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Umbilical Hernia in Cats

Picture of a kitten

While they aren’t nearly as common in young cats as they are in young dogs, umbilical hernias can be something that kittens might be affected by. In general, this condition appears right after birth since the opening in the cat’s abdomen hasn’t completely closed (and was used during the cat’s pregnancy for providing nutrients to the fetus). 

In today’s post, we’re looking at whether umbilical hernia in cats is a serious medical condition, what its symptoms are, what it is caused by, and how it can be treated. We’ll also add some info on other types of hernias that can show up in our feline friends. 

What causes umbilical hernia in cats?

Umbilical hernias are more common in kittens. The abdominal muscles that we’ve already mentioned in the introduction are supposed to close almost right after the kitten was born. But sometimes, this doesn’t happen. 

While they can occur by accident, there are some studies that suggest that umbilical hernias are more common if at least one of the cat’s parents was affected by it when they were young. There isn’t a specific genetic predisposition of a breed. 

Some kittens can develop umbilical hernia due to being handled by people. If, for example, you rescue an orphaned kitten and you care for it also by performing abdominal massages to stimulate urination and defecation, you might inadvertently make it difficult, if not impossible, for the opening in the abdominal muscle to close. 

A case of umbilical hernia usually resolves by itself by the time the kitten reaches the age of three or four months. It’s usually painless and small in size (most have a diameter of less of a quarter of an inch). 

Types

There are two types of umbilical hernia in cats — uncomplicated and complicated. 

The uncomplicated type can appear and disappear depending on how large the hole is, the cat’s body position, and a variety of such factors. Fortunately, uncomplicated hernias do not cause serious outcomes on the cat’s general health status. They generally correct themselves.

A complicated umbilical hernia, on the other hand, involves one or several more abdominal organs being capable of passing through the muscle. If the intestine gets trapped in the muscle, the cat can experience a potentially fatal condition, so veterinary care is necessary as soon as possible. 

In any case, if you see something bulging through your kitten’s abdomen (meaning that it’s not perfectly smooth), it’s a good idea to take your pet to the vet regardless of whether the hernia is uncomplicated or complicated. The latter do not resolve on their own, so they call for treatment such as an operation. 

Symptoms

Uncomplicated hernias aren’t typically associated with any clinical signs, but they can show up in some cases. Most kittens affected by this health problem will exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • No appetite
  • Local pain
  • Depression
  • Hematuria (the presence of blood in the pet’s urine)
  • The portion that has herniated through the muscle ring is large and warm to the touch

Since it’s practically impossible to know whether your kitten has an uncomplicated or a complicated hernia, if you notice any of these symptoms, go to the vet clinic as soon as possible. 

Diagnosis

Most cases can be diagnosed through a simple physical examination. Be prepared to answer a number of questions with regard to the time you’ve first noticed the hernia to the symptoms that your pet has shown in the past couple of days. You’ll also have to tell the vet whether your cat is urinating or defecating normally and if she has any appetite for food or water. 

If the umbilical hernia can’t be diagnosed using just a physical examination, the vet will recommend additional tests such as an ultrasound or an X-ray. If the treatment of the hernia involves surgery, blood tests will also be necessary. 

Treatment of umbilical hernia in cats

Uncomplicated umbilical hernia cases don’t usually call for any type of treatment as they naturally disappear by the age the animal reaches the age of 6 months (maximum). Since most vets now recommend spaying kittens when they are 5 to 6 months, you’ll be glad to know that by that time, the hernia will most likely have resolved, and it won’t come back even after the spaying procedure. 

Complicated umbilical hernias, on the other hand, almost always call for surgery. If the operation isn’t performed at the right time, the cat could die. The operation involves the removal of any scar tissue and closing the muscle ring using sutures. 

The average cost of surgery, in this case, is around $900, but depending on how complicated the hernia is (and the health status of the animal), it can go up to $1,200. 

The vast majority of kittens recover from the operation in a timely fashion. You do have to make sure that your cat doesn’t groom herself in the area where the sutures were performed, which can be a headache for most pet parents. Even so, most kittens don’t experience any complications following the surgery. 

Other types of hernias that affect cats

The three most common kinds of hernias that show up in our feline companions are the following:

  • Umbilical hernia
  • Inguinal hernia
  • Hiatal hernia

We have already discussed the first, but let’s see what the other two entail. 

An inguinal hernia appears in the animal’s groin and it involves the intestines pushing into and through the inguinal canal. Fortunately, it’s one of the least worrying types of hernias and it usually resolves on its own (it doesn’t call for surgery). 

However, there can be some situations where the intestines are effectively trapped in the wall of the muscle, and this can be a potentially life-threatening condition. If the intestines are caught by the muscle, the local tissue will no longer receive the blood flow that it requires in order to function properly. Pregnant cats are the most likely category that can suffer from this type of hernia.

Hiatal hernias are rather uncommon. They happen when the stomach or parts of other organs (such as the liver) penetrate the chest cavity through a hole that exists in the diaphragm. Most pets that have this condition are either born with it (so it is congenital) or they have suffered some type of trauma that has caused a hole in the diaphragm. 

Some of the typical symptoms of hiatal hernias in cats are vomiting, weight loss, and hypersalivation. Sizable hernias can be treated with surgery. 

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