Overview of Ascites in Cats
Ascites is the abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity. The volume of the fluid can be quite subtle, or it may be significant, causing distention of the abdomen. Ascites has many causes, most of which can be very serious. In cats, ascites is caused by the leakage of fluid into the abdomen from blood vessels, lymphatics, internal organs or abdominal masses.
Below is an overview about ascites in cats followed by in-depth information about the causes, diagnosis and treatment of this condition.
Causes of Ascites in Cats
What to Watch For
Diagnosis of Ascites in Cats
Certain diagnostic tests must be performed for a definitive diagnosis of the underlying cause of ascites. The following tests should be considered:
Based on the results of these initial tests, further diagnostics might include:
Treatment of Ascites in Cats
An accurate diagnosis is needed for proper therapy. Pending a definitive diagnosis, certain treatments may be appropriate:
Keep your pet calm and minimize stress. Make sure your pet stays warm and provide fresh water if your pet wants to drink. Seek veterinary care immediately if your pet is having trouble breathing or is extremely weak.
In-depth Information on Ascites in Cats
Ascites, itself, usually does not cause a problem, but the primary disease process causing the ascites can be a serious condition. Ascites is usually produced slowly and in small amounts; however, if a large amount of fluid is produced, or rapidly produced, an emergency situation may exist. Large amounts of free fluid in the abdomen may compress the diaphragm, leading to respiratory compromise and difficulty breathing. Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence.
Another potential emergency situation is the rapid onset of ascites. If the ascites develops quickly, it is often associated with profound weakness or shock. The loss of intravascular (within the blood vessels) blood volume may lead to acute anemia and shock as fluid leaves the blood vessels and moves freely into the abdominal cavity. The most common cause of such an event is the rupture of a blood vessel within the abdominal cavity. Bleeding tumors within the abdomen or traumatic injury are likely causes.
Most of the time, the fluid buildup is more gradual and an emergency situation is not present. Any amount of ascites is a significant finding, however, and steps should be taken to find a diagnosis. Ascites has many different causes and establishing a diagnosis is usually not difficult. A good physical exam, basic blood tests and evaluation of the ascitic fluid often lead to the diagnosis, or they provide a direction upon which further diagnostics need to be done.
Causes of Ascites in Cats
Hypoalbuminemia Causes of Ascites in Cats
Hypoalbuminemia is a decrease in serum albumin levels. Albumin is available through the diet, but it is also produced in the liver. The kidney functions to maintain albumin concentration in the plasma by preventing its excretion in the urine. Normal gastrointestinal function is needed for proper absorption. Albumin is responsible for much of the colloidal osmotic pressure of the blood, and thus is an important factor in regulating the exchange of water between the plasma and the interstitial compartment (space between the cells). Decreases in the albumin level (usually under 1.5 gm/dl) lead to a pressure gradient that causes fluid to leak out of the blood vessels, producing ascites.