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Hernias in Cats: Causes, Symptoms & Surgery

Hernias in Cats: Causes, Symptoms & Surgery

Hernias in cats usually aren't serious and can be fixed with surgery — if detected early. Today, our Baltimore vets explain the types of hernias and share some insights about what to expect from cat hernia surgery. 

What are hernias?

Hernias in cats are unusual, but when they do happen they are most often congenital (meaning a kitten was born with one). Internal damage, trauma, flawed muscles, weak muscle walls that allow organs and tissues to pass through, or injury can also cause this condition. 

Straining due to constipation, excessive bloating or pregnancy may also be to blame. 

What are the different types of hernias in cats?

There are three different types of hernias, and they are defined depending on where they are located in the cat's body. These include:

Hiatal Hernia 

One of the rarest types, a hiatal hernia is caused by a birth defect and may come and go (this would be known as a sliding hernia). 

The hiatal hernia is a type of diaphragmatic hernia, which can occur when the abdominal viscera protrudes through the diaphragm. 

Inguinal Hernia 

If the intestines protrude through the inguinal canal, an inguinal hernia can impact your cat's groin area. 

While this type of hernia can typically be pushed back in, the condition may become serious if the intestines get trapped in the muscle wall, which can turn life-threatening for your cat if blood flow to the tissue is severed. Usually an issue in pregnant females, inguinal hernias are one of the more uncommon types of hernias in cats. 

Umbilical Hernia 

If your feline friend has an umbilical hernia, you or your vet may feel a bulge, soft swelling or squishy protrusion below the skin. Located near the belly button, just under the ribcage on a cat's underside, it may often appear when your cat is crying, meowing, standing or straining. 

An opening in the muscle wall can have the organs pushing through the area surrounding the umbilicus, resulting in this type of hernia. 

Cat Hernia Surgery & Treatment 

Depending on the type and location of the hernia and other factors, your vet may be able to push internal organs back through the muscle wall. This may result in the wall closing and healing after the organs are pushed back into the abdominal cavity where they belong. 

However, the risk that the hernia will recur is high, so your vet may recommend fixing the muscle wall as even small openings can potentially lead to complications such as strangulation.

If organs cannot easily be pushed back through the abdominal cavity, if the tear in the muscle wall does not close by itself or if complications such as blockage, infection or strangulation occur, your cat will require surgery to repair the hernia.

First, your vet will complete a blood chemistry test, complete blood count and urinalysis to determine your pet’s overall physical health.

Provided the hernia repair is not urgent, any conditions that are diagnosed can be addressed prior to surgery. Non-urgent hernias can typically be repaired when your cat is neutered or spayed to minimize the need for anesthesia.

The night before your cat's hernia surgery, he or she will be required to fast, and fluids should be restricted. Your vet will use intravenous anesthesia to put your cat into a deep sleep, then insert a tracheal tube to maintain the anesthesia with gas.

Before the surgery, your vet will shave and clean the area to be operated on, then use surgical drapes to help ensure the area remains sterile.

During the operation, the vet will push the abdominal organs back into the abdominal cavity. Any damaged organs and tissue will be surgically repaired before the gap in the muscle wall is closed.

The veterinarian may use either synthetic surgical mesh (if the opening is too large or if the tissue needs to be eliminated because it has died) or existing muscle tissue to shut the gap in the muscle wall. To close the incision, sutures will be used.

What can I expect after my cat has had hernia surgery?

Antibiotics may be provided prior to and following your cat’s hernia surgery to treat or prevent infection. Your cat will also need to wear a collar during the recovery period to prevent him or her from licking or biting incision areas or sutures. Cage rest and pain medicines will be prescribed as required.

Cats that have had hernia surgery typically will not need to be hospitalized long-term after surgery, as the procedure is usually straightforward. In addition, surgical complications are rare and the hernia may be permanently resolved.

Risk of suture rupturing, infections or hemorrhaging can be minimized with careful monitoring by a veterinarian.

When detected and treated early, hernias in cats do not tend to cause many complications and are unlikely to recur. Early and effective treatment is necessary to ensure your cat stays healthy.

What should I do if I think my cat might have a hernia?

If you think your cat may have a hernia, take him or her to the vet as soon as possible so your vet can correctly diagnose it.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect your cat may have a hernia? Contact our Baltimore vets today for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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