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.
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
- Change in frequency of urination
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of muscle mass
- Hair loss
- Foul vaginal discharge
- Increased vocalization
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)
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Abdominal Distension Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My 3 month old feral male kitten has a swollen belly, diarrhoea with gas, and an occasional lump in the abdomen. He is not vaccinated. He eats well and is very active.
We have taken a Blood and Fecal test.
Blood Test: TLC, MONO, MCHC, BIT, ALKP was high. Total protein low. Blood protozoa not seen.
Fecal Test: Colour-brownish yellow; Odour-offensive; Consistency-loose; Mucus-NIL; Undigested particles-present; Parasite(naked eye)-not seen. RBC 3-4/HPF. Pus Cells 2-3/HPF. Cyst not seen.
He is dewormed. He has probiotics for his stomach, twice a day for two weeks. He was given antibiotics for 5 days.
His diet consists of boiled egg, dry cat food, boiled chicken with rice and carrots, boiled fish, chicken soup and curd. He only drinks water.
After a round of antibiotics he still has diarrhoea and a swollen belly. I have occasionally noticed a (soft) lump in his abdomen. This lump comes and goes. The last time I noticed it, my kitten ran in his sleep to his litter and passed a lot of stool with a lot of gas. When he went back to sleep I noticed the lump gone.
My vet has took another blood test yesterday and the result was surprisingly good. His report was on point with his TLC balanced. We have sent another stool sample for tests. The vet took an X-Ray and Ultrasound but found nothing.
The next step we are considering is a barium test to check for blockages. I am extremely concerned about my kittens health and have been doing a lot of research to find the problem. I am desperate for help, desperate to know whats wrong with my little guy. Please tell me what should I be looking for ? Is my kitten in danger, could this be fatal ? What is the problem, the disease ? How can he be cured ?
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Our Spayed female cat is 12-15 years old and obese usually average body wt approx 13-14 lbs. She has tested positive for FeLv However To date she has had no signs or symptoms of any abnormalcy, conditions or illnesses. We keep up with her dental cleaning and check ups every 6 months or yearly and see the vetenarian as needed. The only problems she has had is managing her weight however shes always been very healthy active and alert oriented etc Sha Has had dry skin problems in the past and fleas which we treat indoor and out door with a company called flea busters who use non toxic natuaral ingredients in their dry application of combination chemicals to floors carpets baseboards and perimeters outdoors. The other flea management medication we use is a monthly dose applied as directed of Revolution. Shes tolerated this fine for several years. We tried Advamtage whn our Revololution was not available temporarily but she seems reactive locally to her skin when appied. Shed run off try to hide and id observed redness and slight id say from irlts apprearances a little bit perhaps excoriated at the administration sight. Weve lived in our current residenxe an apt for 18 months and do not let hr r outside for two reasons one is the FeLV positive status abd the other as she had never in her young or adult life before or up util we took hee in and kept her from am ourdoor situation. The previous caretaking persons had had her spayed sometime soon afrer she had had a liter but unknown how many previous liters shed had. When we first mwt her the other caretakers had her outside after a relative mived in with them who hated cats and therefore sge was put out in the elements where her adult male kkittens had been also. We moved into our apt thete on the property and becommimg aware of her situation adopted her 7 years ago and recued her other 4 adult kittens who were placed permantly by a recue .org we knew of. Thats her history shes had no illnesses or health issues since weve had her other tham a tooth extraction three years ago and ocxasional antibiotic and treatment for ear mites and infections when she used to go in and out doors. So hete to the present issue. About maybe approx 3-4 weeks ago i noticed her abdomen was gettung bigger especially protruding from the sides of her body. Thos is not that unusual for her as she was in apprearance like that when we first met her. I thought first she nay be pregnant at that time 7 years ago but no shes been spayed but the abdomen had and has very palpable nodular hard areas underneath throughout the tummy in a linear fashion from med abdomen to lower. My feelung and thought them wwas ok shes a luttle heavy and fixed very almost rught after that last lutter of kittens shed hasd accordinf to the previous caretakers so i gathers by the feel of them perhaps it was scar tissue and adhesions possibly post op for whatever reason. From then to date shes been same acttive healthy etc except for the FeLV positive sghe had when we tesred as one of her rescued kittens had the virus upon testinf so we had her done as well and she us Felv positive. Presenting symptoms now are as follows:
▪Weight Gain Over Last Several Weeks to 17lbs.
▪Expanded Size Of Abdomen And Distention Observable.
▪Abd Possibly Slight Acites on Palpataion i feel and vet concurred maybe but hard to determin due to her weight and fatty tissue its difficult to feel if so
▪ Lethargy,Doesnt Seem To Desire To Want To Move Around And Appears Uncomfortable When Rises due to her abd size and when she ambulates to use box or goes to a different area of apartment.? Arthritis or Dry Joints vet said at last visit 2 weeks ago. Stsrted adding fish oil to her food
▪Her Abdomen Seems Tender and Causes her Discomfort in its lower portion A d She Verbally Lets you Know this When You either Palpate It Or Lift Her Up from The Floor She will Let Out a Meow which For Her Is not usual at all. Shes semi Wild Therefore Very quiet As Far As cat Speak goes. So this alerts me she is perhaps having pain somewhere there
▪ Her Appetite Was veen Unchnged With Maybe A few Days within The Ladt 2 Weeks QlWgerr She Wasnt Interested Or Didnt Eat Her Wet Food which she is given 1 can twice a day fancy feast and A Nutritious Age Appropriate Dry Food at will. Lately a diet dry food for older cats.
▪ water intake is good as os her urone output.unable at this time to determine yellow color if any changes but no blood or mucus noted.
▪ Her stools normally fine daily very large bigfer than id ever seen a cat feces but its her usual.no blood or mucouse or parasites visable to the eye. However Over the last week. She ha had short two defications or hard formed stool only every other day and no mucus or blood and very mild straining possible last day or two she didnt make the box x1 three dys ago grom livingroom to vedroom where her box is.
▪ no Emesis Only Frequent Gagging like response Whenever She Sees me With A Plate Of something I eat as if shes reacting to whatever it is thst i ahve and either se smells it and wants to meow or it produces a respibse wgen sge turn ger head to meow vut gags instead but no emesis and only one time.this behavor os frequent and long time now.
▪Have Noticed abd cleqns up a few fur ball material over these last few months as usual for hee howvee she has not expelled any of late that i know of and mt wife usully finds them i am aware of her gagging as if a fur vall but only whitish frothy foam was expelled no furr or undigested products present.
▪ Her Latest Lab Approx 3months Ago Prior to her Dental Cleaning was Great. WNL no Elevated Or Low Results Abd No Signs On blood Work Up of Active Or Pre scrreen Disease Or Conditions indicated. So
Serum Chemustry WNL
Othrwose Healthy For A Cat Her Age abd Weight.
Last visit to the vet she wantes to do an abd xray or ultrasound and blood work to rule out any kidney or liver involvement to be causong the and distention ? Slight ? Fluid in the Abd. We Just Had to Keep The Costs down At That point and could not afford to do all or much of th4 testing for ruling out setious disease or cinditions and chose to treat for tge joint pain to maje her more comforable limit her intake of dsily food for weight loss and continue to obseve her for further problems or exacerbation of the symptons sge presented with two weeks ago ob exam. We also Started her on a gycosamine or whatever it is related to that thet frequebtly use in vetinary medicine for horses who suffer joint problems ans discomfort. I forgot nsme and dont have it with me and its for cats and in a,chewable cat treat form of which sge is to take 4 per day. Shes been in for little over a week and yes some imprvement in her level of discomfort when ambulatory. More active than she was and overall generally seems vetter or more happy less isolating in this area.
▪Not so sure about her abdomen and gavent observed any inceease in size but its still very large and firm andvtender to touch ans she avoind for thebmost part jumpung up on tge bed or cat tree to window in vedroom that
Previosuly she enjoyed and did nightlly for sure.
▪her eyes are clear mouth is wnl no palness of gums bleeding or redness and toungue is fine and mouth moist to touch.
No observable distress gowever her breathing while not labored exacltly is audible wgen sge is lying down on her sides. Not exacly a wgeeze but similar in sound without the eeeze part.she frequently likes sokething under ger head when sge sleeps like using a pillow for us. Shes always liked that or veen more conforatable wuth something to prop up her heas when she ready ti sleep.
So thats about it.my concern or course is pergaps the Abd And If Distented Something Related Or resultant from The FELV being active now in her older age. The other cincern i have is the avd dustenstion abd discomfort possible due to a partial or incomplete obstruction along the bpwel or due to a growth or other block within the abdominal cavity.
I realize thwt without the xrays ultrasoynd or blood work we cannot difinitively know or the vet can diagnosr ptoperly and we will get these necessatt tests done in the near future sooner than later and nit delay longer than already and do each as we can pay for them thsesbl next few weels so ling as she stays in a stable non distressed but uncomfortable to say the least and continue to observe if she gets worse or becomes distressed or siddenly critally ill then wed take ger ti the hospital. We feel really sad that recentltly just prior to this weve suffered a real blow to our finances and a major set back to be able to help Emily As wed like ti hace and will as we recover we gave pet unsurance but only wellness visits and basic care not illness or services like lab xray etc is covered by our plan.
So please advise best you can as a second opinion or any kind of help or assistance that were not aware of that may help to get our cat Emily The Tests and Other Assistance She Does Need to further diagnose treat and resolve hopefully her discomfort the abd distention and return to her otherwose healthy happy self. Them we can also as we live her and care a great deal for her she is our vhild so to speak and memver of our family no different than one of us.
Penny & Mana Lange
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Hi there. My cat was sent to the vet after a bite mark on his tail turned septic last Sunday (18/12/17). He had fever and later vomited. Xray scans showed a pelvic fracture (no idea how that happened as we let him roam freely) and distended intestines. His wound has healed after the vet cleaned out the pus but we found that his intestinal walls are very thin and can possibly rupture at any moment. He is also badly constipated (did not excrete for 5 days). Please advise if there is any way we can save him or we should consider putting him to sleep to ease his suffering.
Thank you Dr. Michele
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I have a cat that is 3 years old. He has always had digestive problems, had trouble gaining weight, bouts of diarrhea etc. So I started giving him different proteins, such as duck, rabbit, salmon, etc. trying to find one that he could tolerate and also like. He can tolerate beef, ham, and salmon and herring. So we went these foods, grain free, plus a grain free dry. I also started him on pantoprazole and vitamin b12. He appears sometimes to have pancreatitis...he used to go thru bouts of belly pain about every 4to 5 months, but the pantoprazole seems to have helped that. Recently though, his belly has been swelling slightly and he seems to have a lot of gas. I think he has had inflammatory bowel disease and maybe triaditis over all this time. I live in a very rural area and don't have a really good cat vet nearby, so the rural vet and I try to work together to figure this out...I am serious, they don't do biopsies, they can do very basic stuff etc. so I need some advice here. What should I be looking for and what do I need to do about the swelling and the gas?
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My kitten is 1 month old. I just noticed swollen belly 3 4 hours ago. Then saw puss getting out of that. Now the kitten is making meow noises and there is some liquid getting out from his mouth
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