Possible Reasons Why Your Cat Has a Swollen Abdomen or Belly

Updated on March 14, 2016
What does it mean if your cat's stomach is swollen?
What does it mean if your cat's stomach is swollen? | Source

If your cat has a swollen abdomen, also known as Ascitis, it is important to get them to a vet as soon as possible for an examination and a diagnosis.

Cats are very good at hiding an illness and will try to keep any sickness a secret.

There are several reasons that a cat's belly could be swollen. These reasons include but are not limited to:

  • Being overweight in general
  • Internal Organ Failure
  • Infection
  • Cancer

Any of these conditions are potentially deadly for your cat. In order to get the correct treatment plan, you will need to work with your vet on a course of action.

Is the Swollen Belly Due To Weight?

If the large belly has appeared over time, it may be due to your cat being overweight. If your cat is older, if it likes to eat a lot and if it does not exercise, it may end up becoming overweight.

In order to decide if your cat is overweight the vet will look at the overall signs of health in your cat.

Is the weight evenly distributed all over the body?

Is it obvious that it is fat and not swelling?

An overweight cat can face many health issues that can lead to a shortened life. Overweight cats are more at risk of developing diabetes. They may also face joint issues or bone fractures due to the excess weight.

They will have trouble jumping up on beds or chairs and generally feel more lethargic.

Action Plan

In order to reduce your cat's weight, you will need to work on a weight loss plan with your vet.

Your vet will also want to measure your cat's blood sugar level in order to insure that it is not facing diabetes and will need insulin.

Helping a cat lose weight usually follows some of the same guidelines as a human: reduce calorie intake and exercise.

There are many reduced calorie foods out there including some excellent prescription diets. Encouraging your cat to exercise can be a bit trickier. Finding toys that stimulate the cat or even "treat balls" that make them work for a piece of a treat are great ways to get your cat moving again.

Is The Swollen Belly Due to Heart or Liver or Kidney Failure?

Sometimes your cat's internal organs may fail completely or work at a reduced rate. When this happens the excess fluid may accumulate in the abdomen.

The heart, liver and kidneys all take part in the circulatory system and the removal of excess fluids and waste. If one of these are not functioning properly, the distended abdomen may be a sign of that issue.

Other symptoms can include weight loss, lack of appetite and lethargy.

Action Plan

Once your vet figures out which organ is failing, a treatment plan can be made. While there is usually no cure for any of these issues, with heart and kidney, there are treatment options and medications that might prolong the life of your cat.

Kidney failure in cats can be treated with subcutaneous fluids and electrolytes. Your vet may also prescribe a medication to help remove phosphorus from its system.

With heart failure there are diuretics and heart medications that may help your cat to function better and feel better.

Neither of these treatments are a cure, but rather a way to give you and your cat a little more time with each other.

Sometimes a swollen abdomen can be caused by organ failure in cats.
Sometimes a swollen abdomen can be caused by organ failure in cats. | Source

Is the Swollen Belly Due to Infection?

Another reason that your cat may experience a swollen abdomen is from a virus known as Feline Infectious Peritonitis.

In this disease, swelling of the abdomen is a symptom of the virus which infects internal organs.

According to Pet Health Network cats that are at risk for this type of infection include those in a multi cat shelter or household and those who are regularly outdoors.

Other symptoms, along with the swelling can be lethargy, a fever, and a lack of appetite.

Action Plan

FIP is a very serious disease. If your cat is showing a swollen abdomen due to this virus, it most likely has the most serious form of the disease.

Since it is viral there is no cure. Once diagnosed, you will work with your vet on a plan for comfort measures such as fluids, pain medications and antibiotics if there are secondary infections.

Unfortunately, due to the severity of the disease, there is not a known cure and many cats are unable to get better.

Is the Swollen Abdomen Due to Cancer?

In the worst-case scenario, the swollen abdomen may be a sign of cancer in your cat.

If the swelling is sudden and is not all over and if your cat is older, it may have developed some kind of internal organ cancer.

I have faced this type of cancer with my own cat and the only sign that he was facing cancer was the tight, and swollen abdomen. He had no lethargy or lack of appetite.

If you suspect that your cat has cancer, your vet will most likely do an ultrasound to make a diagnosis.

Sometimes a cat's swollen belly is due to cancer.
Sometimes a cat's swollen belly is due to cancer. | Source

Action Plan

With feline cancer, there is not a very good prognosis. Although there are treatment plans and even chemo for cats, most cats do not actually respond very well to the treatments. The cancer treatment for cats is also very expensive.

Once your vet has determined that your cat is facing cancer, he or she will likely give you a time estimate and what to watch for.

With my own cat I needed to watch for signs of lethargy and loss of appetite. These would be signs of the cancer spreading. The fluid in the abdomen can also cause breathing difficulties.

I asked my vet about diuretics and she informed me that they don't actually work very well on cats with cancer. She did indicate that they can drain the fluid from the abdomen if and when it causes too much uncomfortableness or if he has trouble breathing. Often, though, the fluid can return very quickly.

This symptom of cancer is very hard to watch. My own cat was given several more weeks. While his belly has been very swollen and distended, he has still been eating and moving around although he is more sluggish.

At the time of this writing it has been 4 weeks since his diagnosis and I do notice a loss in appetite and he continues to sport a round abdomen. While he is an older cat (almost 16) it is hard to have an animal you have loved and taken care of for most of its life go through this.

Final Thoughts

Remember that each cat is unique and each treatment plan should be developed with your vet based on what is right for you, your budget and your cat.

Anytime you suspect a swollen abdomen, it is important to seek a vet's advice to figure out what is going on with your pet.

An Explanation of Ascitis in Pets

What Do Is The Reason For Your Cat's Swollen Belly?

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Questions & Answers

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    • profile image

      brian 

      5 months ago

      MY cats tummy is bloated is it ASCITES

    • profile image

      Lee 

      7 months ago

      My cat just turned 17 y/o and has had a good appetite the past several years i feed her wet food in addition to dry food daily. She’s never been a huge cat now I notice feeling her bones when I rub her, an increase in appetite but she deficated on the carpet which never happened& threw up yellow liquid. The vet felt a mass in abdomen & suspects cancer. I’m awaiting result from blood work. Needless to say I’m heart broken But believing meds or other alternative can help her.

    • profile image

      jennifer 

      8 months ago

      My 8 month old vaccinated female cat was spayed about 2 months ago. Ever since then her abdomen has been bloated, and she eats endlessly. She shows no sign of being ill, eats, drinks, defecates normally. Yet it looks like she has a grapefruit size belly. She hasn't gained weight anywhere else, so it's not weight gain. Any ideas?

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      9 months ago from Florida

      You need to see a vet as soon as possible. If money is an issue there are usually low cost vets in the area. Post on local social media and ask for the best options and get her seen as soon as possible.

    • profile image

      Samantha 

      9 months ago

      I can't stop crying i don't know whats wrong with my kitten and i just want her to get better, every time she takes in a breath she sounds like she will throw up she is breathing so hard. Also, her belly is swollen and there is a little bulge of fat underneath.

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      10 months ago from Florida

      I am SO sorry for your loss. I know how you feel. Take time to grieve. It is important. But don't let it consume you. The loss is hard but remember that the pain is part of all the good times that you had. The cat was loved and cared for and so many cats don't get that. As crazy as it may sound now, getting another animal, especially a rescue, will help to heal your heart. I adopted another siamese mix at the shelter in honor of my beloved cat. I was saving another life in tribute to what an awesome cat he was. Nothing will ever replace the cat you lost but opening your heart to another animal can really help your grief!

    • profile image

      laura.escobar350@gmail.com 

      10 months ago

      In all my life I have never been closer to any other pet like my beloved Tuxedo cat. I lost him to cancer 2 days ago. My grief is so intense I can't eat or function. My heart goes out to all of you for your huge losses.

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      10 months ago from Florida

      So sorry for your loss. Sounds like he may have had cancer or some other infection. At least his last moments were in the arms of the person he loved.

    • profile image

      Sheila Cox 

      11 months ago

      Hi my cat passed away yesterday in my arms !! He was rather old but how old I will never know as he was many of peoples cast offs I take in .. Anyhow he had a very distended stomache and swollen eyes

    • profile image

      Jo 

      11 months ago

      My cat has what looks like a thorn hanging out of her stomach any ideas what it will be

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      12 months ago from Florida

      If it's both of them, could be worms or something like that. The best thing would be to get them to see a vet.

    • profile image

      Shumaila Rajput 

      12 months ago

      My two cats have swollen belly

      what should I do??

      I'm very upset

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      12 months ago from Florida

      I am so sorry for your loss. Sometimes animals pass away for unknown reasons. Something goes wrong and causes them to stop breathing, heart to stop beating etc. Other times they might have gotten into something. Make sure there are no chemicals around that your cats can get into. The bloating after death is just a normal thing that happens after an animal is deceased. I would just say watch your other cats for signs of illness. If they do start acting sick, try to find a vet that can diagnose and treat.

    • profile image

      Lysa 

      13 months ago

      Hi, my female cat has suddenly died..i don't know the reason..when i found her body is already bloating, and excess some fluid, and also her eyes has also sticken out. Before that occured, she lived like a normal cat, she had no lethargy and no lack of appetite..i really shocked when i found her was not alive..do u know what illness make her like that??if the illness is because the infection, what should i do because i have other cats??thanks..

    • profile image

      Sylvia 

      14 months ago

      Hi , my female cat who was a stray and is about a year old, has an extended swollen belly since I got her. she had health issues due to the fact that she never got food for a long time. She had all her vaccinations, is fixed and had tests done to see if she had any deseases, all negative at the time. However her stools are very soft and yellow all the time and her stomach swollen. She eats and drinks fine but she struggles to jump onto the bed, is verbal lately and lies on her back with her belly in the air. Do I need to take her to the Vet?.

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      16 months ago from Florida

      While it could be something bad as you know from the article, you might try a simple deworming and see if that helps. There are often low cost vetting options such as as the local shelter or humane society society . A year old cat may have a good chance if she can get whatever is causing the problem. If she is not spayed then she very likely could be pregnant if she has ever been outside. There are also low cost spaying options. Best of luck.

    • profile image

      Karen 

      16 months ago

      My female cat who is over a year old has all of a sudden got a bloated belly, she's been her normal self apart from laying down a lot! Shes not pregnant as there is no movement, im not in a good financial place at the mo ... any advice would be great!!

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      22 months ago from Florida

      It won't hurt to try deworming again. Hope that's all it is!

    • profile image

      Velvet Tx 

      22 months ago

      I have a cat. Dnt know age..he showed up at my door..scared me so bad. His eyes were blood red no hair. He disappeared then showed back up a few days later on my step almost dead.. I noticed then he had been thrown into a fire..hence no hair.. I took him in and fed him with a a 10mill syringe

      Got him back. I started cleaning the burns and made a salve..I'm a FF/medic so I knew the treatment from working in the burn unit.. 3 mths later he is getting his hair back slowly.. Which I'm amazed with his burns this would even happen..he's amazing. You can tell he was a house cat. So loving and trained.. My issue is his swollen belly. I wormed him. Seem to help a little. Should I do this again.. My vet is amazed he's still alive. He's not fixed ..which I will have done...dnt think he's there yet.. Any advice..

    • profile image

      Sherry 

      23 months ago

      I've been searching or answers online all day trying to figure out what's wrong with my Jezebel. She has swollen abdomen, blackening around a few of her teets, and she hasn't had a bowel movement in a few days. She still urinates though. She prefers to drink water moreso than eat, though she will take small bites of food. Are changes in stool habits a sign of cancer as well? I pray to God it isn't cancer cause I can't bear to lose her. She's been with me for almost 14 years. She has a vet appt Thursday and I'm afraid I'm going to drive myself crazy with worry till then.

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      23 months ago from Florida

      I debated having one of mine drained. The vet said sometimes it comes back within hours. Basically I was comfortable with not putting them down until they seems to be hurting. If you're unsure maybe seek a second opinion from a different vet?

    • profile image

      Profe 

      23 months ago

      My 6 year old cat got fatter overnight - always a thin cat, one morning he was fat. He struggled for a few days but now seems used to it. Eating, climbing stairs, laying around a bit more than normal but otherwise okay. The vet thought that we should put him down this week but he doesn't seem to be in any pain. Shall I have him drained? They doubted that it would help and might hurt him. So very strange...ideas?

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      24 months ago from Florida

      That's the best thing you can do. That will give you the answers. And if it is a worst case scenario you can prepare for that and give them love for as long as you can.

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      24 months ago from Florida

      Unfortunately this is what happened to my beloved siamese at about the same age. If it is cancer it's very hard to treat in cats. The only way to know for sure is to take it into a vet. Best of luck.

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      24 months ago from Florida

      So, so hard to go through this. It sounds like Smoochy has lived a good long life full of love. He will pass away knowing that he was loved and you can take comfort in that. Just keep him as comfortable as possible and give him lots of love.

    • profile image

      Kristen 

      2 years ago

      My cat Montana has a distended abdomen. Taking him tomorrow to vets. Eating and drinking. No vomit or diarrhea but has lost weight

    • profile image

      Sunita 

      2 years ago

      Hi. My cat is above fifteen years old.. N has a swollen abdomen which appeared in one week.. Appetite OK n walking properly. But day by day she is increasing n becoming larger in abdomen only.. Suggest remedies..

    • profile image

      mal 

      2 years ago

      Our smoochy of 16 years has ad 1 heart attack back 7 months ago and now developed enlarged stomach due to some intestinal problem ..He has used up his 9 lives ,So i think he is dying but naturally and still happy comes for pats.

      i suspect cancer but will take him to the vet if he becomes really crook.

      very sad.

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      2 years ago from Florida

      Jackie R. It's so hard. I still miss my cat that passed from cancer over two years ago. He was so wonderful and so special. Nothing will ever replace him. Your Babi knows that you love her and she will spend whatever time she has left loving you and being loved.

      After my cat passed, I went to the shelter and adopted a "troubled" 4 year old that had issues that made him less than adoptable. I did it as a tribute to my other cat---not to replace him but to know that in honor of him I made a difference and a dent in the staggering population of homeless pets.

      Keep your Babi close and help her as she has helped you. It's hard. I know. But it can also be a beautiful part of pet ownership--to help them live peacefully when they are old, sick or both and help them leave us with grace and dignity.

      I'll be thinking about you.

    • profile image

      Jackie R. 

      2 years ago

      Thank you for writing this article. You just described my almost 16 y/o cat 'Babi' in the last 'worst case' scenario. Im nervous to know what's wrong not sure I can take it. She has been by my side for 16 years since I was a teen. Its because of her I get through the tough days and look forward to the next. I know the time will come but I've tried to do everything to keep her healthy so she can live the longest.

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      3 years ago from Florida

      If the swelling is relatively quick it's likely a medical condition that needs to be checked out by a vet. Best of luck to your Alley.

    • profile image

      claudio 

      3 years ago

      My cat (Alley) developed the same symptoms as Renee, is it fatal?

      Alley is about 13 yrs old she does go out but is mainly in the house. I thought maybe she might of eaten something that cause her stomach to swell. Is that possible?

    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      3 years ago from Florida

      So sorry about your cat, Renee. I sent you an email.

    • profile image

      Renee K. 

      3 years ago

      My cat, "Bobby-Joe" is part federal and I found her when she was an estimated, 4 days old! I took her in and took care of her with bottle feeding for 6 weeks. She will never go with anyone but myself and has hidden a lot al of her 15 years of life. Bobby-Jo is very lovable with me but is skittish with everyone but the love she gives me is undeniable appreciative thanks. She has developed a very distended abdomen but doesn't seen to have any difficulties with lethargy or lack of appetite. She allows me to squeeze it gently and is very active. My question is , is there anything I cN do at home because unfortunately I'm going thei very hard time Nd absolutely no funds to take her to the vet. I'm not asking for anything but advise so if someone has some to offer I Wilson happily attempt to help my baby. I do not want to put her to sleep forever because she still acts the same as if nothing is wrong. My vet has offered to urbanize at a very reduced rate but I don't think at this time there are enough symptoms. Of. Purse I refuse to allow her to live in pain for Any length of time I just need some advise! Ease help if u can and thank yo in advance. Renee K. My email is.. Babybellla@ gmail.com or cell is 203-383-9786.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      4 years ago from San Diego California

      I don't own a cat, but I see a lot of fat cats while delivering the mail. This sheds some new light on why they may be so portly. Great hub!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      Good information. I have 3 indoor cats and will keep an eye on them. So far no swollen bellies, just a saggy belly on one of my girl kitties. That sometimes happens to cats who have been spayed and don't play as much as they did when they were younger.

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