What are The Causes of Ascites in Cats?

Many people may be familiar with the most common medical term for swelling which occurs when there is a fluid buildup inside the body. Some people experience swollen ankles or hands, for example, and this is often called edema. But there is a specific term used when fluid builds up in the stomach, and it is ascites. When it happens in cats, they may become sensitive when their belly is rubbed, or they may have trouble breathing. Other common symptoms of excess fluid in a cat’s abdomen could be a weight gain, or large shifts in appetite, temperature, or changes in litter box habits. The main reason to be very concerned when a cat has ascites is that it is frequently just one symptom of a more serious disease or illness. There are several common ones which every cat parent should know.

These include:

Physical trauma

When a cat’s body is injured, its internal organs can be damaged. A tear or a rupture in an organ can cause hemorrhaging of fluids the organs either use or process and blood. These liquids leak into the abdomen where they don’t belong. The peritoneum, which is the name for the cat’s lining of its abdomen, can become irritated and releases extra fluid, which causes the swelling. Any time a cat is physically abused or has been in an accident it can suffer from these issues. Seeing swelling is a sign that the cat should be seen by a veterinarian to determine the cause.

Right-sided heart failure

Whenever the right side of the heart is unable to function properly, the amount of fresh and oxygen filled blood which a cat’s body needs for good health is not available. There are several potential causes of this condition, which is called congestive heart failure or CHF. The heart may be diseased with a thickened heart muscle. This is called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The heart may be infected with heartworms, or the cat may have high blood pressure. CHF is most often seen in senior cats, but it can also be genetic and crop up in younger cats. The reason that it leads to ascites is because the cat’s heart is struggling to distribute blood throughout its body, and the symptom of swelling appears also in the cat’s abdomen.

Heartworms are a parasite of the blood which is spread by mosquitoes. Cats can be infested with the microscopic larvae which then grow in to mature worms which are five to eight inches long. They live in the heart and the arteries which lead into the cat’s lungs. Heartworms live about two years inside the cat and then die. When they die, they decompose and can cut off the blood supply to the lungs or cause severe lung inflammation. Cats with heartworms can die very quickly at this point, which is why regular preventive medicines for heartworms should be used.

High blood pressure can affect kidneys or thyroid and these are times when these affected organs can cause related swelling. Taking a cat’s blood pressure is difficult, but it should be done for aging cats, in particular.

Abdominal organ failure

The three main suspects to consider are the bladder, kidneys, and liver, because these organs are vital for converting and metabolizing nutrients, for filtrating and waste removal processes. Anytime the liver or kidneys fail or rupture the fluid they release into the cat’s abdomen can quickly become septic. There are many reasons for kidney and liver failure, such as infections, ingesting toxic chemicals or poison, heat stroke, or dysfunctions of the cat’s metabolism. A urinary tract infection can lead to blockages or ruptures and the bladder will release urine into the abdomen causing an irritated peritoneum and further swelling due to increase fluids released. Surgery done soon enough may be able to resolve serious ruptures. Medications can be used to treat bacterial infections.

Feline infectious peritonitis

Feline infectious peritonitis or FIP is caused by a virus that inflames the lining of the cat’s abdomen. The virus lives in white blood cells. It can affect the kidneys when it mutates and becomes active. It’s dangerous, difficult to diagnose, and often can only be relieved rather than cured. What this means is the cat may only be kept as comfortable as possible.


Abdominal cancer treatments and recovery are based on how advanced the cancer is when it is diagnosed.

Because there are many reasons for excess fluid to build up, ascites in cats requires accurate diagnosis of the cause. The condition really can’t be treated properly unless the veterinarian examines the cat’s stomach and conducts several tests. These might include blood, urine, ultrasounds, and X-rays. All of these can help to pinpoint which organ might be affected and give information about infections or chemical imbalances. The root cause of the ascites must be determined before the correct treatment is begun.

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