In many cases, hernias in cats aren’t a very serious condition and can be repaired with surgery. Here, our PetVet Care Centers member vets explain the different types of hernias and share what you can typically expect if your cat requires hernia surgery.
What is a hernia?
Though uncommon, hernias in cats may happen for a number of reasons such as:
- The cat may have defective muscles or weak muscle walls
- Internal damage, injury or trauma, which allows tissue and organs to pass through.
- Straining due to constipation, excessive bloating or pregnancy.
Are there different types of hernias in cats?
There are 4 types of hernias seen in cats. Each type is categorized by where the hernia occurs in the cat’s body:
Umbilical Hernia - These hernias are often seen in kittens and typically close without treatment by the time your kitten is three or four minds old. Located near the belly button, this type of hernia can feel like a soft swelling, bulge or squishy protrusion under the skin. You may notice it when your cat is crying, straining, meowing or standing. Umbilical hernias are caused by an opening in the muscle wall which allows organs to push through the area around the umbilicus.
- Inguinal Hernia- When the intestines are able to protrude through the inguinal canal, an inguinal hernia can impact the groin area. Often this type of hernia can be pushed back in, however the condition may become severe or even life threatening if the intestines get trapped in the muscle wall and blood flow to the tissue is cut off. This type of hernia is usually caused by a traumatic injury, however pregnant females may also face an increased risk.
- Hiatal Hernia - A hiatal hernia is a very rare type of hernia caused by a birth defect, and may even come and go (this is referred to as a sliding hernia). This is a form of diaphragmatic hernia, that occurs when the abdominal viscera pushes through the diaphragm.
- Diaphragmatic Hernia - In cats, the diaphragm is a muscle that separates the cat's heart and lungs from the contents of the abdomen, including the liver and intestines. When the diaphragm contracts, it helps your cat breathe. This type of hernia can be due to a congenital condition, however serious trauma such as being hit by a car is often the cause.
NOTE: While surgery may be used to treat diaphragmatic hernias in cats the prognosis is 'guarded' when dealing with this type of hernia, even if surgery initially looks to be successful. Your vet will be sure to explain the risks and complications associated with diaphragmatic hernias.
What are the symptoms of hernias in cats?
If your cat is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it’s time to see the vet:
- Lack of appetite
- Vomiting or sickness
- Holding head and neck in extended position
- Blood in urine
- Trouble breathing
How are hernias in cats treated?
If your cat is diagnosed with an uncomplicated hernia, your vet may be able to simply push the internal organs back through the muscle wall, allowing the muscle to close up and heal. Nonetheless, if there is a high risk that the hernia will recur, your vet may recommend surgery to repair the muscle wall and help to reduce the risk of recurrence, and of strangulation.
If your cat has a more complicated hernia, surgery will be required.
When diagnosing a hernia, your veterinarian will complete a urinalysis, blood count and blood chemistry to learn about your pet’s overall physical health and, if hernia repair is not urgent, address any conditions before surgery. Non-urgent hernias in young cats may be repaired when your cat is spayed or neutered in order to minimize the need for anesthesia.
What is the hernia surgery process?
Every case is different and your vet will be sure to provide you with detailed instructions for your cat, however in most cases the hernia surgery process goes as follows:
- The night before surgery, your cat will need to fast and fluids will need to be restricted.
- When surgery is ready to begin, your cat will be put into deep sleep using intravenous anesthesia, then your vet will insert a tracheal tube to maintain the anesthesia with gas.
- The area will be shaved and cleaned.
- During the procedure, the abdominal organs will be pushed back into the abdominal cavity, and damaged organs and tissue will be repaired if required before the gap in the muscle wall is closed.
- To close the gap in the muscle wall, your vet may use existing muscle tissue or synthetic surgical mesh. Sutures will then be used to close the incision.
What can I expect after my cat has had hernia surgery?
Your veterinarian may provide antibiotics before and after surgery to treat or prevent infection, and your cat will need to wear an Elizabethan collar (cone) to keep them from licking or biting the incision areas. Pain killers and cage rest will be prescribed as needed.
Following hernia surgery, cats rarely require long-term hospitalization following surgery, as the procedure is typically straightforward. Though complications such as infections, suture rupturing or hemorrhaging can occur, careful monitoring by your vet should minimize this risk.
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.