Cats with hernias can usually be treated successfully with surgery if the condition is caught early. Our vets at Turlock describe the various types of feline hernias and provide information on what to anticipate during and after the surgical procedure.
What are hernias?
Although hernias are uncommon in cats, they can occur and are typically congenital, meaning the kitten was born with the condition. Internal damage, trauma, flawed muscles, weak muscle walls that permit organs and tissues to pass through, or injury may also lead to hernias.
Straining due to constipation, excessive bloating, or pregnancy may also be to blame.
What are the different types of hernias in cats?
There are three distinct types of hernias in cats, classified based on their location within the body. These are:
One of the rarest types, a hiatal hernia, is caused by a birth defect and may come and go (this would be known as a sliding hernia).
The hiatal hernia is a type of diaphragmatic hernia, which can occur when the abdominal viscera protrudes through the diaphragm.
If the intestines protrude through the inguinal canal, an inguinal hernia can impact your cat's groin area.
Inguinal hernias are a rare type of hernia in cats, typically seen in pregnant females. Although these hernias can usually be manually pushed back in, there's a risk of serious complications if the intestines get trapped in the muscle wall, which can be life-threatening for your cat if the tissue's blood flow is cut off.
If your cat has an umbilical hernia, you or your vet may notice a soft swelling or bulge below the skin. This protrusion is usually located near the belly button, just under the ribcage on the cat's underside. It may become more noticeable when your cat is crying, meowing, standing, or straining.
An opening in the muscle wall can have the organs pushing through the area surrounding the umbilicus, resulting in this type of hernia.
Cat Hernia Surgery & Treatment
If your cat has a hernia, your vet may try to push the internal organs back through the muscle wall, depending on the type and location of the hernia and other factors. This can lead to the wall closing and healing after the organs are placed back into the abdominal cavity where they belong. However, there is a high risk of the hernia recurring, so it's best to fix the muscle wall to prevent complications such as strangulation, even if the opening is small.
If the organs cannot be easily pushed back or the tear in the muscle wall doesn't close by itself, your cat will require surgery to repair the hernia. Additionally, if complications such as infection, blockage, or strangulation occur, surgery is necessary.
Before surgery, your vet will conduct a blood chemistry test, complete blood count, and urinalysis to determine your pet's overall physical health. If the hernia repair isn't urgent, any diagnosed conditions can be treated before surgery. Non-urgent hernias are typically repaired during neutering or spaying to minimize anesthesia use.
The night before the surgery, your cat must fast, and fluid intake should be restricted. Your vet will use intravenous anesthesia to put your cat into a deep sleep, followed by inserting a tracheal tube to maintain the anesthesia with gas. Before the operation, your vet will shave and clean the area to be operated on, then use surgical drapes to keep it sterile.
During the surgery, the vet will push the abdominal organs back into the abdominal cavity. Any damaged organs or tissue will be surgically repaired before the gap in the muscle wall is closed. The veterinarian may use synthetic surgical mesh or existing muscle tissue to close the gap in the muscle wall, depending on the opening size and the tissue condition. Sutures will be used to close the incision.
What can I expect after my cat has had hernia surgery?
Following your cat's hernia surgery, antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent or treat any potential infections. Your cat will also need to wear a collar during the recovery period to prevent them from licking or biting their incision areas or sutures. The veterinarian may prescribe pain medication and recommend cage rest as needed.
Fortunately, cats who undergo hernia surgery typically do not require long-term hospitalization, and complications are rare. Carefully monitoring your cat can minimize the risk of suture rupturing, infections, or hemorrhaging. With early detection and treatment, hernias in cats usually do not cause many complications and are unlikely to recur. It's important to seek early and effective treatment to ensure your cat's continued health.
What should I do if I think my cat might have a hernia?
If you think your cat may have a hernia, take him or her to the vet as soon as possible so your vet can correctly diagnose it.
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.