Diaphragmatic Hernia in Cats
Dr. Cathy Reese
The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the abdominal organs from the heart and lungs, and when the diaphragm contracts, air enters the lungs. A defect in the diaphragm allows abdominal organs such as the liver, stomach and intestines to enter the chest cavity. These organs then sit in the space between the lungs and the body wall and can compress the lungs, making it difficult for them to expand normally. This can cause difficulty breathing. However, some animals may only exhibit vomiting or other signs related to compromise of the organ that has herniated into the chest. Some animals show no signs related to the hernia and it is only noted on physical examination, when radiographs are taken, or at surgery. Difficulty breathing
Diaphragmatic hernias may be either congenital, which are present at birth due to abnormal development of the diaphragm, or traumatic, which are a result of an injury such as being hit by a car, falling from a height or being kicked. The latter is more common.
What to Watch For
Other symptoms that can occur depending on what organs are trapped in the chest include:
Not eating at all (anorexia)
Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize a diaphragmatic hernia. Tests may include:
A complete medical history and physical examination
Radiographs (X-rays) of the chest and abdomen
Abdominal ultrasound to determine if abdominal organs are in the chest and to note tears in the diaphragm
Blood tests, especially if your pet has been hit by an automobile, had other trauma, or is obviously ill and is vomiting, collapsed, or in a state of shock
Emergency stabilization of your pet may be necessary if he has been hit by a car or had other trauma. This may include intravenous (IV) fluids, steroids, antibiotics or other medications.
Oxygen therapy may be recommended
Sometimes it is helpful to keep the animal's front-end elevated to allow gravity to push the abdominal organs back.
Once your pet is stable, often at least 24 hours after the trauma, surgical repair of the hernia is done.
To reduce the likelihood of your pet developing a traumatic diaphragmatic hernia, keep your cat indoors. The most common cause of diaphragmatic hernia, and other very serious injuries, is trauma caused by a motor vehicle accident.
Contact your veterinarian immediately if your cat has been injured or if you notice any abnormal signs.