While hernias may sound like a scary condition, they are actually fairly straightforward to diagnose and treat, even more so if detected early. In this post, our Brookhaven vets share some information about hernias in cats and what you can expect if your cat has hernia surgery.
Hernias in Cats
While hernias in cats are rare, they typically occur due to congenital factors, meaning the kitten is born with one. Other causes can include trauma, injury, internal damage, weak or flawed muscles that allow organs and tissue to protrude through.
In simple terms, a hernia is when intestine, fat, and sometimes other organs escape from the abdominal cavity. Excessive bloating, pregnancy, or constipation can also contribute to hernias. Improper use of suture material or inadequate closure of suture lines after a spay surgery can lead to a hernia as well.
Furthermore, if your cat is not kept calm and inactive during the healing period after being spayed, a hernia can also develop.
The Different Types of Hernias We See 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 not very common in cats and are more often seen in pregnant females. When the intestines protrude through the inguinal canal, it can affect the groin area of your cat.
While it is usually possible to push this type of hernia back in, it can become a serious problem if the intestines get trapped in the muscle wall. In such cases, an inguinal hernia can be life-threatening for your cat if the blood flow to the affected tissue is cut off.
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.
Surgical Treatment For Cat Hernias
Sometimes, your veterinarian might be able to push the internal organs back into the abdominal cavity by closing and healing the muscle wall.
However, there is a high risk of the hernia recurring, so your vet may suggest repairing the muscle wall to prevent complications like strangulation, as even small openings can lead to problems.
If the organs cannot be easily pushed back, if the muscle wall doesn't close on its own, or if complications such as blockage, infection, or strangulation arise, your cat will require surgery to fix the hernia.
Before the surgery, your vet will conduct tests like blood chemistry, complete blood count, and urinalysis to assess your pet's overall health.
If the hernia repair is not urgent, any other health issues can be addressed prior to the surgery. Non-urgent hernias are often repaired when your cat is spayed or neutered, minimizing 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 To Expect When My Cat Has 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 recovery to prevent him or her from licking or biting incision areas or sutures. Cage rest and pain medicines will be prescribed as required.
Cats with 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.
The 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.
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.