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Diaphragmatic Hernia in Cats

hernia in catsAlso known just as a hernia, a diaphragmatic hernia (DH) is a defect or tear in the diaphragm, which in turn allows the abdominal contents such as the liver or intestines to enter the chest cavity. This may either be a congenital abnormality (present at birth), or the result of trauma, such as that in a car accident or fall from a high building. When this happens, pressure is applied to the lungs, resulting in difficulty breathing.

The diaphragm (also known as the 'thoracic diaphragm') is a sheet of muscle which separates the chest cavity (containing the heart and lungs) from the and the abdominal cavity (containing liver, gallbladder, stomach, kidneys, small intestine, large intestine, pancreas). It contracts and expands to draw air into, and out of the lungs.

In mild cases, the cat may stabilise in a few days and clinical signs may disappear or only be associated with increased activity. This is known as the chronic form.

What are the symptoms of a diaphragmatic hernia in cats?

  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • Tachypnea (increased respiration)
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Lethargy
  • Muffled heart and lung sounds


These are all common signs of a diaphragmatic hernia, however, other symptoms may present, depending on which organs have become trapped inside the chest cavity. These may include:

How is a diaphragmatic hernia diagnosed in cats?

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you. A diaphragmatic hernia would be suspected if the cat has recently been involved in a recent car accident or fallen from a height. The abdominal cavity may feel empty upon palpitation.

Some tests he may wish to perform include:

Abdominal and chest radiographs: These may show organs in the chest, loss of the diaphragmatic line.

How is a diaphragmatic hernia treated?

If the cat has had a recent trauma then it must be stabilised before treatment can commence. This may involve treating for shock, managing concurrent injuries, IV fluids, thoracentesis (removal of fluid from the space between the lungs and the chest cavity, known as the pleura). Confinement in an oxygen tent may also be necessary.

Once stabilisation has occurred surgical repair of the diaphragm.

If your cat has been involved in an incident such as a car trauma, fall from a height or been kicked it is vital you seek veterinary attention immediately, even if the cat appears to be well.

Also see:

Cat symptoms