Hernias in Cats

Key Takeaways

A hernia is any abnormal space in the wall of a muscle where other tissue can protrude through. The characteristic symptom is a compressible bulge under the skin. 

• Hernias occur most often in cats in the diaphragm, navel, groin, and perineum

• In most uncomplicated cases, hernias do not affect quality of life

• In cases of diaphragmatic hernia, compression of the lungs and heart is dangerous

• In complicated cases, the tissue that is protruding through the hernia becomes strangulated and loses blood supply

• Symptoms of tissue strangulation include vomiting, fever, lack of appetite, pain, and changes in stool

Strangulated and diaphragmatic hernias require emergency veterinary attention

• Diagnostic tools include physical examination, blood tests, and X-ray or ultrasound

• Surgery is the only curative treatment

• Prognosis with surgery is good, as long as no secondary complications develop from strangulation

A Closer Look: What are Hernias in Cats?

There are several types of hernias, distinguished by their location on the body. The most common types are: 

• Inguinal hernias (in the groin area)

• Umbilical hernias (affecting the navel)

• Diaphragmatic hernias (hernia between the abdomen and thorax)

• Hiatal hernias (affecting the esophagus)

Sometimes, a hernia appears to come and go. This is called a sliding hernia.

In cases where the tissue protruding through the hernia becomes strangulated, symptoms become severe. Symptoms include:

• Pain • VomitingFeverDifficulty defecating

Diarrhea • Loss of appetite • Blood in the urine • Behavior changes

In cases of strangulated hernia, emergency veterinary attention is required.

In the case of diaphragmatic hernia, depending on the size of the hernia, the abdominal organs can protrude through the hole and take up space in the chest cavity. In these cases, the lungs and heart become crowded. Symptoms include:

• Coughing

• Lack of appetite

Lethargy

Difficulty breathing

Rapid breathing with short, shallow breaths

Fever

Collapse

Symptoms of diaphragmatic hernias are more severe and require emergency veterinary care.

Risk Factors

Hernias are uncommon in cats. Cats with compressible bulges under the skin at the groin, umbilicus, or elsewhere on the body require prompt veterinary attention. Cats with the symptoms of a hernia in the diaphragm, such as shortness of breath, and cats with the symptoms of strangulated hernia, such as vomiting, fever, lack of appetite, pain, diarrhea, or constipation, require emergency veterinary attention. Left untreated, a strangulated hernia is a life-threatening condition.

Cats of any age are susceptible to hernias. Depending on the location of the hernia, several factors determine risk:

• A history of traumatic injury

• Pregnancy

• Genetic predisposition

• The presence of defects in tissue development

• Whether the cat is spayed or neutered

Possible Causes

Hernias can result from:

• Traumatic injuries

• Defects in tissue development

• Pregnancy

Obesity

• Underlying metabolic disorders

Perineal hernias (hernias affecting the area around the anus and penis) primarily affect older, non-castrated male cats. The presence of male sex hormones is a possible cause of this particular type of hernia.

Main Symptoms

The characteristic symptom of hernia is a small compressible bulge under the skin. These bulges are most commonly found in the groin, at the navel or near the perineum. 

In some cases, the hernia occurs inside the body and is not detectable without diagnostic imaging. Most internal hernias are found when investigating other conditions, as they cause no symptoms unless they become strangulated.

Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnostic tools include:

• Physical exam

• Diagnostic imaging such as X-rays or ultrasound

• Advanced imaging such as CT or MRI

• Blood tests

• Urinalysis

• Metabolic work-up

Steps to Recovery

Depending on the location of the hernia and the nature of the tissue protruding through it, it is possible that the hernia will resolve on its own. This is particularly true with umbilical hernias in newborn cats. 

Otherwise, treatment is surgical. The aim is to push the protruding tissue back into place and repair the hole in the muscle with sutures. In cases of large areas of herniation, mesh is placed to support the muscle. This is particularly true with diaphragmatic hernias because of the danger of compression to the lungs and heart. 

Post-operative care includes:

• Pain medication

• Monitoring for infection

• Limiting activity for a few weeks

Cases of postoperative aspiration pneumonia are common in cats with hiatal hernia (hernia affecting the esophagus). Postoperative infections are common in perineal hernias. 

Cats with uncomplicated hernias have an excellent prognosis. Cats with diaphragmatic hernias have good prognosis as long as surgery is prompt. Left untreated, a diaphragmatic hernia can worsen, affecting the lungs and heart of the cat. In extreme cases, this is fatal.

Cats with strangulated hernias have a good prognosis in cases where it is treated early, before strangulation cuts off blood supply and causes tissue death. Left untreated, strangulated hernias cause permanent tissue damage and, in some cases, death.

Prevention

Preventative measures aim to reduce the likelihood of injury by keeping cats healthy and active, and maintaining an indoor lifestyle. Spaying or neutering cats lowers the risk of certain types of hernia.

Are Hernias Common in Cats?

Hernias are uncommon in cats.

Typical Treatment

• Surgery

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