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What is Abdominal Distension?

The organs themselves can swell, causing visual enlargement of the abdomen. Benign or malignant tumor growths on organs or glands can also lead to an expanded belly. Older cats or unwell cats can lose muscle mass which can make the abdomen 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 membrane. 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.

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Abdominal Distension Average Cost

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

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$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 signs may help to diagnose the underlying cause of the enlargement. Signs 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 signs 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 may be 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 might be recommended, 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 need to 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.

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, an appropriate 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 63 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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Written by hannah hollinger

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Published: 11/09/2016, edited: 04/29/2021

Abdominal Distension Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Domestic short hair

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Eleven Weeks

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Unknown severity

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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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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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Zig

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Sixteen Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Small Amounts Of Urine, Bloated Belly

My cat was showing signs of Kidney disease in early May after a UTI. He has been on fluids every other day since then. During this he dropped weight and has gotten bonier. He still eats, poops, pees and etc . A few days ago he had a bought of loose stools and some vomit. I’ve noticed that his belly looks bloated and he is peeing 3-4 times a day, but it’s not very much each time. He has a stiff back leg, but still chases after things and has the same level of energy and activity. He also lets me touch/squeeze his stomach and he doesn’t seem uncomfortable or in pain. Please help!

July 12, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Sadly, kidney disease is a progressive disease, and does tend to get worse over time. If you are managing him well with his fluids, this may be how he enjoys his time with you. Sometimes cats with kidney failure benefit from occasional antibiotics, and they are prone to infection. That may be something that helps him if you want to discuss it with your veterinarian. I hope that he continues to do well.

July 12, 2020

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Norah

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domestic short hair

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Blood In Urine
Abdominal Distension
Fur Loss

My cat is 6 years old. She had recently been losing fur on her belly which she is licking a lot. We assumed it was because of the recent heat wave but her belly also seems swollen and the last couple of days her faeces is very wet. She has been urinating more often than usual and today we noticed there is now blood in her urine.

Sept. 10, 2018

Norah's Owner

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Ellie

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Domestic shorthair

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23 Months

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

3Lb Weight Gain
Large, Firm, Distended Velly

My cat was fixed in May of this year. The procedure went well and though she healed slower than expected there were no other complications. Since then my husband and I noticed her stomach to be larger. We assumed she was just putting on weight as we know happens after fixing a cat. Though she has gained approx 3lbs since surgery, we are starting to wonder if that's really the problem. Her stomach is large and firm. It doesn't seem to bother her at all but it is noticeable large. We put her on a diet and she is very active. She hasn't lost any weight and at this point just never seems full enough. We're starting to wonder if something may have gone wrong during surgery. Anyone else experience this problem?

Sept. 8, 2018

Ellie's Owner

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Poppy

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tabby

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18 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Sleepiness
Sleepiness ,Not Eating
Sleepiness. Not Eating
Sleepiness. Not Eating Sick
Sleepiness. Not Eating.

She was sleeping all day and not eating and we took my cat poppy to the vet and she stayed 3 nights, when we took her home the vets said she has to take medicine everyday. She has a blockage in her stomachs that makes her not eat and feel tied.

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Sonny

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Calico

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2 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Weakness
Loss Of Appetite
Pain When Lifted
Weak Pulse

My 2 year old Male cat has become lethargic and weak. At first he wouldn’t eat or drink and we noticed his stomach had sunken in on the side near his hind legs. After further investigation we found his stomach/intestines have dropped? Not to sure exactly what’s going on but his organs have dropped down causing a sunken look to his stomach. When we put pressure on his stomach or chest it hurts him. He can’t jump up, he is just laying around, hardly eating or drinking and just isn’t his usual feisty self!!

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Dova

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American Short Hair

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7 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Swollen Abdomen
Increased Thirst
Urinating Outside Litterbox
Excessive Urination
Urinating In House
Vaginal Mucous

Dova is seven years old, female, intact. Over the last 3 months, she has had occassional vaginal discharge, we assumed it was a new development with heat as she hadnt before. Over the last month, she has had increasing thirst and peeing outside the litterbox even though its clean and she used it fine before. Over the last week or two, she has developed a distented stomach. Its swollen and mildly firm. No pain on contact and no odd lumps or bulges. We dont have the money to take her to the vet yet but last I know she was up to date on her shots. Please advise.

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Mackerel

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Dom

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18 Months

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea

My cat is about 1and 1/2 years old and is continually having diarrhoea and smelly farts and I have tried to keep food simple and changed biscuits to sensitive! We went away for a week and had her looked after by family when we had come back Her belly is distended and she has smelly flatulents I touched her belly but not pain what could it be?

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Sophie

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domestic short hair

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1 Month

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Weight Loss
Eye Discharge
Red Eye
Swollen Eye
Bloating

My kitten is a month old and she eats but she isn’t gaining weight. She is playful but she isn’t her self. Her eye is swollen and has discharge. She is very boney even though she eats. Her stomach is very round and bloated and she has diarrhea.

Abdominal Distension Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$1,500

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