Hernias in cats

Hernias in cats happen when soft tissues or organs are in the wrong place. Hernias are rare in cats and usually happen as birth defects. Other causes include trauma and pregnancy. There are different types of hernias, and some cause more severe problems than others. Cats of any breed or sex can get hernias. 


Hernias in cats happen when pieces of tissue or organ push through a gap or tear in a muscle wall. Some appear as lumps on the tummy under the skin. Others are inside the body, so are often only identified when they make your cat unwell. Sometimes very small hernias are not immediately dangerous. Others are life-threatening and need an urgent operation to repair them. Always ask a vet to check lumps or swellings on your cat’s tummy.


What are hernias in cats?

A hernia is a piece of tissue or organ that has moved into the wrong place. Hernias happen when there’s a gap in the muscle wall that lines your cat’s chest cavity or abdomen.

An organ or tissue may move:

  • From one body cavity to another, for example, from the abdomen to the chest.
  • From inside the abdomen to outside of the body, for example, from the abdomen to under the skin.


90% of hernias are present at birth. Others result from:

  • Trauma: car accidents and blunt trauma.
  • Stretching and weakening of muscles that can happen in advanced pregnancy.
  • Age-related weakness and change.


There are 5 different types of hernia

Umbilical Hernia

  • The most common hernia. Usually present from birth.
  • Appears as a bulge at your cat’s belly button, underneath the tummy, just behind the ribs.
  • Usually soft and sometimes slips back in when your cat lies on their back.
  • Contains some fat from inside the abdomen.
  • Some small ones close as your kitten grows to 3 or 4 months old.
  • Larger hernias may include loops of bowel if the muscle gap is big enough.

Diaphragmatic hernia

  • The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle which separates the tummy from the chest.
  • A hole or tear in the diaphragm allows the liver, stomach and intestines to push through into the chest.
  • 85% of diaphragmatic hernias result from road accidents or a blow to the abdomen.
  • Nothing is visible outside the body.

Hiatal Hernia

  • Also involves the diaphragm.
  • Stomach or liver push into the chest through a weakness where the oesophagus (food pipe/gullet) crosses the diaphragm.

Perineal Hernia

  • A split in the muscle wall separating the back part of the abdomen from the rectum.
  • Bladder, prostate or anal gland sacs may slip through.
  • Poo may accumulate inside a bulge in the rectum next to the tear.
  • Sometimes visible as a bulge under the tail. Close to your cat’s bottom.

Inguinal Hernia

  • The inguinal canal is a small gap in the body wall where the tummy joins up with the back legs.
  • Fat, bladder, bowel or womb (females) can slip through when the entrance becomes weak and enlarged.
  • Appears as a bulge in the groin area.


How can I tell if my cat has a hernia?

Symptoms of hernias in cats depend on:

  • Where the hernia is.
  • How big it is.
  • The tissue or organs involved.
  • Whether the hernia is trapped or free to move.
  • Whether the blood supply is cut off because the hernia is trapped. This is called strangulation.

Umbilical hernia

  • Appears as a soft swelling at the belly button.
  • Most cause no symptoms.
  • May vary in size if tissue moves in and out through the gap.
  • Strangulated hernias become swollen, red and hot. Later becoming cold and purple. Can lead to life-threatening illness and cause vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, shock and collapse.

Diaphragmatic hernia

  • Difficulty breathing: hernia takes up space in the chest cavity, leaving less room for the lungs to expand.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing: your cat may hold their head and neck forward to get in more air.
  • Vomiting and regurgitation after eating: food can’t get to the displaced stomach or the stomach doesn’t have space to fill up.
  • Losing weight and an empty-looking tummy.
  • Small hernias cause mild symptoms, often only during exercise.
  • Larger hernias result in severe breathing difficulties and gastrointestinal problems.

Hiatal hernia

  • Vomiting, regurgitation, drooling saliva, and difficulty breathing.
  • Symptoms often only come on with exercise.

Perineal hernia

  • Often result in difficulties pooing, peeing or constipation.
  • Appearance of a bulge under the skin, near the bum. It may become more obvious when straining to poo. Gets bigger over time as poo builds up inside.
  • Rapidly life threatening if the bladder becomes trapped.

Inguinal hernia

  • A swelling between the inner thigh and abdomen.
  • Complicated ones cause pain, and then more severe symptoms of illness, such as vomiting, fever, diarrhoea, vaginal discharge in females, shock and collapse.


Which cats are most at risk of hernias?

Most hernias are present at birth and are the result of inherited tendencies.

Cats at greatest risk include:

  • Any kitten born to a parent with a hernia.
  • Any kitten whose littermates have a hernia.

Later development risks:

  • Cats who are more at risk of road accidents: going outdoors, living close to roads.
  • Rapid change in body shape: late pregnancy, obesity.
  • Perineal hernias: middle age to older cats


How do vets diagnose hernias in cats?

Physical exam: Umbilical and inguinal hernias are usually visible and can be felt by you and your vet.


  • X-rays: to look inside the body. Particularly useful for diaphragmatic and hiatal hernias.
  • Contrast x-rays: barium studies. Allow your vet to see where food goes when it’s swallowed.
  • Fluoroscopy: Moving x-rays while your cat eats; the vet can follow where the food goes in real time.
  • Ultrasound scan: Can identify loops of bowel in umbilical and inguinal hernias.

Vet treatment

What’s the treatment for hernias in cats?

Close monitoring:

  • Only for very small umbilical hernias.
  • Regular vet checks are essential.


  • Returning the herniated tissues or organs to the right place.
  • Tidying up and repairing the hole in the muscle.
  • Placing a mesh over large gaps or muscle tears to help the muscle heal across it.


Home treatment

How to care for a cat with a hernia at home

There are no home remedies for hernias. A cat with a hernia needs to see a vet for assessment and treatment.

If monitoring a small umbilical hernia, monitor carefully for:

  • Increasing size: it may help to measure the hernia with a ruler and record the size for comparison over time.
  • Changing texture: if the hernia becomes harder or has a bubbly or fluidly feel, it may contain a piece of intestine.
  • Changing colour: normal flesh colour to red, purple or puce.
  • Discomfort or pain



How to prevent hernias in cats

  • If kittens or cats have a hernia from birth, it’s too late to prevent it for that individual.
  • Hernias are inherited: the parents producing a litter of kittens with hernias should not breed again.


Hernias developing later in life:

  • Prevent obesity: keep your cat physically fit and in a healthy body condition.
  • Reduce risks of trauma: consider keeping your cat indoors if you live near a busy road.


When to worry

When to worry about hernias in cats

See a vet if:

  • You notice a lump or swelling at your cat’s tummy button or in their groin for the first time.
  • An existing lump is growing or changing in any way.
  • Your cat drools or regurgitates at exercise, or develops rapid shallow breathing.
  • Your cat is regularly regurgitating food and/or losing weight.
  • Your cat has a bulge near their anus (bum) and/or is struggling to poo.


Contact your nearest vet if:

  • Your cat is unwell and an existing swelling is red, hot and painful.
  • Your cat develops breathing difficulties after a recent blow or car accident.


Joii can help with advice on:

  • Weight management and preventing obesity
  • Health before and during pregnancy
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