Possible Reasons Why Your Cat Has a Swollen Abdomen or Belly

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?

  • Suspected Overweight
  • Diagnosed Overweight
  • Suspected Internal Organ Issues
  • Diagnosed Internal Organ Issues
  • Suspected Infection
  • Diagnosed Infection
  • Suspected Cancer
  • Diagnosed Cancer
  • Other Issue
  • My cat does not have a swollen abdomen at this time.
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Comments 14 comments

bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 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.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 2 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!

Renee K. 20 months 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@ or cell is 203-383-9786.

LCDWriter profile image

LCDWriter 20 months ago from Florida Author

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

claudio 12 months 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 image

LCDWriter 12 months ago from Florida Author

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.

Jackie R. 6 months 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 image

LCDWriter 6 months ago from Florida Author

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.

mal 3 weeks 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.

Sunita 2 weeks 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..

Kristen 13 days ago

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

LCDWriter profile image

LCDWriter 25 hours ago from Florida Author

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.

LCDWriter profile image

LCDWriter 25 hours ago from Florida Author

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 image

LCDWriter 25 hours ago from Florida Author

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.

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