What are Ingestion of Foreign Objects?
The ingestion of foreign objects or non-food items puts the cat's gastrointestinal system at risk of blockages and internal damage. Seeking help for the cat is necessary to ensure its safety and health.
Cats who ingest foreign objects, such as small toys, wool, plant materials or paper, often do so due to their curious nature. Unfortunately, ingesting these objects can cause foreign object obstruction, a serious condition that may cause organ damage. Cats may also ingest non-food items, such as rocks, dirt or soap, as part of a medical condition known as pica, and eating of the feces is known as coprophagia. Both pica and coprophagia may occur as a result of a vitamin or mineral deficiency, rather than curiosity.
Symptoms of Ingestion of Foreign Objects in Cats
The most important symptom of ingestion of a foreign object or non-food item is witnessing the cat eating an object that could endanger its health. Symptoms that may appear after the item has already been ingested include:
- Loose stools
- Abdominal tenderness or pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Straining during defecation
- Producing small amounts of stool
- Behavioral changes, such as growling when being picked up with hands around the abdomen
- Frequent pawing around mouth if a small object, such as paper or thread, is stuck on the tongue
Causes of Ingestion of Foreign Objects in Cats
Though cats may eat a foreign object simply out of curiosity or due to their nature, such as mothers who eat their kitten's feces as part of caring for them, there are medical conditions that can cause pica or coprophagia. These causes include:
- Intestinal parasites
- Increase in hunger
- Vitamin deficiency
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Severe anemia
- Neurological disease
- Thyroid disease
- Stressful environment
Diagnosis of Ingestion of Foreign Objects in Cats
The veterinarian will need to know the cat's health history, any other symptoms that are occurring, such as frequent urination that may be indicative of diabetes, and recent activities. This information can help the veterinarian determine if the ingestion is due to a behavior or medical cause.
Several labs will be run, which will include a complete blood count, a biochemical profile, an electrolyte panel and a urinalysis. These labs can help identify medical reasons for the foreign object ingestion, such as anemia. If thyroid disease is suspected, thyroid hormone tests may also be performed. If no medical reasons are identified, the veterinarian will need to know what the cat typically eats, any stressors in the environment and typical handling practices to prevent the behavior from happening in the future.
The veterinarian will physically examine the cat, looking for signs of foreign object obstruction, such as abdominal pain. If a sharp object was ingested, such as a needle, it may have pierced the intestines or trachea, preventing it from passing through. String objects, such as wool or thread, may wrap around the tongue. X-rays and ultrasounds will be performed in order to look for the object and see if it is causing an obstruction or poses a risk of causing an obstruction.
Treatment of Ingestion of Foreign Objects in Cats
If a foreign object has become obstructed, immediate surgery will be necessary as the blockage will stop the normal blood supply from reaching vital tissues. The cat will be placed under general anesthesia and the veterinarian will make a small abdominal incision in order to reach and remove the object from the intestines or stomach. The cat's incision will be closed with dissolvable sutures.
If the foreign object is lodged in the trachea, a bronchoscopy will be performed. The cat will be placed under general anesthesia while a small endoscopic tube is inserted into the cat's mouth and throat in order to identify and remove the object.
Cats who have pica may be placed on a special diet in order to ensure that their dietary needs are being met. The veterinarian may also subscribe nutritional supplements in order to meet the cat's nutritional needs.
Treating Underlying Disorders
Any underlying conditions that caused pica to occur, such as diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease, will need to be treated so that the cat no longer eats non-food items. Medications, insulin, and specialized diets may be recommended in order to treat these conditions.
Recovery of Ingestion of Foreign Objects in Cats
Any underlying conditions will need to be followed up with the veterinarian on a continual basis in order to monitor progress. If the cat received surgery, an Elizabethan cone will need to be worn to prevent the cat from biting its sutures.
It's important to follow the veterinarian's dietary instructions to ensure the cat doesn't turn to non-food items again. Removing stressors, such as other animals and young children, from the cat's environment can help reduce the cat's stress levels. Providing daily mental and physical stimulation can help keep cats who eat objects out of boredom from doing so again.