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Why is My Cat's Belly Swollen and Hard?

 
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. August 6, 2018
Why is My Cat's Belly Swollen and Hard?

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Unlike dogs, most cats do not like having their belly rubbed. This is because their underside feels vulnerable, so only cats which have high levels of trust in their guardians will let this happen. For this reason, it can be difficult to determine the condition of their belly. However, even if it may be difficult (or even painful) to do, if we suspect a problem with our cat's belly, we need to take a look. The reason is because a swelling or hardening of the belly can be a serious symptom. It may be a sign of internal parasitosis, hyperadrenocorticism or even something life threatening.

The reason this AnimalWised article looks into the causes of why your cat's belly is swollen and hard is to help you prevent and act against these problems. As always, visiting a veterinarian to achieve the right diagnosis is necessary.

You may also be interested in: Why is My Dog's Belly Hard

My kitten has a swollen belly

Perhaps the most common cause of a swollen and hard belly in cats is due to internal parasites. This is particularly in young kittens. If we pick up a kitten you will be able to notice if their belly is distended or abnormally large. If this is the case, we will need to take them to the veterinarian to worm them with their recommended product. We also need to establish a deworming schedule which is appropriate for our particular kitten. However, with kittens you should be attentive to whether they have just fed. If so, their belly will be enlarged, but it will feel soft and natural.

If your kitten has a swollen belly and also exhibits diarrhea, then the parasites in their digestive system will be considerable. If we see blood or the worms themselves in their feces, then immediate action needs to be taken. The vet will likely take a sample of the feces and examine it under a microscope to see what we are dealing with. Once the type of parasite is identified, they will be able to prescribe the right course of treatment.

You may need to consider that the parasite may not be visible in one single sample, so several samples over alternate days may need to be taken. In any case, a heavy parasitical infestation in kittens is particularly dangerous. The profuse diarrhea dehydrates them and endangers their life.

Swollen and hard belly in cats with ascites

Ascites is the medical term for certain types of abnormal fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity. There are various causes of ascites, but veterinary examination is required to identify and treat it effectively. Ascites can explain why our cat has a swollen and hard belly, but this is a symptom of another condition. To know the underlying cause of a swollen abdomen in cats, we need to look at the causes of ascites.

Infectious peritonitis causing hard bellies in cats

Feline infectious peritonitis, also known simply as FIP, is one of the most serious diseases which can cause a cat's belly to swell and harden. It is a viral pathology which causes inflammation in the peritoneum, the membrane which lines the inside of the abdomen. It can also affect certain organs such as the liver or kidneys. As is the nature of a virus, it is very difficult to treat the infection directly. Instead, the symptoms are treated and the immune system is boosted in order to fight off the infection. As this disease is so infectious in cats, a vaccine has been created to prevent it.

Ascites is not the only symptom which accompanies feline infectious peritonitis. Other symptoms include:

  • Chronic fever
  • Anorexia
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive thirst and urination (if kidneys are affected)

The symptoms will vary depending on the organs affected. Respiratory problems can occur if the fluid accumulation affects the lungs, specifically pleural effusion. Jaundice and neurological problems can also manifest.

Why is My Cat's Belly Swollen and Hard? - Infectious peritonitis causing hard bellies in cats

Abdominal inflammation in cats due to liver tumors

The presence of a tumor or tumors in the liver is another cause which may explain why a cat has a swollen or hard belly. This disorder is more common in older cats. In these cases, older cats will usually show other non-specific symptoms, i.e. those which are common to several diseases. Concurrent symptoms usually only occur when the damage is already advanced.

When the cat has abdominal distension, the belly area either enlarges or becomes loose and flabby. We might also see other symptoms such as:

  • Anorexia
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Increased urination
  • Vomiting

Only the vet can give an accurate diagnosis, especially because many of these symptoms also present with various diseases. The prognosis will depend on the individual and whether the tumor is malignant or benign.

Abdominal inflammation in cats due to hyperadrenocorticism

Although not very common, hyperadrenocorticism could be the root cause of a cat's swollen belly. This disease is also known as Cushing's syndrome and is caused by an excess of glucocorticoid production, usually due to tumors or hyperplasia. It requires veterinary treatment and regular follow-up.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Increased food intake
  • Increased water intake
  • Increased urination
  • Hair loss
  • Fragile skin

When hair and skin is affected, it is likely the condition is in an advanced stage and treatment is more difficult. They will also become very weak and frail.

Other reasons for abdominal inflammation in cats

In addition to the causes of a swollen belly already mentioned, there may be some other issues affecting the cat:

  • Labor: if a pregnant cat is in labor, the cat will need to use contractions to birth the kittens from the uterus. This can give the impression that the belly has temporarily inflamed.
  • Uterine problems: there are infections such as pyometra which cause the uterus to swell. These can be seriously life threatening and need immediate treatment.
  • Obesity: of course a cat with an enlarged belly might have a more simplistic cause. In the case of overeating or eating food which is too rich, they may develop obesity. However, you will see they will also put on weight on other parts of the body.

As we said in the introduction, being able to feel your cat's belly to see if it is swollen is not always an easy task. This is why it is so important to look out for related symptoms and to have regular veterinary check ups.

Why is My Cat's Belly Swollen and Hard? - Other reasons for abdominal inflammation in cats

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 Why is My Cat's Belly Swollen and Hard?, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

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