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What is Abdominal Distension?

The organs themselves can swell, causing visual enlargement of the abdomen. Benign or malignant tumor growth on organs or glands can also lead to an expanded belly. Older cats or unwell cats can lose muscle mass which allows the abdomen to look enlarged. During pregnancy, a female cat’s uterus will expand rapidly. Determining the reason for abdominal distention is something that needs to be done by a veterinary professional, as certain issues can be life-threatening.

The abdominal cavity houses many of a cat’s vital internal organs. It is a large cavity that is lined with a special peritoneum membrane that keeps the environment sterilized. This cavity can become enlarged or swollen when various substances build up within it. This distention can be due to excess fluids such as blood, water, urine or pus that have leaked from organs in the body. The abdomen can also swell from air, gas, fat or an internal obstruction.

Abdominal Distension Average Cost

From 537 quotes ranging from $500 - $6,000

Average Cost

$1,500

Symptoms of Abdominal Distension in Cats

While the most obvious sign for abdominal distension is a visibly swollen belly area, noting all other symptoms may help to diagnose the underlying cause of the enlargement. Symptoms that commonly occur with abdominal distension include:

  • Sudden or gradual visibly larger abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Flatulence
  • Change in frequency of urination
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Collapse
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Hair loss
  • Foul vaginal discharge
  • Increased vocalization
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Causes of Abdominal Distension in Cats

Because there are so many organs present within the abdominal cavity, many different conditions can cause an enlarged abdomen. The underlying cause can be narrowed down by the abnormal substance filling and expanding the abdomen. Probable causes include:

  • Viral infection (such as feline infectious peritonitis)
  • Bacterial infection
  • Parasitic infection (often worms)
  • Pyometra (uterine infection)
  • Pregnancy
  • Cancerous or benign tumors
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Foreign body consumption (leading to tear or obstruction)
  • Traumatic injury (such as a car accident)
  • Failure to form blood clots
  • Heart failure
  • Congenital heart defect
  • Cushing's disease
  • Food intolerance
  • Obesity
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Diagnosis of Abdominal Distension in Cats

Bring your cat’s full medical history to your veterinary appointment. The veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination to determine whether the abdomen is filled with fluids, air, or solids. You will be asked about the onset of symptoms along with your cat's diet and urination patterns. An X-ray may be needed to identify enlarged organs or tumorous growths within the abdomen. A chest X-ray can evaluate heart issues if they have been suspected as the cause of distension. If too much fluid is present for clear X-rays, an ultrasound may be performed instead.

Abdominocentesis is often performed to remove a sample of abdominal fluid or air for further microscopic testing. This can reveal what type of fluid exists and can identify any bacteria present. Full blood work will be obtained to run a biochemical analysis, including complete blood count, packed cell volume, and total protein test. The CBC can show anemia, infection or malignancy within the cat. Urinalysis may be performed to find abnormal substances in the urine. If a tumor has been found or enlarged organs are present, a tissue biopsy may be collected for histopathological examination. 

The function of internal abdominal organs should be tested. Urine may need to be collected over the course of 24 hours to measure protein leakage and determine if the kidneys are failing. An echocardiogram may be run to examine the function of heart valves. Fecal examination may be needed to identify parasites and worms inside the cat. Tests should be run to see if the cat is FIP, FIV or FeLV positive.

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Treatment of Abdominal Distension in Cats

Appropriate treatment will vary depending on the individual diagnosis of the cat. If distension has been caused by bleeding, emergency care will be administered to stop the blood loss. 

Abdominocentesis 

As a treatment, abdominocentesis can be used to drain fluid or air causing breathing difficulties within the cat. This draining relieves pressure on the lungs and diaphragm.

Diuretics 

Administering diuretic medication can help drain excess fluid by causing frequent urination. Surgical Repair 

If a rupture has been found in any of the organs, surgery may be needed to repair the organ to stop leakage of blood or urine into the abdominal cavity. General anesthesia is needed for this procedure.

Surgical Removal 

The surgical removal of tumorous growths, diseased adrenal glands or of the entire uterus in the case of pyometra may be necessary to restore function to the cat’s body. Success of this surgery depends on whether progressed cancer or infection is present. If cancer exists, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may also be needed.

Antibiotics 

If a bacterial infection has been identified, the corresponding antibiotic can be administered to rid the body of the harmful bacteria. Antibiotics are also prescribed after operations to prevent infection from developing. Prescriptions generally last from one to four weeks.

Deworming Medication If parasites have been discovered in the cat, deworming medicine will be prescribed to eliminate the infestation.

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Recovery of Abdominal Distension in Cats

If your cat has undergone surgery, follow all at-home care instructions given by the veterinarian. Monitor the incision site daily to ensure it is clean and free of infection. Do not allow your cat to lick or bite at its stitches. Limit activity until the healing process is complete. If surgical repair or benign tumor removal is successful, a cat may make a full recovery if it survives the surgery and healing process.

Bacterial infections and parasite infestation often resolve completely with appropriate medication. Pregnancy will resolve on its own within 65 days when kittens are born. If your cat suffers from obesity or food intolerances, your vet may create a specialized diet to follow. This diet should contain no fillers or chemicals. Increase your cat's activity to promote weight loss. If your cat has been diagnosed with FIP or gastrointestinal cancer, prognosis is much more guarded.

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Abdominal Distension Average Cost

From 537 quotes ranging from $500 - $6,000

Average Cost

$1,500

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Abdominal Distension Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Tabby Cat

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Two Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Urinating Outside Litterbox

He started this yesterday evening. He was peeing everywhere. Nothing has drastically changed in his life. He is always around me but last night he didnt want me to touch him. Hes has trickled pee everywhere and when I picked him up he peed on me. I dont know what's going on or why he dont want me to touch him not even pet him. If you need photos let me know.

Sept. 29, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello- Thank you for your question. From your description it sounds like he is in need of an examination by a veterinarian. I am unsure exactly why he is urinating inappropriately and leaking urine. It could be a case of cystitis, a urethral obstruction, a bladder stone or a UTI. The best thing for him is going to be an exam by your veterinarian as soon as possible. I hope he feels better soon.

Sept. 29, 2020

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Aidi

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Two Months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Bloated Belly

He has a bloated belly and yellow loose stool

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay in answering, this platform is not set up for urgent emails. Puppies are very commonly affected by parasites, and your pup may need to be dewormed. There are many different intestinal parasites, and your veterinarian will be able to look at a fecal sample under a microscope and see what treatment your pup might need.

Oct. 11, 2020

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Calico Cat

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Sixteen Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Distended Abdomen

Distended belly, mid section is wide when looking at her walking, resting resp. 30-40 per min, eats fine, bathroom fine, no worms, rests way more, walking fine, she’s fixed, no weight loss, it’s not more right then left it’s perfectly round. I pick her up she’s fine with it.

Aug. 3, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Hello- Differentials for a distended abdomen are numerous. A couple of possibilities could be fluid accumulation in the abdomen which could be due to heart or G.I. disease, or there could be a growth in the abdomen causing the swelling. I would recommend taking her to your veterinarian to have a full examination performed as well as x-rays of the abdomen and some blood work. This will help determine the cause of her distended abdomen. I hope that it is nothing serious. Take care!

Aug. 3, 2020

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Short hair tabby

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Unsure possibly under 3

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Yodeling, Stomach Swelling And Hardness, Hunched Posture, Straining To Poop, Hard Stool, Stool Stuck Half Way, Constant Meowing

I saved a stray cat about 3 days ago, he sprayed me while I was in bed twice, he has a cut ear indicating spay and release, he’s fixed. He has no tartar on teeth, slim figure not large or too skinny, he strained to poop and it got stuck half way, he hissed at me while pacing the room trying to get it out, his butt hole seems large but not red or swollen, he yodels a lot almost as if he’s in pain and his stomach feels hard and a little swollen, I’m feeding him wet food. He likes it when I rub his stomach as well.

July 31, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Without being able to see this cat, I don't have any way of knowing what is going on with him, but common problems with stray Cats include parasites and infectious diseases. It would probably be best to have this cat examined by a veterinarian, as they can do a fecal analysis, look at the cats, and see what might be going on. I hope that all goes well for this cat and for you.

Aug. 1, 2020

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Domestic short hair

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Eleven Weeks

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Tarry Stool, Swollen Belly, Excessive Eating/Drinking

My kitten who is 11 weeks old was recently placed on medication for his diarrhea. This has gotten better but his stool is now black and his stomach is very swollen. He does not seem to be affected by this as he is still playful and eating (a lot!) very worried and not sure if I should wait for my appointment with the vet on Tuesday.

July 16, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I do not think that the signs you are noticing are a side effect of the medication, as that is a very common anti-diarrheal. I do worry, that your kitten has parasites that have not been treated, and that may be the cause for the problem. As long as the kitten is bright and happy, and eating and drinking normally, you should be fine to wait until Tuesday. If the kitten becomes lethargic, does not want to eat, or is vomiting, then I would have the kitten seen earlier. I hope that all goes well!

July 16, 2020

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Unname kitten #6

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American Longhair

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14 Days

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Crying
Large Lump
Intestines

I just notice that my one of the kittens has a swollen lump on it upper right thigh next to the belly , when looked closer it seems to look like the intestines through the skin. the area is like a large lump. It is not red nor seem to look angry but I know it isn't right. What is it and what should be done ?

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Alfie

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Short hair tabby

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Abdominal Distension

We adopted a 1-year-old from the Humane Society. She has tested negative for everything and is spayed. However, her abdomen looks like it has a grapefruit inside. It sometimes gets smaller, then gets bigger again. She eats well and is active, with no apparent symptoms other than occasional vomiting. Should I be worried?

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Nick Furry

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Bombay

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7 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Swollen Abdomen
Weight Loss
Lethargic
Won'T Eat Or Drink

My cat is a rescue, I've had him for 6 years, his first year of life was spent outdoors- we keep him indoors at all times. Within the past week, he has dropped an alarming amount of weight and gained a swollen abdomen. He has stopped eating and won't drink water, and all he does is lay down. With my work hours having increased, I don't know what his bowel movements are like, but I am very worried. He is very bony, and his abdomen is distended and tender.

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Bentley Chip

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Domestic short

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13 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting

My 13 year old cat, Bentley Chip had abdominal bloating. He looks more bloated on the sides rather than a pot belly. He also lost a lot of weight, he vomits lots of liquid frequently and he’s been urinating and drinking more. We took him to the vet and they did blood tests and said he has a high white blood count so he has an infection which caused kidney and liver levels to go up. He also has had 3 seizures. He had his first seizure on Jan 1st and his second seizure on March 3. His third seizure was at the vet. I hope the antibiotics clear up the infections and all the symptoms and elevated kidney and liver levels go down. Has anyone had a similar problem? It’s crazy to think an infection caused all this. My poor baby has been through a lot! I hope and pray he has a full recovery!

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Matty

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Tortoiseshell

dog-age-icon

16 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Swollen Abdomen
Loss Of Balance
Lumps
Muscle Mass Loss

My 16 year old indoor only cat has lost a lot of weight, but has a swollen belly and lumps on her stomach as well. When I touch her belly or lumps, she doesn’t react. She’s eating and drinking well, she uses her litter box regularly. Is more vocal than usual. When she walks, her “back end” sometimes doesn’t seem to want to follow, like she’s staggering.

Abdominal Distension Average Cost

From 537 quotes ranging from $500 - $6,000

Average Cost

$1,500

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