A breeder r needed to have her vet perform an oral swab of her cat to culture for a possible virus. When your cat has an upper respiratory infection, the viruses and bacteria tend to gather in high numbers at the back of the cat's throat - the result of mucous draining backwards from the nasal passages.
To collect a specimen for culture, a swab that looks like an elongated Q-tip is used to gather some of the cells from the back of the cat's throat. The sample of cells collected on the swab is then placed inside a sterile culture medium in a test-tube like container. The "culturette" is then routinely sent to an outside lab for culturing under controlled conditions.
Until recently, the culturing swab was usually made of wood. However, the swab in this cat's case was made of plastic and the cat was unsedated. When the swab was placed in the cat's mouth, it bit down hard on the plastic, and the swab stick shattered inside the cat's mouth. Not only was there the danger of the sharp fragments of the swab pieces cutting the mouth and embedding in the cat's tongue, there was also the possibility that the cat may have swallowed some of the pieces. X-rays revealed this was indeed the case and emergency surgery was necessary to remove the fragments from the cat's stomach. Fortunately the cat in this case recovered completely.
Although there would seem to be an increased risk of accident stemming from a swab made of plastic, even a wooden stick could shatter or splinter if a cat bit down unexpectedly while a vet was performing an oral culture.
My vet recommends a light sedation or brief isoflurane anesthesia to ensure safer (and better!) sample collection.
Please consult with your veterinarian regarding his or her personal preferences and the particular danger of using a plastic or wooden swab on an unsedated cat when collecting an oral specimen for culture.