Weekly Animal Product Spotlight: Catgut

Welcome to the Weekly Animal Product Spotlight. Every week I choose an animal product, well-known and unusual. I’ll give interesting facts, the horrible truth to make these, where they are found and alternatives. Enjoy!


Catgut- Wait, what? Is it made from cat guts? Actually it’s a tough cord from animal intestines. Usually these unfortunate animals are sheep and goats, but occasionally they can be intestines of cattle,hogs, horses, mules, donkeys, kangaroos or water buffaloes.  On average, it takes the bodies of three animals just to make one string.


To prepare catgut the animal must be killed, the intestines are cleaned, freed from fat, and soaked in water. Then the external membrane is scraped off with a blunt knife. Once again, the intestines are soaked in lye, then evened by being drawn out. Next, they are subjected to the antiseptic action of the fumes of burning sulpher.Then dyed if necessary, sorted into sizes, and twisted together into cords of various numbers of strands according to their uses.


For a long time, catgut was the most common material for the strings of harps, lutes, violins, violas, cellos and other stringed musical instruments.  It was also used for older snare drums. Most musical instruments are moving to alternatives. But there’ll always be the people with an excuse. Gut strings are usually the choice for many classical and baroque string players,and catgut strings are still preferred in concert-tension pedal/grand and some lever harps because they produce “better notes”.

Catgut suture was also a commonly used surgical material. Like catgut string, it’s being abolished and replaced by alternatives. Unfortunately, in developing countries catgut is still widely used.

Do you like tennis? It’s such a peaceful game. I’ve only played it on the Wii. If you like tennis, then you’ll be upset to know that catgut is also used in tennis racquets! It was much more common in the past, and it’s being replaced with alternatives as well. But it’s still being used due to excuses.  They say it is “high-performance”.


Most musical instruments are now being produced use strings made of steel or synthetic polymer.

Catgut is being blacked out in surgical procedures. Cotton is much cheaper and wounds closed with cotton or synthetic threads are less prone to infection.

As the tennis ball hits the racquet once again, synthetic threads are replacing the catgut.

It’s unusual to find catgut now, but always be aware of what you’re buying.

Catgut is a by-product of the meat industry, and will go out of business if we go meat-free. It’s better for everyone, and I have all the advice you need and have links to provide.

So, let’s do it!

A cello string made of catgut.