Peritonitis in Cats
Acute pain in the abdomen due to sudden inflammation of the abdominal tissues, or peritoneum, is medically referred to as peritonitis. It causes fluid to shift into the peritoneal cavity, leading to severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. This disorder may be due to infectious causes such as the stomach flu or non-infectious causes such as a hernia.
While younger cats tend to have peritonitis due to infectious and traumatic causes, malignant cancers are more often the cause of acute abdomen in older cats. It is crucial to determine the underlying cause of the acute abdomen, as your veterinarian may have to perform emergency surgery to resolve it.
Symptoms and Types
- Crying, Whimpering
- Abnormal posture (i.e., may be “guarding” the stomach by curling up, or leaning forward with back end higher in attempt to relieve pain
- Heavy breathing
- Swollen abdomen (may be rigid to the touch
Diarrhea, which may be black (also known as melena)
- May have vomiting if the stomach or intestines are involved
- Holes in the cat’s stomach lining
- Viruses of the stomach or intestinal tract
- Feline infectious peritonitis virus
- Viral enteritis (stomach flu)
- Parasites of the stomach or intestines
- Bacterial infection of the uterus
- Abscesses of the liver, spleen, and/or pancreas
- Congenital Defects
- Trauma to the abdomen, possibly involving rupture of organs (hernia)
- Rupturing of the ureters (tubes which carry urine), bladder or of a pregnant uterus
- Congenital hernia causing entrapment of organs
- Obstruction of the urethra or ureters
- Kidney or gallbladder obstruction (e.g., calculi deposits)
- Gastric dilation and volvulus (rare in cats)
Your veterinarian will need a complete medical history to begin to identify what is causing the acute abdomen. The history you provide may give your veterinarian clues as to which organs are causing the sudden abdominal pain in your cat. He or she will also perform a complete physical examination to see if the pain is really in the abdomen and not the kidneys or back. If your cat has a swollen abdomen, your veterinarian will use a fine needle to withdraw some of the fluid from the abdomen to send to the laboratory for analysis.
A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel and a urinalysis. Your veterinarian may also use a syringe to take urine from your cat to be sent to a lab for examination.
Your veterinarian will need to use visual diagnostics to examine the abdomen internally. X-rays and ultrasound will be used to locate the source of the disturbance in the abdomen.
The course of treatment will depend on the diagnosis. However, surgery is often necessary. Intravenous fluid therapy is usually required, as animals with acute abdomen are usually dehydrated, and this can quickly become a life threatening condition. Pain medication may be prescribed as well, to give your cat some relief.
Medicines can be used to decrease stomach acids and coat the stomach, depending on the cause of the disease. Likewise, if the disease so indicates, your cat may be given medicine to stop the vomiting and antibiotics to inhibit bacterial infection.
Living and Management
Acute abdomen is generally an indicator of a serious disease requiring intensive care under the supervision of a veterinarian. Several days of care are typical; in some cases, an animal may have to remain in ICU (intensive care unit) for prolonged periods.
After taking your cat home, give all of the prescribed medications exactly as your veterinarian instructs, for the entire amount of time that has been prescribed, even after the symptoms have passed and your cat appears to have fully recovered. Observe your cat closely for any changes. If you see swelling, pus, or if you have questions, call your doctor immediately, as this can turn into a life threatening condition quickly.
Follow-up appointments with your veterinarian are essential to assure that your cat’s condition is improving.
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