Abdominal Pain in Cats

Abdominal pain in cats

The abdomen is located between the chest and the pelvis and contains many internal organs including the liver, spleen, gallbladder, pancreas and kidneys. Pain within the abdomen can have many causes, all of which should be investigated by a veterinarian.

What causes abdominal pain in cats?

  • Ascites is the accumulation of fluid within the abdominal cavity.
  • Campylobacteriosis – A bacterial infection which can be transmitted from cats to humans.
  • Cancer – A number of cancers can affect the abdominal cavity causing pain.
  • Constipation – Difficulty passing feces.
  • Feline infectious peritonitis – A fatal viral infection caused by the coronavirus.
  • Pancreatitis – Inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Dietary intolerance – Intolerances can lead to a build up of gasses in the stomach, resulting in pain and flatulence.
  • Intestinal obstruction – Due to dietary indiscretion (which is less common in cats than it is in dogs), cancer, hairballs.
  • Kidney stones – Rock like formations in the kidneys.
  • Intussusception (telescoping of the intestines) – This life threatening condition occurs when the intestines fold in on themselves, common causes include linear foreign object such as string, parasitic worms, tumour and infection.
  • Giardia – A microscopic parasite that colonises the small intestines.
  • Poisoning – Many poisons can lead to abdominal pain in cats. Common causes of poisoning include antifreeze, rat poison, toxic plants, aspirin, chocolate.
  • Peritonitis – Inflammation of the peritoneum, which is the thin tissue lining the abdomen.
  • Pyometra – Bacterial infection of the uterus.
  • Ruptured bladder – Usually the result of a blunt force trauma or a urinary blockage.
  • Salmonellosis – Bacterial infection causing inflammation of the intestinal wall.
  • Urinary obstruction

How do you know if your cat has abdominal pain?

Symptoms of abdominal pain may not always be apparent, a hunched over appearance and/or pain when being touched in the abdominal area are both worrisome. Other symptoms may vary depending on the underlying cause.

  • A cat with giardia will have diarrhea, a cat with kidney stones may have difficulty urinating, a constipated cat may strain in the litter tray.
  • Cats with intussusception have vomiting, loss of appetite and diarrhea.
  • Viral, bacterial and parasitic infections (such as giardia) commonly cause vomiting and diarrhea. Giardia can produce foul-smelling, frothy feces.
  • Symptoms of poisoning vary depending on the type of toxin ingested. Your cat may appear confused, foam at the mouth, vomit, have seizures.
  • Cancer symptoms can often be vague but may include loss of appetite, blood in feces, loss of appetite, change in toileting habits (constipation, diarrhea), loss of appetite.

How is the cause of abdominal pain diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you. He will want to know how long your cat has had a painful abdomen, have you noticed other symptoms, what food is he eating, has he possibly eaten something he shouldn’t have? Diagnostic tests will depend on the suspected cause but may include:

  • Abdominal ultrasound and/or x-ray to check the organs for tumours, kidney stones, rupture, inflammation.
  • Barium x-ray may be necessary. Barium, which is a contrast material that coats the inside of the intestines, is mixed with food or water which is swallowed by your cat. Your veterinarian will then take several x-rays over the next few hours to see your cat’s intestines. This can be a helpful diagnostic tool for intestinal blockages.
  • Complete blood count, biochemical profile, and urinalysis to check organ function, for signs of infection and/or inflammation.
  • Fecal tests to check for parasites.
  • Biopsy.
  • Peritoneal fluid analysis – To determine the type of fluid within the abdomen (if present).

How is  abdominal pain treated?

Treatment depends on what has caused the painful abdomen in the first place and may include:

  • Antibiotics to treat bacterial infections.
  • Spaying and antibiotics to treat pyometra.
  • Surgery to remove any cancers, tumours and blockages.
  • Supportive care such as fluids to treat dehydration, pain relief, anti-nausea medication.
  • Antibiotics or anti-parasitics to treat giardia.
  • Treatment for poisoning depends on the toxin ingested but may include gastric emptying (if ingestion was recent), activated charcoal, medications to control seizures, vitamin K will be administered if rat poisoning has occurred, ethanol for antifreeze.
  • Removal of the fluid from the abdominal cavity (abdominocentesis) and diuretics to treat ascites, along with addressing the underlying cause.
  • Viral infections such as FIP are mostly treated by offering supportive care, unfortunately, the mortality rate for this particular infection is very high.
  • A ruptured bladder will need to be surgically repaired.

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