Cats Ingesting odd Items or foreign objects

Eating kitty litter and other unusual things

Question: Dr. Dr. Mike, I am a subscriber. My cats eats unused litter, regular clay type, clumping kind, and the clumping kind that you can flush down the toilet. I have tried other litters and she will not use a pellet type of litter. She also licks the drapes, licks paint covering a cement wall, pulls out a cotton batting material from the mattress and eats it, will work to pull a foam stuffing out of a chair and eat it as well as a plastic drop cloth over things. She has done this for years however lately she has had vomiting spells after she has been seen eating the litter. Question is can I give her a mineral or vitamin that may stop this or what could I add to the litter to keep her from eating it? Thanks in advance

Answer: Karlene-

I am sorry it has taken so long to reply to your question. I have tried to research this behavior for you and have not found anything that really explains with certainty why a cat or dog would exhibit this behavior. The excessive licking of metal, walls and other objects has been associated with a number of conditions, including diabetes mellitus, hyperadrenocorticism, liver disorders, hyperthyroidism (cats), hypothyroidism (dogs), kidney failure, seizure activity and gastrointestinal disorders. Given the number of conditions that this behavior can occur in conjunction with, it may be just an unusual habit or it may be that it is a non-specific response to a variety of illnesses. To the best of my ability to research this, there is no vitamin or mineral deficiency that consistently produces this clinical sign.

The vomiting may be an indication that she is developing inflammatory bowel disease. This isn't uncommon in older cats. It is the most common cause of vomiting in older cats, probably. Kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, chronic pancreatitis and "triaditis", which is cholangiohepatitis, pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease occurring together, are the other disorders that cause most of the vomiting in older cats. It may be worthwhile to ask your vet to do a good physical examination and consider a general blood chemistry test and possibly a T4 test to rule out thyroid disease, especially if your cat is over 9 years of age now.

An alternative approach would be to try one of the hair ball remedy foods or the Hill's Sensitive Stomach (tm) food. These foods seem to help control inflammatory bowel disease.

If I do find a good explanation for litter eating I will put it in the VetInfo Digest.

Mike Richards, DVM 5/18/2001

Ingesting twist tie tag

Q: Dr Mike,

Blue is getting over his diarrhea, and his stools are getting solid again, but I am afraid I have got another question for you.

Do you know those paper covered metal tags that you use to seal up plastic bags of food that you want to put in the freezer? Well he seems to have eaten about a three quarters of an inch length of one of those. The tag is of flexible steel, much thinner than a paper clip, thinner than a pin used in dress-making, quite sharp at the ends.

One gets fed up going backwards and forwards to the vet with him. He once ate a third of an aluminium tube of canine toothpaste--I mean the tube itself, not just the toothpaste. I took him to the vet who seemed fairly confident that it would pass through without doing any damage.

So this time I gave him plenty of food to eat just after he ate the tag in the hope that the food will surround it and it will pass through his alimentary canal without doing any harm.

Is this the right approach?


A: John-

The odds are very very good that Blue will pass the twist tie that he has eaten. There is a small chance that it will cause problems due to the sharp ends. I think that your approach to this is fine but that you need to be vigilant about clinical signs suggesting that an intestinal puncture has occurred. These would include vomiting, loss of appetite, fever or abdominal pain. At the first sign of any of these problems you should consult with your vet. Although it is messy it is also a good idea to inspect his stools for the twist tie so that you know when to stop worrying.

Good luck with this. I think things will turn out OK but do keep an eye on his behavior.

Mike Richards, DVM 8/22/99

Linear foreign bodies

Q: Dear Dr. Richards,

Two months ago, my three-year-old Russain blue became seriously ill, with symptoms of prolonged vomiting, severe dehydration, anorexia, and lethargy. Your web site was one of several I reviewed for information on these symptoms as the veterinarians who were treating her tried to find the diagnosis.

Almost three weeks into her illness, the diagnosis became obvious when she started to pass yarn in her stools. Again, I went back to your web site for information on "linear foreign bodies."

Unfortunately, this topic is not covered on your web site, nor is there information warning cat owners about preventing this type of health problem by keeping cats away from yarn, thread, dental floss, and similar household materials. After searching through over two dozen cat and pet manuals available in national bookstore chains, I found very little information there either.

Because the Internet has the potnetial for reaching many individuals, I would like to encourage you to put some information about this topic on your web site, warning cat owners about how to prevent this problem from occurring, as well as information on symptoms and treatment if a cat does ingest a linear foreign body.

As a cat owner for 20 years who also has a hobby of weaving and an entire room of yarns, I was totally unaware of the dangers until this incident with my cat. I hope you will consider adding some information to your web site so a tragedy can be prevented for another cat owner.

Thank you, Connie

A: Dear Connie-

We will post your note on the site. Cats do appear to be much more prone to swallowing string and similar things like tinsel, yarn and fishing line than dogs. If there is obvious evidence of string disappearing down a cat's throat it is best to have your vet remove it rather than grabbing one end and pulling. The digestive tract has a hard time moving string through. Sometimes, instead of the string moving, the intestines will just bunch up around the string and if it is pulled it saws right through the intestine or esophagus. When cats appear to have symptoms of an intestinal obstruction such as persistent vomiting while being reluctant to eat, it is best to consider the possibility of a linear foreign body. Often these do not show up well on X-rays so it is sometimes necessary to do exploratory surgery to find them. It is best to keep string and yarn where the cat can't get into them and people with cat should probably avoid putting tinsel on their Christmas trees.

Mike Richards, DVM

Ingesting Audio Tape

Q: Dear Dr. Mike,

Found your web page and am writing to you for help and advice. Our 5 yr old, 18 lb male cat ate a portion of an audio tape. Yesterday, he had the tape hanging from his rear, and when I went to take it out, I ended up pulling out more that was inside his rear end. He had started to poop it out, but it had gotten stuck. I called the vet, and was told to watch how/if he poops, and pees, and if his appetite starts to disappear.

My question is this: could there be more tape blocking his anus? Could it wrap around his intestines and cause death? His rear end is such a mess....we want to give him a bath but don't know if that is wise. Please advise and thank you for any help.

A: There is at least some risk of intestinal damage from ingesting an audio tape. The problem is that the linear foreign bodies (such as tinsel, string, tape) cause the intestine to bunch up around it, in sort of an accordion shape. At first, the string is passing through the intestine following the curves. Then as the intestine continues to pass a portion of the string through it eventually becomes tense. The tension makes the string straighten out. In order to straighten out, it can saw through the intestinal loops, leading to leakage of intestinal contents and peritonitis. Even if this doesn't occur there can be interference with the intestinal blood supply from the bunching up which can also cause serious problems.

Your cat may pass the rest of the tape. Many cats do manage to do this when they have ingested string, tinsel, tape or other linear foreign bodies. It isn't a good idea to pull much on the tape as this may cause increased tension on the portion still inside your cat. It is OK to cut off any long hanging ends. I tend to be more aggressive than your vet in these situations, usually opting to do surgery and remove the object before any problems arise. Obviously, this isn't always necessary and some cats have surgery that could have been avoided. The surgery is a lot easier and lot more successful before there is damage to the intestines, though. So the cats that would have had problems are a lot better off. It is a judgment call but do not let any sign of illness go unreported to your vet until you are sure that the entire tape has been passed.

I can't see any problem with bathing your cat if you think it would make him more comfortable - and you avoid pulling on the tape.

Mike Richards, DVM

Last edited 02/07/05


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...