Liver disease in cats is hard to spot, so here’s what you need to know to get treatment for kitty as soon as possible


cat with liver disease being a pet sitting between the legs of a child

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Usually, liver disease in cats does not really have stages: it registers as a mild, moderate, or severe case. What’s confusing, according to Tarina L. Anthony, DVM, is that the symptoms are often subtle and nonspecific.

As a longtime practitioner of proprietary feline medicine, owner and medical director of Aurora Cat Hospital and Hotel in Aurora, Colorado, Anthony says early diagnosis of cat liver disease is essential to ensure that treatments can be started immediately.

Causes of liver disease in cats

The liver is the catalyst for many processes that keep your feline healthy, including blood clotting, detoxification, food metabolism, and bile production. If liver damage occurs in one way or another, liver disease is the result.

“Liver disease can be primary – a problem with the liver itself; or secondary – meaning the damage to the liver is secondary to another disease process,” explains Anthony.

Examples of primary liver disease are:

  • Cholangitis, which is inflammation of the liver and biliary system. The Cornell Feline Health Center reports that this condition, along with hepatic lipidosis (also known as fatty liver disease in cats), “accounts for perhaps two-thirds of all feline liver disorders treated in a cat clinic or a typical veterinary hospital “.

  • Infectious liver disease from sources such as feline infectious peritonitis, a viral disease, parasitic liver fluke, and toxoplasmosis, another parasitic disease

  • Liver cancer

  • Toxins that affect the liver, such as those found in some houseplants, including sago palms.

Anthony says secondary liver disease includes hepatic lipidosis and liver disease secondary to hyperthyroidism. “Liver shunts, a congenital problem with blood flow to the liver, can also occur in cats, but it’s more common in dogs,” adds Anthony. Feline diabetes can also lead to liver complications.

RELATED: Signs of liver disease in dogs and how to treat it

Signs and symptoms of cat liver disease

Remember how we said that sometimes liver disease is difficult to detect in your kitten? This is because the best early warning symptoms, those that help you and your vet start treatment immediately, are also common for other conditions, such as kidney or vestibular disease.

Either way, if you notice any of the following, it’s time to go to the vet clinic:

Anthony says that due to their subtlety, these symptoms of cat liver disease are often not recognized by parents of cats until late in its progression.

Jaundice, also known as jaundice, is another sign of the condition, which Anthony says appears as a yellow tint on the skin, gums, and white parts of the eyes. “It varies from a subtle, almost peachy orange color to a bright yellow, like a highlighter,” says Anthony. “While this may seem like an obvious symptom, it can also be missed by homeowners in the home setting due to low and often warm lighting in residences.”

Severe liver disease in cats can manifest as vomiting and complete anorexia (no appetite at all) later in the illness. Anthony adds that some pet owners report bile-colored (bright green-yellow) vomiting in advanced cases.

RELATED: 9 signs you need to take your pet to the emergency room

How To Treat Liver Disease In Cats

When you bring your kitten for an exam, Anthony says your vet will likely want to do some blood work and even an ultrasound to confirm liver disease.

“Blood tests usually show liver enzymes raised to a certain number and degree, and sometimes an increase in bilirubin (a pigment in the blood and bile) as well as an increase in white blood cells and changes in blood. forms red blood cells (called poikilocytosis), “she says. “An abdominal ultrasound may show a large, rounded or small, narrowed liver, liver masses, blockage of the biliary tree (including stones), or slight changes in the texture of the liver.”

While abdominal x-rays can show a large liver or liver mass, she adds, an ultrasound is much more sensitive.

Based on the diagnosis, your vet can focus treatment on the underlying cause first. “Treating hyperthyroidism, for example. When a cat suffers from hepatic lipidosis, it is often because he is not eating, so therapy is based on appetite stimulants, anti-nausea drugs and sometimes relief. pain, especially if there is concomitant pancreatitis, ”says Anthony.

If your pet has primary liver disease, the treatment plan may include antibiotics, liver protection supplements like SAMe, and prescription ursodiol, which increases bile flow. Blockages and shunts, Anthony says, can be best treated with surgery.

Home treatments for cat liver disease typically begin with immediate clinical attention, followed by supplements and supportive care recommended by your veterinarian as part of the larger care setting. For example, in mild or moderate recovery situations, proper nutrition and diet are essential to return to health. MSD Veterinary Manual recommends balanced meals that are high in protein, high in calories and at short but frequent intervals.

“Home treatment can be instituted for slightly affected cats, but owners should be prepared for several treatments per day, and possibly a feeding tube,” adds Anthony.

What is the outlook for cats with liver disease?

While the liver can regenerate in mild or even moderate cases and return to normal function, Anthony says the prognosis for liver disease for your furry friend depends on how quickly the problem is detected and when. processing is instituted.

“Unfortunately, a lot of these cases are not seen until the cat is very sick,” she notes. “They often require hospitalization for several days with aggressive rehydration, nutritional support and medication.” The prognosis in these situations is on a case-by-case basis, especially if there are underlying or concurrent conditions.

Anthony adds that liver disease in cats is difficult to flesh out because the symptoms are often subtle and the causes of the disease are so varied. “The main point to remember for any cat owner is this: Watch your cat carefully for changes in appetite, activity and body weight,” she says. “Take your cat to the vet immediately so the disease can be determined quickly. And be prepared for a long, sometimes expensive, treatment plan. “

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