Bloating (Abdominal Distension) in Cats

Key takeaways

Abdominal distension describes the symptom of enlargement or swelling of the abdomen in cats, which is triggered by a wide variety of normal and abnormal processes.

  • Abdominal distension is a feature of many conditions ranging from injury, infection, tumors, and disease of specific organs such as the liver and heart
  • Investigation of abdominal distension requires physical examination, diagnostic imaging, and blood work, urinalysis, and sampling of abdominal fluid or masses
  • Treatment involves management of the underlying disease process but normally includes medication such as anti-inflammatories, pain relief, steroids, or antibiotics
  • Some conditions require surgical management, such as injuries or tumors
  • Prognosis varies significantly depending on the underlying trigger
  • Many disease processes resulting in abdominal distension are serious, life-threatening conditions and require prompt investigation
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A closer look: Bloating (Abdominal Distension) in Cats

Abdominal distension results from accumulation of a particular material, such as fluid, fat, or pus, or from enlargement of one of the abdominal organs such as the liver or stomach.

Abdominal distension is common in cats as their relatively weak abdominal musculature results in abdominal distension early in some disease processes.

Most triggers of abdominal distension require prompt treatment, and many are serious or emergency conditions.

An exception to this rule is in cases of pregnancy, or weight gain resulting in enlargement of the primordial pouch, which is an accumulation of fat that hangs down slightly between the hindlegs.

Possible causes

Abdominal distension is a common feature of many underlying conditions and is categorized depending on the material causing the distension.

Fluid accumulation is a common cause for abdominal distension. The type of fluid accumulating depends on the root cause.

Bloat can also be caused by enlarged organs.

Stomach and intestine swelling may also occur after a large recent meal.

Risk factors

In itself, abdominal distension is not a dangerous symptom, and the severity of the underlying cause varies significantly. Developing abdominal distension is expected in some cases, such as pregnancy or consuming a large meal. Other forms of abdominal distension, such as fluid accumulation resulting from FIP infection or secondary to low blood protein, often carries a grave prognosis.

Cases of abdominal distension that arise suddenly generally are associated with conditions such as traumatic injuries or infections, whereas long-term, slow distention of the abdomen is more likely related to conditions such as tumors. Whether the abdominal distention worsens over time or remains stable does not usually reflect the severity of underlying disease, however rapidly worsening abdominal distention may make it difficult to breathe due to lung compression, and warrants immediate veterinary evaluation.

Testing and diagnosis

Further investigation of abdominal distension involves:

  • Physical examination
  • Diagnostic imaging such as X-rays, CT scan, and ultrasound
  • Blood work
  • Urine analysis
  • Fluid analysis
  • Cytology

Treatment options depend on the underlying conditions but options include:

  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Pain relief
  • Steroids
  • Antibiotics
  • Fluid therapy
  • Management of blood pressure
  • Draining the accumulated fluid
  • Surgical intervention

Similar symptoms

Sometimes weight loss affecting the musculature around the hind end and spine (known as cachexia) results in the appearance of abdominal enlargement.

Weight gain can also appear as abdominal distension.

Associated symptoms

Associated symptoms depend on the underlying condition.


Hannah Hollinger - Writing for Wag!
Hannah Hollinger - Writing for Wag!
Luis H. Tello, MV, MS, DVM, COS - Writing for Veterinary Partner
CHRISTINE O'BRIEN - Writing for Hill's Pet Nutrition
Krista Williams, BSc, DVM, CCRP; Kristiina Ruotsalo, DVM, DVSc, Dip ACVP; Margo S. Tant BSc, DVM, DVSc - Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals
Dr. Leah Cohn - Writing for PetPlace
Jessica Seid - Writing for Hill's Pet Nutrition
WebMD Editorial Contributors - Writing for WebMD
Kim Willoughby BVMS PhD MRCVS; Gerry Polton MA VetMB MSc(Onc) DipECVIM(Oncology) MRCVS - Writing for Vetlexicon
No Author - Writing for Davies Veterinary Specialists

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