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Hernias in Cats: Causes, Symptoms & Surgery

Hernias in cats typically aren’t serious and can be repaired with surgery - if detected early. In this post, we explain the types of hernias and give some insight about what to expect from cat hernia surgery. 

What are hernias?

Hernias in cats are uncommon, though when they do happen they are typically congenital (meaning a kitten was born with one). They can also occur as a result of internal damage, injury or trauma, flawed muscles or weak muscle walls that allow organs and tissue to pass through.

Straining due to constipation, pregnancy or excessive bloating can also cause this condition.

What are the different types of hernias in cats?

There are three different types of hernias, and they are categorized based on where they are located in the cat’s body. They include:

Umbilical Hernia

The umbilical hernia may feel like a squishy protrusion, bulge or soft swelling below the skin. It is located near the belly button, just under the ribcage on a cat’s underside. You may often notice it appears when your cat is standing, straining, meowing or crying.

This type of hernia is caused by an opening in the muscle wall, where the organs push through the area surrounding the umbilicus.

When the umbilical ring does not properly close following birth, this type of hernia can happen. It’s typically only seen in kittens, is usually painless and poses no health risks. It will likely close without treatment by the time your kitten is 3-4 months old.

Hiatal Hernia

A hiatal hernia is one of the rarest types. When caused by a birth defect, this hernia can come and go (known as a sliding hernia). The hiatal hernia is a type of diaphragmatic hernia, which can happen when the abdominal viscera pushes through the diaphragm.

Inguinal Hernia

An inguinal hernia can impact your cat’s groin area if the intestines protrude through the inguinal canal. This type of hernia in cats can usually be pushed back in.

However, the condition may become serious if the intestines become trapped in the muscle wall, which can be life threatening for your cat if blood flow to the tissue is severed. Usually a problem in pregnant females, inguinal hernias are one of the more uncommon types of hernias in cats.

Cat Hernia Surgery & Treatment

Occasionally, your vet may be able to push internal organs back through the muscle wall, which may close and heal 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 suspect my cat has 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 think your cat may have a hernia? Contact Animal Hospital of North Asheville right away. Our qualified veterinarians can diagnose conditions, diseases and injuries, and plan treatments.

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