Possible Reasons Why Your Cat Has a Swollen Abdomen or Belly
If your cat has a swollen abdomen, also known as ascites, 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 illness and will try to keep any sickness a secret.
5 Reasons Your Cat's Belly Could Be Swollen
- Being overweight in general
- Internal Organ Failure
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.
1. 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.
- 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 to ensure 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 increase 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.
A swollen belly is always a cause for concern, and your cat should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Several health conditions including heart failure, severe infections, cancer, and hemorrhage can result in fluid buildup in the abdomen. These are all serious and life-threatening problems.— Megan Teiber, Veterinarian at Tuft and Paw
2. Is the Swollen Belly Due to Heart, 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 is not functioning properly, the distended abdomen may be a sign of that issue.
Kidney failure is both acute or chronic. Acute kidney failure can be anything from a blockage in a male cat (a urethral blockage); chronic kidney problems can result from conditions like untreated hyperthyroidism. Special diets will be low in phosphorous and protein. Other symptoms can include weight loss, lack of appetite, and lethargy.
- 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 is a cure, but rather a way to give you and your cat a little more time with each other.
The best way to provide relief for a cat with ascites is to have the excess fluid drained by your veterinarian. This is a temporary measure, because in most cases the fluid will return until the underlying cause of ascites is addressed. Your vet can also prescribe safe and appropriate pain medications if necessary. Aspirin, Tylenol, and other over-the-counter pain medications for humans are very toxic to cats, so it is important to never give any medications without consulting with a vet.— Megan Teiber, Veterinarian at Tuft and Paw
3. 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 (FIP). 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.
FIP results from a mutation in the coronavirus and usually affects cats between six months and two years of age. Some clinical trials give us hope for a cure for FIP, so, while it is often fatal, this is not always the case.
- 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.
- 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.
4. 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.
- With feline cancers, prognoses will vary. Although there are treatment plans available and even chemo for cats, most cats do not actually respond very well to treatment. Available cancer treatments for cats are 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 discomfort 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 four 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.
5. Does Your Cat Have Parasites?
This is the most common reason for ascites in younger cats/kittens. Cats may also become infected by eating flies or cockroaches that carry Isospora cysts. Isospora infections usually cause no problems in adult cats but can cause significant disease in younger cats or kittens. The coccidia may, in fact, destroy the lining of the intestine and could cause mucousy diarrhea. Cats are also at high risk for tapeworms. Symptoms of a tapeworm infection can be subtle. They include vomiting and weight loss. The easiest way to tell if your cat has tapeworms is to look at its feces. Tapeworms often come out of your cat's anus while it is sleeping or very relaxed.
- Have your cat examined at least annually by your veterinarian and include a complete history.
- Have heartworm tests conducted periodically.
- Provide pets cooked or prepared food (not raw meat) and fresh, potable water.
- Conduct fecal examinations two to four times during the first year of life and one to two times each year for adults, depending on the pet’s health and lifestyle factors.
- Administer anthelmintic treatment to puppies and kittens starting at two weeks of age repeating every two weeks until eight weeks of age, followed by monthly treatments as a preventive.
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.
FAQ About Common Health Problems in Cats
Is it normal for a kitten to have a bloated belly?
A swollen stomach is the most obvious symptoms of ascites. That said, a dramatic shift in appetite, weight, body temperature, excremental function, or physical sensitivity on or around the belly could indicate excess abdominal fluid. The most common causes are overeating or gorging, worms (parasites—a standard deworming protocol can help reduce this), and occasionally FIP.
What causes fluid in a cat's abdomen?
Ascites, which is also known as abdominal effusion, is the medical term used to refer to the buildup of fluid in a creature's abdomen. This may cause symptoms such as vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and loss of appetite. A wide variety of causes may be responsible for ascites.
Most Common Health Problems in Cats
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms are usually obvious, and include drooling and abdominal heaving. Vomiting can quickly leave your cat dehydrated, so if kitty continues vomiting or acts ill, call your vet right away. It may help to collect a sample of your cat's vomit and take it with you to the vet.
Feed smaller meals or wet food if vomiting. Offer your cat plenty of fresh clean water. If vomiting continues, you'll need to bring your cat to the vet. Kittens, geriatrics, and diabetics should not be fasted.
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)
Not using the litter box or going in unusual places. Straining without producing urine – this could be serious if it means the urethra is blocked. Excessive and unrelenting licking of the genital area Blood in the urine.
Pain medication to bring relief while your cat heals Removing or pushing the blockage back into the bladder. Changing their diet Encouraging them to drink more water by positioning bowls throughout your home.
Persistent scratching. Patches of hair loss. Flea eggs in your pet’s hair Flea excretions, otherwise known as flea dirt.
Insecticides to treat the home and general areas Use flea-control products designed for cats only
Symptoms of a tapeworm infection can be subtle but may include vomiting and weight loss. The easiest way to tell if your cat has tapeworms is to look at its feces, around its anus and in bedding. Usually tapeworms come out of your cat's anus while it is sleeping or relaxed. If you see small white worms or what look like grains of rice or sesame seeds, your cat likely has tapeworms.
Treatment options include injection, oral, or topical medication. But because cats almost always get tapeworms as a result of swallowing a flea, be sure to handle any flea problems your cat has before tackling tapeworms.
Symptoms of diarrhea are loose, watery, or liquid stool. Depending on its cause, diarrhea can last for a day, a week, or months.
If your cat has diarrhea, offer kitty plenty of fresh, clean water to prevent dehydration. Then remove kitty's food for no more than 12 to 24 hours. Take your cat to the vet if he or she still has diarrhea after a day or immediately if you notice vomiting, dark, or bloody stools, fever, lethargy, or loss of appetite or if your cat is straining to defecate. Kittens, geriatrics, and diabetics should not be fasted.
symptoms that may mean your cat has eye problems include watery eyes, tear-stained fur, cloudiness, red or white eyelid linings, gunk in the corners of the eye, squinting, pawing at the eye, or a visible third eyelid.
Unless you know what's causing your cat's eye problems, there isn't much you can do other than call your vet. Eye problems should be considered an emergency so make appointment immediately.
Heartworm is less common in cats and many cats don’t often show outward signs or symptoms. When cats are symptomatic, they will experience bouts of coughing, respiratory problems, and vomiting.
Medication to reduce the inflammatory response. Surgery to remove the heartworms – a very risky procedure for your pet to endure.
Bad breath – could be from other digestive issues as well as gum problems. Changes in the way your cat chews Discolored, red, or swollen gums. Ulcers along the gumline or on the tongue. Loose or missing teeth. Excessive drooling. Constant pawing of their mouth.
Brush your cat’s teeth with a toothbrush at least monthly if not weekly. Use a toothpaste designed for cats Give your cat a chew toy or something that will exercise their teeth and gums Remove tartar before it hardens with regular cleaning.
Obvious limping or a change in the way they walk Not moving at all Avoiding high places or not jumping at all
Depending on the intensity of the fracture, your cat my need a cast, sutures, a splint, or, in some cases, amputation.
Sluggishness, being short of breath, and joint pain are all signs of obesity.
Spaying or Neutering your cat can decrease their appetite Increase their activities, even playing with them for 10-15 minutes a few times each day can help. Cut their overall calories and don’t leave food out.
A general decrease in appetite Unexplained and often rapid weight loss. Vomiting Lethargy and/or sleeping more than usual
Dialysis Kidney transplant.
Lfe-Threatening Myths and Misconceptions About Cats
It’s Fine to Smoke Around Cats.
Secondhand smoke poses a greater risk to cats than it does to people. Cats can suffer from oral cancer and malignant lymphoma as a result of passive smoking.
In fact, research shows that cats are particularly at risk because of their predilection for self-grooming. They also spend more time indoors and closer to carpets. This is where carcinogenic particles linger. There’s also evidence that suggests that cats may be at risk from the nicotine in e-cigarette smoke.
Cats Always Land on Their Feet.
This myth makes many people not worry about cats being in high places, but this is misguided. While it’s true that cats can twist acrobatically in mid-air so their feet land first, they don’t always manage to accomplish this. It depends on the angle and height of their descent.
Cats Only Eat as Much as They Need.
This is absolutely not true. In some countries, obese cats now outnumber their healthy counterparts. Some cats are greedy and will take every chance to eat. These cats go on to suffer the same weight gain issues as people. Overweight cats can go on to have diabetes and arthritis.
Cats That Don't Show Pain Aren’t Suffering.
There are other ways in which cats can be said to be suffering without showing physical pain. For example, a cat might be struggling from a shortness of breath due to the way they’ve been bred. Cats can also go through emotional pain or can have a neurological disorder that does not express itself in the normal ways in which cats show pain.
Cats Only Purr When They’re Happy.
While purring can be a sign of a happy cat, it’s not the only reason they make this noise. Cats will sometimes purr when they’re frightened, unwell, or in physical pain.
20 Cool Facts About Cats
- Cats are the most popular pet in the United States. In fact, there are 88 million pet cats in the U.S.
- There are cats who have survived falls from over 32 stories (320 meters) onto concrete. However, this is obviously not recommended.
- A group of cats is called a clowder.
- Cats have over 20 muscles that help control their ears.
- Most cats sleep 70% of their lives.
- In tigers and tabbies, the middle of the tongue is covered in backward-pointing spines, used for breaking off and gripping meat.
- When a cat grimaces, it is usually "taste-scenting." They can do this because they have an extra organ that, with some breathing control, allows the cats to taste-sense the air.
- Cats can't taste sweetness.
- Evidence suggests domesticated cats have been around since 3600 B.C., 2,000 years before Egypt's pharaohs.
- A cat's purr may be a form of self-healing, as it can be a sign of nervousness as well as contentment.
- Similarly, the frequency of a domestic cat's purr is the same at which muscles and bones repair themselves.
- The technical term for a hairball is a "trichobezoar."
- Female cats are typically right-pawed, while male cats are typically left-pawed.
- Cats make more than 100 different sounds.
- A cat's brain is about 90% similar to a human's.
- Cats and humans have nearly identical sections of the brain that control emotion.
- A cat's cerebral cortex (the part of the brain in charge of cognitive information processing) has 300 million neurons.
- Cats have a longer-term memory than dogs.
- Cats have a lower social IQ than dogs. However, they can solve more difficult cognitive problems when they feel like it.
- Cats are often lactose intolerant.
- "Bites, puncture wounds, and abscesses", John A. Bukowski and Susan E. Aiello, WebVet.com. 2009.
- "Parasites – Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma infection) Epidemiology & Risk Factors". March 26, 2015.
- "Stress and FLUTD". James Kyffin BVSc (Hons) MRCVS. 2015.
What Is the Reason for Your Cat's Swollen Belly?
- 20% Suspected Overweight
- 2% Diagnosed Overweight
- 19% Suspected Internal Organ Issues
- 3% Diagnosed Internal Organ Issues
- 16% Suspected Infection
- 2% Diagnosed Infection
- 21% Suspected Cancer
- 4% Diagnosed Cancer
- 10% Other Issue
- 2% My cat does not have a swollen abdomen at this time.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
My cat has developed a belly over time, but shows no other symptoms. She has an appointment with the vet next week. Should I take her in sooner?
If it's slow, it may be something such as overeating. If she is not showing any other signs of sickness, it's probably okay to wait.Helpful 30
Over the past month, my cat developed a big abdomen below the neck onwards. It's unable to move much, always seems to be very quiet and does not eat much. What could be the problem?
It sounds like your cat is very sick. I hope you can get it to a vet.Helpful 29
Over the past month, my cat of thirteen years has developed a distended rock hard abdomen with no loss of appetite, and her bowel movements are normal. Her coat also appears to be matted. Her appearance is that of a full term pregnant cat but she was spayed at eight-weeks-old. Do you have any advice about what this could be?
It sounds like she needs to be seen by a vet. She may have something simple like worms or something more serious such as a tumor. Get her checked out as soon as possible.Helpful 25
My 12-year-old cat developed a swollen belly overnight. I'm not sure if he ate all the food for the other cats, but he's skinny, and I noticed it right away. He still has a good appetite. What should I do?
A sudden swollen belly is not a good sign. I would try to get him to a vet as soon as possible.Helpful 8
Fixed my cat now her stomach is hard as a rock what causes that ?
This could be worms, gas, or a medical issues. If it continues, have a vet examine the stomach.Helpful 13