lot of gas though that the X-rays showed. We recently got a second kitten (checked by the vet and is in good health) and my 11 month old cat started having his symptoms 3-4 days after they were introduced. He plays with the kitten but is cautious and wary of us. Which is unusual for him. Should I get a second opinion or is this just something that will pass. He has been improving a little in his appetite and his bowels are normal too.
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My 3 month old kitten had a longish piece of wire lodged in her throat for just a few seconds until my daughter pulled it out but now she seems to have a sore throat. It happened last night and she’s been acting a bit lethargic and quiet and hasn’t eaten yet.
Thank you Dr Turner. Willow seems much better now and although a bit quiet still, she’s eaten some wet food and is playing with her brother again. It looks like everything is going to be ok thank goodness.
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