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Catgut is the name applied to cord of great toughness and tenacity prepared from the intestines of the sheep or goat, or occasionally from those of the hog, horse, mule, pig, and donkey. Those of the cat are not employed, however it is supposed that the word is properly kitgut ("violin string"), kit being derived from the ancient word "citara" or "kitara" from which comes the modern word "guitar". The present form may have arisen through confusion that kit = cat. Another explanation of the origin of the cat in catgut is that it is an abbreviation for cattle which originally denoted not only cows, but all types of livestock.
For a long time, the substance was the de facto material for the strings of harps, violins, and viols, as well as other stringed musical instruments, although most musical instruments produced today utilize steel or nylon strings. Other uses of catgut include hanging the weights of clocks, for bow-strings, and for suturing wounds in surgery.
Catgut is famous for having the Punjab lasso used by the Phantom, in "Phantom of the Opera", made from it.
To prepare it, the intestines are cleaned, freed from fat, and steeped for some time in water, after which their external membrane is scraped off with a blunt knife. They are then steeped for some time in an alkaline lye, smoothed and equalized by drawing out, subjected to the antiseptic action of the fumes of burning sulfur, if necessary dyed, sorted into sizes, and twisted together into cords of various numbers of strands according to their uses. The best strings for musical instruments are reputedly from Italy ("Roman strings"); and it is found that lean and ill-fed animals yield the toughest gut.
Catgut was in use for producing strings for many centuries, and the Muslim physician al-Zahrawi utilized it as a surgical instrument in the 10th century, but its use in the Western medical field did not become popular until the 19th century. It replaced silk and hemp sutures which caused inflammation and severe hemorrhage because the body could not absorb them. Sutures made from catgut are readily absorbed by the human body and are consequently extensively used for internal stitches. Although synthetic alternatives are available, catgut sutures are still widely used in hospitals throughout the world.
In rare cases, catgut stitches can cause inflammation and be rejected by the body rather than absorbed.
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.