Common Liver Diseases in Cats

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Common Liver Diseases in Cats

Your cat’s liver is a vital organ that is sensitive to damage and disease. For this reason, it’s important to recognize early signs of illness in your cat so that he can be treated quickly. Continue reading for more information on common liver diseases in cats, how they’re diagnosed, and how you can keep your cat healthy and happy!

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What does the liver do?

The liver is a large organ essential for life. It performs important functions including detoxifying or removing waste substances like damaging drugs or chemicals from the body. The liver helps control metabolism through the use of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. It also makes essential proteins, bile to help with digestion of food, and blood-clotting factors.

The liver is located just behind the diaphragm near the stomach, spleen, and small intestines.

Hepatic Lipidosis

Hepatic lipidosis is the most common liver disease in cats. It often occurs when cats suddenly stop eating or experience sudden excessive weight loss. Hepatic lipidosis usually occurs in overweight, middle-aged female cats (about 7 years old). However, it can also occur in male cats.

Hepatic lipidosis is a serious, life-threatening illness but is curable in some cases.

Preventing Hepatic Lipidosis

Keep a close eye on your cat’s weight and eating habits. Overweight and obese cats are more at risk of developing hepatic lipidosis and other diseases that can affect the liver.

Cats should never go without eating for 24 hours or more. Always talk to a vet if your cat has suddenly stopped eating.

Other Causes of Liver Disease in Cats

Many conditions can cause or worsen liver disease in cats. These include:

  • Cancer
  • Infection
  • Parasites
  • Injury to the liver including trauma or decreased blood supply
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Foreign body
  • Acute pancreatitis
  • Heatstroke

Symptoms of Liver Disease in Cats

Signs that suggest liver disease include a yellow tinge or color to the skin or the white part of the eyes. This yellow coloring is also known as jaundice or icterus. Cats may also develop swelling of the abdomen or stomach area called ascites. This happens when fluid builds up in the abdomen.

Cats with liver disease often have other signs not specific to the liver. These include changes in behavior such as hiding or sleeping more than usual, weakness, increased drinking and urination, bleeding, disoriented or “drunken appearance”, not eating, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and increased drooling/salivation.

Diagnosing Liver Disease in Cats

Diagnosing the specific problem causing liver disease involves the collection of a thorough history by your vet, such as diet change, current medications, changes in the environment or household, appetite, and any other medical history or previous diagnosis with other medical problems.

Your vet will draw blood to assess your cat’s liver and other organs and how they are functioning. Other diagnostic tests that help with the diagnosis include x-rays, abdominal ultrasound, and urinalysis.

The most specific and accurate diagnosis method for liver disease is to get a biopsy or a small piece of tissue from the liver. Sedation or anesthesia is required to safely obtain a biopsy. Knowing the specific cause of liver disease in your cat is very important because it helps your vet determine the best treatment.

Your vet may discuss referral to another vet that specializes in internal medicine. A veterinary internal medicine specialist usually has access to 24-hour intensive care veterinary facilities that are better equipped to care for and treat patients needing intensive care.

Treatment of Liver Disease in Cats

Like any illness, having an accurate diagnosis for the specific liver disease helps determine the best treatment options. In addition, there are supportive treatments that help cats to recover, including nutritional support. Always talk to your vet before changing your cat’s diet if she has liver disease.

Treatment varies depending on your cat’s symptoms. Cats with mild signs of liver disease often don’t need to be hospitalized. They may go home with medications to help with nausea, vomiting and to encourage eating.

Cats with signs of dehydration, weight loss, and not eating often need to be hospitalized. Treatment in the hospital is geared toward keeping your cat hydrated, providing nutrition, appropriate medications, and close monitoring. Cats with severe liver disease are at risk for developing problems with other organs, such as the kidneys, and must be monitored closely by medical staff.

When to Contact a Veterinarian

If your cat has not eaten for 24 hours or more, contact your vet right away. This can trigger hepatic lipidosis in some cats. If you notice that your cat has any of the symptoms listed above, it’s time to contact a vet right away.

Read more:

Obesity in Cats: What You Need to Know if Your Favorite Feline is Overweight

The Importance of Kidney Health and Function in Dogs and Cats

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Published: 2/20/2021
Dr. Denise Michanowicz, Veterinarian

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