Ascites In Cats: What Should You Know About It?


Abdominal effusion or ascites in cats is a medical condition, which refers to the accumulation of fluid in the abdominal area of the cat. This might cause symptoms, including loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, as well as vomiting. A wide range of causes might be responsible for the ascites, hence treatments may vary accordingly. In this article, we will be discussing more about this feline condition –read on to this article and get to learn more about it.

Ascites in Cats: What is this feline condition?

If you notice swelling or tenderness in your cat’s abdomen, this could be a sign of fluid build up, which is indicative of an underlying health condition.

The buildup of fluids in the body is known as edema unless it occurs in the abdomen, in which case it is called ascites. Fluid buildup can put pressure on the cat’s stomach and chest, causing difficulty with eating or breathing. Ascites can be to a wide variety of health conditions ranging in severity, so although the fluid can be easily removed by a vet, treatment will focus on the cause of the fluid accumulation.

Causes of Ascites

Many different health illnesses may cause the fluid to start accumulating in the abdomen, most of these are serious and need an immediate attention of a veterinarian. Some of the maladies, which might cause the condition include:

  • Peritonitis or the inflammation of the abdominal lining
  • Nephritic syndrome
  • Cancer
  • Right-sided heart failure
  • Trauma
  • Abdominal organ failure

Symptoms of Ascites

The symptoms of ascites in cats may start in a slow manner, yet then accumulate over time as more fluid gathers in the abdominal area. The signs and symptoms the cat may exhibit may vary on the underlying cause of the accumulation of the fluid. Some of the symptoms that you might notice include the following:

  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abdominal pain

Prognosis of Ascites

Take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as you notice any symptoms of ascites. Discuss what symptoms you have noticed with the vet, and if your cat has experienced any physical trauma recently, be sure to mention this as well.

Although the vet should be able to identify excessive fluid in the abdomen just by feeling the area, more tests will need to be run to determine the cause. First, a urinalysis and chemistry profile will be performed to see how the liver and kidneys are functioning. An ultrasound of the abdomen may also be performed to take a closer look at the organs.

The vet may also need to remove a small sample of the fluid to look for the presence of bacteria or blood. This procedure is known as a peritoneal fluid analysis, and will help the vet get to the bottom of what is causing the buildup.

X-rays of the chest and abdomen may also be performed to look for signs of trauma or tumors. If the vet sees any masses, a biopsy may be required to determine if the tumor is cancerous.  Because partial heart failure could cause fluid buildup, the vet may also suggest an EKG to determine if the heart is functioning properly. The results of all of these tests will help the vet pinpoint the exact cause of the fluid buildup so he can create an effective treatment plan.

Treatment for Ascites

The treatment for ascites in cats is largely dependent on the underlying cause of the ascites. If symptoms are so severe that your cat is suffering, its abdomen may be tapped to remove fluid so that your cat is more comfortable. Corrective surgery may be necessary in some cases; for example, if a tumor is present or to control abdominal bleeding.

Treatment will first focus on making the cat more comfortable, and then will shift to treat the underlying cause of the fluid buildup. If the cat is struggling to breathe, a catheter will be placed into his abdomen to drain the fluid and allow him to breathe easier. The cat may be fitted with an oxygen mask during this time to help him breathe while the procedure takes place. 

Diuretics may also help with the fluid removal, however, these drugs can cause potassium levels in the blood to drop, which can lead to serious side effects.

After the fluid has been removed, the vet will need to treat the underlying cause to prevent it from building up again. Treatment will vary greatly depending on the cause. For example, peritonitis can be treated with antibiotics, however, a cancerous tumor may need to be removed via surgery. Surgery may also be required if the cause is a ruptured organ due to injury. Unfortunately, some causes of ascites are untreatable or very difficult to treat, including heart and liver failure. 


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