What are hernias?
Though hernias in cats are uncommon when they do occur they are usually congenital (meaning a kitten was born with one). Trauma, injury, internal damage, flawed muscles or weak muscle walls that allow organs and tissue to pass through can also cause hernias.
Essentially, a hernia is a collection of the intestine, fat and potentially other internal organs that escape the abdominal cavity. Excessive bloating, pregnancy, or constipation are other potential causes. In addition, a hernia may occur if the wrong type of suture material is used or suture lines are improperly closed after a spay operation.
The condition can also happen if your cat is not kept calm and inactive enough during the duration of the healing process after being spayed.
What are the different types of hernias in cats?
The three types of hernias in cats are categorized based on their location in the cat’s body. They include:
One of the rarest types of hernias, a hiatal hernia is a type of diaphragmatic hernia, which can occur when the abdominal viscera pushes through the diaphragm. When caused by a birth defect, this “sliding hernia” can come and go.
Inguinal hernias are one of the more uncommon types of hernias in cats and are typically an issue in pregnant females. If the intestines protrude through the inguinal canal, an inguinal hernia can affect your cat’s groin area.
Though this type of hernia in cats can usually be pushed back in, it may develop into a serious condition if the intestines become trapped in the muscle wall. In this case, an inguinal hernia can be life-threatening for your cat if blood flow to the tissue is severed.
If your cat has an umbilical hernia, this may feel like a soft swelling, bulge or squishy protrusion below the skin. It is located just under the ribcage on a cat’s underside, near the belly button, and may often appear when your cat is meowing, crying, straining or standing.
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 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 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.