Hernias in cats typically aren't serious and can be repaired with surgery as long as they are detected early. Today, our Middlesex vets discuss different types of cat hernias, surgery and what you can expect from cat hernia surgery recovery. 

What are hernias?

While hernias do not commonly occur in cats, when they do happen they are usually congenital (meaning a kitten was born with one). Injury, internal damage, flawed muscles, weak muscle walls that allow organs and tissue to pass through and trauma can also cause hernias. 

A hernia is essentially a collection of the fat, intestine and potentially other internal organs that escape the abdominal cavity. Other potential causes include pregnancy, constipation or excessive bloating. In addition a hernia may occur if the wrong type of suture material is used or suture lines are not closed properly after a spay operation. 

The condition can also happen if your cat is not kept calm and inactive enough throughout the healing process after a spaying procedure.  

What are the different types of hernias in cats?

The three types of hernias in cats are defined based on their location in a cat's body. These include:

Umbilical Hernia

An umbilical hernia may feel like a squishy protrusion, soft swelling or bulge below the skin. Located just under the ribcage on a cat's underside near the belly button, an umbilical hernia may often appear when your cat is crying, straining, standing or meowing. 

This type of hernia is caused by an opening in the muscle wall and may occur if the umbilical ring does not close properly after birth. The organs may push through the area surrounding the umbilicus. 

Typically only seen in kittens, an umbilical hernia poses no health risks and is usually painless. It will probably close without treatment by the time your kitten is 3 to 4 months old. 

Hiatal Hernia

A type of diaphragmatic hernia, a hiatal hernia is one of the rarest types. It can occur when the abdominal viscera pushes through the diaphragm. This "sliding" hernia can come and go when caused by a birth defect. 

Cats can live with a mild diaphragmatic hernia for years without displaying clinical signs. The symptoms can become life-threatening in more severe cases, especially if not addressed or treated immediately. Cats with a diaphragmatic hernia will often cough persistently, have a poor appetite, and be weak and lethargic. In severe cases, they may have difficulty breathing or have a rapid, short breathing pattern and fever. They may even collapse. 

Inguinal Hernia

Inguinal hernias are one of the more uncommon types of hernias in cats and are typically an issue in pregnant females. If the intestines protrude through the inguinal canal, an inguinal hernia can affect your cat’s groin area.

Though this type of hernia in cats can usually be pushed back in, it may develop into a serious condition if the intestines become trapped in the muscle wall. In this case, an inguinal hernia can be life-threatening for your cat if blood flow to the tissue is severed.

Cat Hernia Surgery & Treatment

Occasionally, a vet may be able to push internal organs back through the muscle wall, which may close and heal after the organs are back in the abdominal cavity where they belong. 

That said, because there is a high risk that a hernia will recur, your veterinarian may recommend repairing the muscle wall as even small openings may lead to complications such as strangulation. 

If organs cannot easily be pushed back through the abdominal cavity, if complications such as infection, blockage or strangulation occur or if a tear in the muscle wall does not close by itself, your cat will need surgery to repair the hernia. 

Your vet will first complete a complete blood count, blood chemistry profile and urinalysis to check your pet's general physical health. 

Provided your cat does not require an urgent hernia repair, any conditions your vet diagnoses can be addressed before surgery. Usually, non-urgent hernias can be repaired when your cat is spayed or neutered to minimize the need for anesthesia. 

The night before your cat's hernia surgery, he or she will be required to fast, and fluids should be restricted. Your vet will use intravenous anesthesia to put your cat into a deep sleep, then insert a tracheal tube to maintain the anesthesia with gas.

Before the surgery, your vet will shave and clean the area to be operated on, then use surgical drapes to help ensure the area remains sterile.

During the operation, the vet will push the abdominal organs back into the abdominal cavity. Any damaged organs and tissue will be surgically repaired before the gap in the muscle wall is closed.

The veterinarian may use either synthetic surgical mesh (if the opening is too large or if the tissue needs to be eliminated because it has died) or existing muscle tissue to shut the gap in the muscle wall. To close the incision, sutures will be used.

How much does a cat hernia surgery cost?

The cost for a cat's hernia surgery can vary widely depending on many factors, including the complexity of your cat's condition, your location, the differences between individual vet prices. Your vet can provide a cost estimate after they've examined and diagnosed your kitty's condition. 

What can I expect from my cat's hernia surgery recovery?

You may be wondering how your cat will be feeling and what to expect after their hernia surgery. The vet may provide antibiotics before and after your cat's hernia surgery to treat or prevent infection. Your cat will also need to wear a collar while they recover to prevent him or her from biting or licking incision areas or sutures. Pain medicines and cage rest will be prescribed as required. 

Typically, cats that have had hernia surgery will not require long-term hospitalization after surgery, as the procedure is usually straightforward. Plus, surgical complications are rare and the hernia may be permanently resolved. 

The risk of suture rupturing, infections, or hemorrhaging can be minimized with careful monitoring by a veterinarian.

When detected and treated early, hernias in cats do not tend to cause many complications and are unlikely to recur. Early and effective treatment is necessary to ensure your cat stays healthy.

What should I do if I think my cat may have a hernia?

If you suspect your cat may have a hernia, contact your vet right away to book an appointment so the condition can be officially diagnosed and treated.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect your cat may have a hernia? Contact our Middlesex veterinarians today to have your cat diagnosed and treated.