Hernias are not commonly seen in cats, but they can happen. Fortunately, cats who are diagnosed with hernias can recover fully especially when the condition is caught and treated early.
What is a hernia?
Hernias happen when the muscle wall weakens and allows internal organs or tissues to penetrate it. They're often caused by a traumatic injury or a congenital condition, which refers to an issue a cat has at or before birth. They can also occur when the muscle is weakened for other reasons such as straining to go to the bathroom, chronic bloating, or pregnancy.
For additional information on cat hernias, please see the resources listed at the end of this article.
Types of Hernias
There are various types of cat hernias, which are named in relation to where they happen in the body.
An inguinal hernia occurs in the groin area when the intestines push through the inguinal canal. This is a passage in the lower part of the abdominal wall just above the inguinal ligament. A traumatic injury can cause them. Pregnant cats can also be at risk for this type of hernia.
Umbilical hernias in cats happen when the umbilical ring does not close up all the way after birth. It generally appears as a soft swelling under the skin near the belly button. It is often more visible when the cat stands up, meows, or cries. They're not painful, and they typically close up on their own by the time the kitten is three or four months old.
The diaphragm is a muscular wall that separates the heart and lungs from the contents of the abdomen, such as the stomach, liver, and intestines. When this muscle contracts, it helps fill the lungs with air. Diaphragmatic hernias can be caused by a serious accident like getting hit by a car. They can also occur due to a congenital condition. Signs of a diaphragmatic hernia include trouble breathing, a rapid and shallow breathing pattern, and holding the head and neck in an extended position.
A hiatal hernia happens when the stomach or other organs push past an opening near the diaphragm. This rare type of hernia is typically the result of a congenital condition and usually appears before a kitten is a year old. However, it may also be caused by a traumatic injury. In some cases, the symptoms of the hernia may come and go, which is referred to as a sliding hernia.
Symptoms of Hernias in Cats
One of the most obvious signs of a hernia is a small and squishy protrusion, which may occur around your cat's belly button or abdominal area, depending on the type of hernia. Inguinal hernias can also cause swelling in the groin. Other signs of cat hernias include:
- Blood in the urine
- Loss of appetite, which can lead to weight loss
- Behavioral changes, such as shifts in sleeping patterns or bathroom routines
It's not always easy for cat parents to detect a hernia or any other health condition in their feline friends. Learn the signs your cat might be sick.
It's important to visit the veterinarian if you think your cat has a hernia. Cats with hernias typically have a good prognosis, but sometimes the intestines can get trapped in the muscle wall and lose blood flow. This can be a life-threatening situation since the intestinal tissue will start to die and release toxins that are harmful to your cat.
At your veterinary clinic, the doctor will ask you about your cat's symptoms, review your cat's medical history, and do a nose to tail physical exam. This will include checking for any swelling or protrusions that might indicate a hernia.
Your veterinarian may also perform bloodwork to assess your cat's overall health and rule out any underlying illnesses. In addition, X-rays or an ultrasound may be recommended to confirm the diagnosis of a hernia and help determine the best course of treatment.
Treatment of Hernias in Cats
In some cases, your veterinarian may be able to push the tissue and organs that pushed through the weakened muscle back into place. However, your cat may still require surgery to strengthen the area and prevent the hernia from recurring.
During hernia surgery, your veterinarian will repair the muscle and cover it with mesh to help keep organs or tissues from pushing through it again in the future. They can also repair cat hernias after a spay or neuter is performed. This way, the cat only needs to undergo anesthesia and post-op recovery once rather than twice.
Surgical repair of diaphragmatic hernias is usually an emergency situation. In addition, they may be complicated by other injuries if the hernia is due to an accident, such as getting hit by a car.
Your veterinarian will give you instructions on how to care for your cat after surgery. This can include:
- Administering medication for pain and swelling.
- Limiting your cat's activity to help ensure they don't open the wound or otherwise injure the area.
- Making sure your cat has a comfortable and quiet spot to rest.
- Keeping an eye on the dressing for bleeding or signs of infection, such as yellow discharge at the wound site.
You'll also need to take your cat back to the clinic for one or more follow up visits. During these visits, they'll make sure your cat is recovering without any complications and remove any staples or stitches.
Risk of Aspirational Pneumonia
Cats who had surgery for a hiatal hernia can be prone to aspirational pneumonia. This occurs when they inhale something foreign into their lungs, which irritates the sensitive lining. Symptoms can include deep coughing, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, blowing out of the lips, and bluish lips. If you notice these signs or any other problems after surgery, contact your veterinarian right away.
There are some things you can do to help prevent certain types of hernias in your cat. For instance:
- Keep your cat inside – Cats who go outside are at a greater risk for accidents like getting hit by a car, which can result in all sorts of injuries as well as hernias. Keeping your cat indoors also helps protect them from getting into scrapes with other animals and health issues, including contagious diseases, fleas, ticks, and heartworms.
- Secure windows and screens – Cats can get out of open windows even when they're not open all of the way or push against loose screens and fall out. This can cause major injuries like shattered jaws, punctured lungs, broken bones, and hernias.
- Protect cats on outdoor balconies – The same thing can happen if your cat falls off of an outdoor balcony, so check that they can't slip through bars or wood slats. If they're too far apart, you may need to add a mesh covering to help keep your cat safe.
- Watch for constipation – If you notice signs of constipation, such as straining when your cat goes potty or not going as much as usual, you should consult with your veterinarian. Left untreated, that straining can result in a hernia.
- Cat-proof your home – Hernias can be caused by a blow to the abdomen, which might happen if your cat falls from a very high perch or knocks something heavy over on top of them. Check your home for potential hazards.
- Take great care of your cat – This can help your cat stay healthy in general. It includes feeding them a nutritious diet, providing them with plenty of exercise, offering them mental stimulation, and giving them lots of love and attention.
- Go to the veterinarian regularly – Your veterinarian may be able to detect a hernia that you hadn't noticed yet so it can be taken care of sooner.
- "Diaphragmatic hernias," American College of Veterinary Surgeons
- "Congenital and Inherited Disorders of the Digestive System in Cats," Merck Veterinary Manual
- "Congenital hernias," vetstream
- "Diaphragmatic, inguinal, & perinial hernia repair (Proceedings)," DVM360
The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.