What are Ascites?
If you notice swelling or tenderness in your cat’s abdomen, this could be a sign of fluid build up, which is indicative of an underlying health condition.
The buildup of fluids in the body is known as edema unless it occurs in the abdomen, in which case it is called ascites. Fluid buildup can put pressure on the cat’s stomach and chest, causing difficulty with eating or breathing. Ascites can be caused by a wide variety of health conditions ranging in severity, so although the fluid can be easily removed by a vet, treatment will focus on the cause of the fluid accumulation.
Symptoms of Ascites in Cats
Symptoms of ascites in cats may begin slowly, but then build up over time as more fluid collects in the abdomen. The symptoms your cat exhibits will depend on the underlying cause of the fluid build-up. Some of the symptoms you may notice include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of appetite
Causes of Ascites in Cats
A number of different health conditions can cause fluid to start building up in the abdomen, most of which are very serious and require the immediate attention of a vet. Some of the conditions that may cause ascites include:
- Abdominal organ failure
- Right-sided heart failure
- Nephritic syndrome (an inflammatory kidney condition)
- Peritonitis, or inflammation of the abdominal lining
Diagnosis of Ascites in Cats
Take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as you notice any symptoms of ascites. Discuss what symptoms you have noticed with the vet, and if your cat has experienced any physical trauma recently, be sure to mention this as well.
Although the vet should be able to identify excessive fluid in the abdomen just by feeling the area, more tests will need to be run to determine the cause. First, a urinalysis and chemistry profile will be performed to see how the liver and kidneys are functioning. An ultrasound of the abdomen may also be performed to take a closer look at the organs.
The vet may also need to remove a small sample of the fluid to look for the presence of bacteria or blood. This procedure is known as a peritoneal fluid analysis, and will help the vet get to the bottom of what is causing the buildup.
X-rays of the chest and abdomen may also be performed to look for signs of trauma or tumors. If the vet sees any masses, a biopsy may be required to determine if the tumor is cancerous.
Because partial heart failure could cause fluid build up, the vet may also suggest an EKG to determine if the heart is functioning properly.
The results of all of these tests will help the vet pinpoint the exact cause of the fluid buildup so he can create an effective treatment plan.
Treatment of Ascites in Cats
Treatment will first focus on making the cat more comfortable, and then will shift to treat the underlying cause of the fluid buildup. If the cat is struggling to breathe, a catheter will be placed into his abdomen to drain the fluid and allow him to breathe easier. The cat may be fitted with an oxygen mask during this time to help him breathe while the procedure takes place.
Diuretics may also be administered to help with the fluid removal, however, these drugs can cause potassium levels in the blood to drop, which can lead to serious side effects.
After the fluid has been removed, the vet will need to treat the underlying cause to prevent it from building up again. Treatment will vary greatly depending on the cause. For example, peritonitis can be treated with antibiotics, however, a cancerous tumor may need to be removed via surgery. Surgery may also be required if the cause is a ruptured organ due to injury. Unfortunately, some causes of ascites are untreatable or very difficult to treat, including heart and liver failure.
Recovery of Ascites in Cats
Fluid can easily be removed from the cat’s abdomen, but the cat’s recovery will depend on the underlying cause of ascites. To increase your cat’s chances of recovering fully, follow the vet’s orders closely and schedule a follow-up appointment with the vet so he can assess how your cat is healing.
The vet may ask you to change your cat’s diet to help prevent the accumulation of fluid. One of the most important changes is lowering your cat’s salt intake, which will reduce bloating and water retention.
If ascites was caused by trauma, it may be wise to keep your cat indoors so you can keep a closer eye on him and prevent further injuries. You will also need to keep other pets away from your cat while he recovers if trauma is the underlying cause.