By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 December 2011)
There are a few different problems that can cause abdominal distension in cats (besides the obvious, such as obesity, overeating, and pregnancy). Medical causes include:
- A tear in the urinary tract/bladder that causes urine to leak into the stomach, usually due to injury
- Bloating (air in the stomach)
- Enlargement of organs such as the kidneys, liver, or spleen due to illnesses or injuries affecting these organs
- Exudate (pus-like fluids) accumulating due to feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
- Heart failure
- Hypoproteinemia (insufficient protein in the blood)
- Internal bleeding due to a clotting disorder, organs ruptured by injury or tumour, or erosion of blood vessels
- Internal parasites (worms)
- Intestinal blockage (stuck object) or intussusception (intestine “telescopes” in on itself)
- Post-surgical complications
- Tumours (cancerous or benign)
Many conditions that cause distended stomach in cats are life-threatening but treatable. Additional symptoms that suggest illness include the following:
- Change in toilet habits (greater or reduced frequency, accidents outside the box, etc.)
- Difficulty breathing/panting
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of fat and muscle elsewhere on the body
- Mucus or blood in the stool
If the stomach distension comes on rapidly, especially if there are additional symptoms such as vomiting or weakness, treat the situation as a medical emergency.
Having fostered many kittens, I’ve found that the most common cause of a firm, bloated belly in young cats is intestinal worms, which are very easy to treat with deworming medication. However, I’d still recommend consulting a veterinarian before administering dewormers just in case there is a more serious issue.
Depending on the underlying cause of the abdominal distension, treatment may include:
- Administration of diuretics, which flush fluids from the body by increasing urination
- Antibiotic therapy for bacterial infections
- Deworming medications in the case of parasite infestation
- Dietary modifications
- Draining fluid from the abdomen with a needle if it’s interfering with the cat’s breathing
- Surgery in certain cases (i.e., treating ruptured abdominal organs, excising tumours, removing a foreign body from the intestines, etc.)
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for veterinary consultation and care.
- Carlson, D., DVM, & Giffin, J.M., MD. (2008). “Abdominal Swelling in Cats.” Pets.WebMD.com, Excerpted from the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook.
- Cohn, L., Dr. (2011). “Abdominal Distension in Cats.” PetPlace.com.
- PetMD. (n.d.). “Fluid in Abdomen in Cats.” PetMD.com.
- VetInfo. (2010). “Diagnosing Cat Bloated Stomach Problems.” VetInfo.com.