What Is a Catgut Suture?

Sheep are the primary source of catgut.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2014
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A catgut suture is a suturing material made from the collagen found in the intestines of animals. Sheep have historically been used as a source for catgut, although dogs and goats have been used as well. Despite the name, catgut sutures actually have nothing to do with cats. Although it would be theoretically possible to derive catgut from cats, the yield would not be very impressive when compared to that of a larger animal.

The origins of the term “catgut” appear to come from “kitgut,” a word derived from “kit” for “fiddle.” Kitgut fiddle strings were made from the processed intestines of animals such as sheep, and over time, the word was corrupted into “catgut.” Confusion about the term persists to this day, and inaccuracies about the source of the material used to make catgut have been perpetuated in numerous books, including supposedly authoritative histories.

Catgut has been used by humans for centuries. It is extremely durable and strong, and can be used to string musical instruments along with tennis rackets. For suturing, catgut is a popular material because it is absorptive, and it can be treated to render the material sterile. However, alternatives to catgut suture materials such as synthetic sutures and cotton sutures have gained popularity in many regions of the world, with catgut being primarily seen in the developing world because it is a cost effective suture material.

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A basic catgut suture will absorb very quickly into the body, eliminating the necessity to remove the stitches. Chromic catgut sutures, treated with chromium salts, have a longer life, and can persist for up to 90 days. These sutures are chosen when a surgeon is concerned that a wound will not have time to heal before regular catgut sutures would be absorbed. In some cases, chromic catgut sutures may be removed once a surgeon is satisfied that a wound has healed, so that the patient will not experience the itching and irritation associated with suture absorption while the sutures slowly break down.

The process to make a catgut suture involves removing and scraping the intestines before soaking them in various chemicals for treatment, grading them, packaging them, and sterilizing them to ensure that no infectious material is present. Although it might seem odd to use intestines for sutures, by the time the treatment process is over, a catgut suture contains primarily collagen, and is quite far removed from its original state.

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jonpurdin
Post 5

@Oceana - Thank you for that information. Yes, it definitely sounds better than chemically treated animal intestines!

Since my body would be absorbing it, I am still concerned about what it is made of.

Oceana
Post 4

@jonpurdin - My cousin is in charge of ordering supplies for the hospital where she works. They often keep a type of absorbable coated synthetic suture in stock called Biovek.

Biovek is a braided suture that is easy to use. This coated suture comes in both dyed and non-dyed thread varieties.

Biovek keeps 70% of its tension strength for up to 14 days. The coating on the suture helps minimize the risk of an allergic reaction.

This sounds like a good alternative to catgut sutures, doesn’t it?

lighth0se33
Post 3

I find it disturbing that intestines of a dead animal were used to stitch up my wound! It is equally appalling that these intestines were absorbed into my body!

I do believe that as a patient, I should have been informed of this. I know that there is no risk of infection because the chemicals have treated the material, but that is beside the point. I love animals and I am upset! I know that they were probably killed anyway for some other purpose, such as food or for their hides or wool, but don't I have a right to know what is put into my body?

ajvician
Post 2

I learned from a friend in surgical residency that surgeons have to learn all kinds of different of suturing techniques.

Besides the different suturing materials, there are many different kinds of suture needles and surgical sutures. Each situation requires a different technique. It's very interesting.

frosted
Post 1

Are there any other type of absorbable sutures besides plain catgut sutures?

The reason I am asking is that if you have suture stitches inside such as when they remove an appendix and then they stitch you up on the outside, don't the stitches on the inside need to be absorbable?

What if you don't want them to use catgut? What else can they use?

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