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Hernias in Cats: Causes, Symptoms & Surgery

When detected early, hernias in cats usually aren't serious and can be repaired surgically. Today, our Elk Grove vets list different types of hernias and offer insight into what to expect from cat hernia surgery.    

What are hernias?

Hernias in cats are uncommon, but when they do happen they are typically congenital (meaning a kitten was born with one). Injury, trauma, flawed muscles, internal damage, or weak muscle walls that allow organs and tissue to pass through can also lead to hernias. 

A hernia is essentially a collection of the fat, intestine and potentially other internal organs that escape the abdominal cavity. Pregnancy, constipation and excessive bloating are other potential culprits. a hernia may also occur if suture lines are improperly closed or the incorrect type of suture material is used following a spay procedure. 

Your female cat may also develop a hernia if she is not kept calm and inactive enough for the duration of her healing process after being spayed.

What are the different types of hernias in cats?

There are three types of hernias in cats, and they fall into categories based on their location within the cat's body. These include:

Hiatal Hernia

Hiatal hernias are one of the rarest types of hernias. This diaphragmatic hernia can happen when the abdominal viscera pushes through the diaphragm. This "sliding hernia" can come and go if caused by a birth defect. 

Inguinal Hernia

Typically an issue in pregnant females, inguinal hernias are also one of the more uncommon types of hernias in cats. An inguinal hernia can affect your cat's groin area if the intestines protrude through the inguinal canal. 

While this type of hernia in cats can usually be pushed back in, there's also potential for it to develop into a serious condition if the intestines become trapped in the muscle wall. In this situation, an inguinal hernia can become life-threatening for your cat if blood flow to the tissue is severed. 

Umbilical Hernia

Does your cat have an umbilical hernia? You may be able to feel a squishy protrusion, soft swelling or bulge below the skin. It's located just under the ribcage on a cat's underside, near their bully button. This may often appear when your cat is standing, meowing, crying or straining. 

Caused by an opening in the muscle wall, this type of hernia can occur if the umbilical ring does not close properly following birth. The organs can push through the area surrounding the umbilicus.

Usually only seen in kittens, an umbilical hernia poses no health risks and is typically painless. It will likely close without treatment by the time your kitten is 3 to 4 months old.

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 before 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 before 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.

The 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 may have a hernia?

If you suspect your cat may have a hernia, contact your vet right away to book an appointment so the condition can be officially diagnosed and treated.

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 Elk Grove veterinarians today to have your cat diagnosed and treated. 

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