My Cat Has a Hernia - Types, Causes and Treatment

By Laura GarcĂ­a Ortiz, Veterinarian specialized in feline medicine. July 21, 2021
My Cat Has a Hernia - Types, Causes and Treatment

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A hernia is when an organ or other tissue exist the anatomical structure it should be held within. Although not very common in cats, there are various types of hernias which can affect felines. In most cases, the treatment of the hernia will require surgery, but this will require diagnostic testing by a veterinarian to determine. The surgery will return the hernia to its original position. While most cases are very treatable, hernias in cats can require emergency care if the hernia cuts off bloody supply to certain areas.

Keep reading this AnimalWised article on my cat has a hernia. We look at the types of feline hernias, causes of hernias and treatment options available.

What is a hernia in cats?

A hernia is a partial or total exit of a tissue or organ from the cavity that normally contains it. They can occur in various locations in the cat's internal body and two different areas can be affected at the same time. Many hernias are relatively harmless and may even be asymptomatic. However, other can cause severe discomfort and even have considerable consequences on the health of affected cats.

Hernias usually occur when the muscular structure that supports the tissues is weakened, allowing them to displace and exit the cavity that contains them. The most frequent are those that affect the abdomen and are produced by fissure, rupture or weakness of the peritoneum. This is the muscular wall that contains the abdominal organs and allows them to remain in their correct anatomical position.

Other areas of the cat in which hernias can occur include the spinal region, the areas between thorax and abdomen, or even the genitals. Most cases of hernias in cats are congenital and will appear at birth. However, it is possible for the cat to develop a hernia due to physical trauma. This can be due to a fall, such as what happens to cats affected by high-rise syndrome.

Types of hernias in cats

As we have mentioned, cats can develop hernias in different locations. Each feline hernia type will have a different prognosis, clinical signs and consequences. Below we review these in more detail:

Diaphragmatic hernia

As its name suggests, this hernia affects the diaphragm, a muscle that separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm is important for respiration as it allows the chest to contract and expand. When there is a hernia in this structure, the abdominal organs can pass into the chest cavity, putting pressure on the lungs and, consequently, making breathing difficult. It is one of the reasons for labored breathing in cats.

The main causes of diaphragmatic hernias in cats are traumas due to accidents, but they can also be congenital. Symptoms of this type of hernia include rapid breathing (dyspnea) and the cat taking an orthopneic posture. In the latter case, the cat stretches out their body to facilitate easier breathing. If the cat has suffered an injury such as those caused by traffic collisions, they may also have broken bones, lacerations or a pneumothorax in the lungs.

Inguinal hernia

Inguinal hernias most common occur as a hereditary disease. In these cases, the inguinal rings of the abdominal cavity are undeveloped and do not fully close. Trauma, obesity, pregnancy, and nutritional or metabolic alterations can be risk factors for the development of this type of cat hernia.

When an inguinal hernia occurs, parts of the intestine, fat or other tissues exit through an opening of the abdominal cavity. This is due to a defect in the inguinal rings through which the spermatic cord or the round ligament of the uterus passes in the inguinal region. The symptoms that it can produce include swelling, pain or discomfort in the groin area, anorexia, lethargy, more frequent urination or vomiting.

My Cat Has a Hernia - Types, Causes and Treatment - Types of hernias in cats

Herniated disc

Herniated discs develop from a problem with an intervertebral disc, i.e. the cartilaginous discs located between the vertebrae which contain a gelatinous nucleus in a harder ring to cushion the vertebrae. When a tear occurs in that annulus of the disc, the nucleus can push out and press on nearby nerves or the spinal cord. This results in serious pain and signs of neurological malfunctioning. These include hind-third paralysis, urinary incontinence, ataxia or tail flaccidity (a limp tail). These hernias generally form in the lumbosacral area of older cats.

Perineal hernia

It occurs due to breakage or weakness of the muscular wall of the pelvic area, causing organs such as the intestine, prostate or bladder to enter the perineal region. Abdominal fat can also herniate through the perianal area. If any of these organs or tissues become trapped and their blood supply is compromised, life-threatening complications can arise.

The symptoms associated with this hernia are swelling of the perineal area, lethargy, anorexia, urinary incontinence and difficulties in urination or defecation. This type of hernia occurs most often in older, unneutered cats. Spaying is the best preventive measure.

Umbilical hernia

It is a congenital hernia that affects the umbilical cord. Affected kittens show swelling of the navel area. It is a hernia that is characterized by insufficient healing of the cord. In turn, this creates an opening in the abdominal cavity and allows the passage of fat, intestine and other viscera through the opening. In most cases, it is just fat tissue. It is not known whether it may also be due to the cord not closing properly after being cut by the mother after delivery.

Post-sterilization hernia

A hernia can also occur in cats after spaying. Specifically, we refer to a midline ventral hernia in the incision area in the sterilization of females. Depending on their size, this may allow the contents of the abdominal cavity to escape.

It occurs in the first week after the operation in less than 1% of sterilized cats. It is due to a technical error, such as an improperly sized, too small or separated suture. It may also occur due to a lack of the fascia of the external rectus abdominis muscle after closure of the incision.

Take a look at our related article to other possible side effects or complications of neutering in cats.

How to tell if your cat has a hernia

Almost all hernias are diagnosed with the naked eye. In addition, palpation can be used by a qualified veterinarian. If this is not possible or we need to know which specific area has herniated, complementary techniques such as diagnostic imaging should be used. For example, in diaphragmatic hernias, which cannot be seen with the naked eye, tests used include:

  • Thoracic X-ray: the diaphragmatic line and the silhouette of the heart will not be visible, the pulmonary spaces are displaced and intestinal organs are seen in the chest.
  • Gastrointestinal contrast X-ray: confirms the trajectory of the herniated organs.
  • Abdominal and thoracic ultrasounds: confirm herniated organs and their severity.
  • Computed tomography: a more advanced technique that allows to know with greater precision and clarity the herniated organs, the place of tear of the diaphragm and the severity.
My Cat Has a Hernia - Types, Causes and Treatment - How to tell if your cat has a hernia

Treatment of hernias in cats

The treatment will depend on the type of hernia, its severity and the overall health of the cat. Some less serious cases can be treated with drugs, physical therapy and rehabilitation. However, in the majority, surgical treatment is necessary to reposition the organs that are out of place and close the opening to stop the leakage.

While some diaphragmatic hernias the first treatment is to stabilize the injured cat. In cases of strangulated inguinal hernias or other types of hernias in which strangulation has occurred, the emergency ring should be closed as soon as possible. This will avoid the consequences that the cessation of blood supply may have on the affected organ or organs.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Has a Hernia - Types, Causes and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

  • Fidalgo, LE (2003). Veterinary Medical Pathology: Textbook for the Teaching of the Subject . Kadmos Printing House.

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