What Is Torsion in a Cat?

A veterinarian may a run a series of tests to check for torsions.
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When your cat's behavior and demeanor change suddenly, it's quite scary. It's especially troubling if there's nothing obviously wrong with him. One possible cause is a torsion, or twisting, of an internal organ. Torsions encompass a wide range of symptoms, but almost always require immediate medical treatment -- even surgery.

Definition and Delineation

Your cat has a torsion if any of his bodily organs twists on its own axis. It's usually just one organ, and causes, symptoms and treatments vary -- although most cause acute pain and serious complications. If left untreated, torsions can be terminal. If your cat's acting strange, looks to be in pain, or you suspect he has a torsion of any kind, visit a veterinarian or 24-hour pet emergency room as soon as possible.

Locations and Complications

Your cat's lungs and guts are two of the more common areas for torsions.

One of your cat's lung lobes may twist. Such a torsion can cause your cat's lung cavity to fill up with fluid, a condition called pleural effusion. A lung torsion can also cause blood flow to be cut off from other areas, causing necrosis and death of lung tissue, according to PetMD.

Splenic torsions involve your cat's spleen twisting around its own blood vessels. The cause is unknown, according to Vet Surgery Central, although it's believed to occur after stomach bloat or partial intermittent stomach twisting. It too can cause a range of complications. A gastric torsion -- that is, a twisted stomach -- is rare in cats, according to PetMD, and is strongly tied to splenic torsions.


Soreness to touch, weakness and lethargy are all general signs of torsions. Lung torsions cause labored breathing, among other, subtler signs. Symptoms of pleural effusion related to a lung lobe torsion include a range of breathing issues. Some have technical names -- dyspnea, tachypnea and orthopnea -- while others include "rapid, open-mouth breathing," according to VCA Animal Hospitals.

A splenic torsion can cause intermittent lack of appetite, vomiting, weight loss, red- to brown-colored urine, abdominal pain, pale gums, increased heart rate and an abdominal mass. Symptoms of the often related gastric torsion include a drum-like stomach, an inability to eat or drink, excessive drooling and dry heaving without vomiting.


Most torsions, regardless of their location or underlying cause, require immediate medical treatment that often includes the physical untwisting of the affected organs.

If complicated by pleural effusion, a cat with a lung torsion may have to have the fluid drained from his lungs via a procedure called thoracocentesis.

Once untwisted, the areas around lung, splenic and gastric torsions should return to normal. In some cases, however, necrotic or dead tissue may need to be removed. The extent and severity vary from case to case, animal to animal.

Your veterinarian will tell you about your cat's necessary follow-up treatments and checkups.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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