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What is Jaundice?

Vets explain to cat owners that jaundice is the yellow discoloration of the cat’s skin, eyes, ear flaps, gums and foot pads. Since jaundice indicates a high level of bilirubin in the blood, it’s also a symptom of a serious illness.

Jaundice develops when too much yellow pigment from bilirubin accumulates in a cat’s blood and its body tissues. The longer the cat has jaundice, which is also called “icterus,” the more yellow its skin, eyes and body tissues will appear to be. Since the skin of most cat breeds is covered with fur, pet owners and vets can get the best view of jaundice by looking at its eyes, gums, foot pads, and ear flaps. It won’t be easy to detect jaundice in cats with dark skin or gums. Jaundice is usually a symptom of a more serious illness.

Jaundice Average Cost

From 492 quotes ranging from $500 - $5,000

Average Cost

$1,800

Symptoms of Jaundice in Cats

Since jaundice is one of several symptoms of serious illness, observant cat owners do their pets a favor by noticing these signs, which can include:

  • Loss of appetite or anorexia
  • Weakness
  • Yellowed skin, eyes or other body areas
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Rounded abdomen
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Poor, rough coat
  • Lack of grooming
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Prolonged bleeding
  • Unusual behaviors
  • Ascites or accumulation of fluid in the abdomen
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Bright orange urine
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Fever
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Causes of Jaundice in Cats

Cats develop jaundice as the result of several problems inside their bodies. Depending on the cause of jaundice, the treatments will be different. 

  • Liver disease that damages liver cells
  • Destruction of red blood cells (hemolysis)
  • Bile duct obstruction. Bile can become too thick or the gallbladder or bile ducts may become inflamed
  • Blood parasites
  • Heartworm
  • Enlargement of the liver
  • Viral or bacterial infection
  • Chemical exposure (leads to toxic hepatopathy)
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Cancer of the gall bladder
  • Hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver)
  • Lymphoma (cancer)
  • Cholangiohepatitis (inflamed bile ducts or liver)
  • Hepatic amyloidosis (accumulated amyloid in the liver)
  • Feline infectious peritonitis (a fatal illness)
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Diagnosis of Jaundice in Cats

When pet owners explain to the vet that they believe their cat has jaundice, the vet will perform a physical exam, make note of their direct observations, and run additional tests. At the beginning, the vet examines the exposed skin areas of the cat’s body. If they see jaundice, they order additional diagnostic testing, which can include blood work.

This blood work consists of a complete blood count, or CBC. This measures several important factors in the cat’s blood, such as the number of platelets, white and red blood cells. Going beyond the CBC, labs run the packed cell volume or PCV. This tells the vet the proportion of red blood cells in the blood. If the cat is anemic, the vet investigates, determining whether the cat has hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells). They will also look at the blood under a microscope to see if the cat has abnormal red blood cells, immature red blood, cells or an unexpected clump of cells.

If the vet finds that the cat has not been given heartworm medication and that it is an outdoors cat, they may consider an infestation of heartworms. They may look in a different direction if other symptoms, such as excessive thirst, drinking and urination, the vet will want to examine the cat’s liver and kidneys.

Other diagnostic tests may include urinalysis and a biochemical profile. These tests look for blood cell changes, anemia, bilirubin in the urine and urine concentration.

Depending on early findings, the vet may order X-rays or an ultrasound, a liver biopsy, a Coombs test (identifies whether red blood cells are being destroyed because of of the cat’s immune system) or serologic tests to see if the cat has contracted feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), toxoplasmosis, or feline leukemia virus (FeLV).

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Treatment of Jaundice in Cats

Vets don’t treat jaundice by itself. Once they find the cause of the jaundice in a cat, they treat that condition, which means the jaundice will eventually resolve. For instance, if the cat has a viral or bacterial infection, the vet prescribes antibiotics or steroids, which allows the cat’s immune system to lower its response to the bacteria or viral body. For cats diagnosed with FIV or FeLV, supportive care that allows their immune system to handle the infection will be given. 

If the cat has ingested a poison, the vet gives activated charcoal to the cat to remove toxins from its body. The vet may choose to induce vomiting. For hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver), the cat will provide a high-quality nutritional support for the cat, consisting of a high protein, high calorie diet.

If the vet has diagnosed liver cancer, the cat undergoes surgery and chemotherapy. An obstruction of the biliary tract means the cat will undergo surgery to clear the obstruction.

Cats with hepatitis are given corticosteroids that reduce liver inflammation. If the cat is experiencing pain, it will be given pain medications. The vet may opt to prescribe SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine), which helps to give the liver support by boosting glutathione, which is an antioxidant. Other nutritional supplements may include Ursodeoxycholic acid. The cat may also receive vitamin K or Silybin, which supports liver function. This antioxidant helps the liver to rid itself of toxins and drugs. Anemic cats receive blood transfusions.

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Recovery of Jaundice in Cats

Depending on the cause of the cat’s jaundice, the cat’s owner may receive a good prognosis or be told that the cat’s condition will be terminal or fatal, as in the case of feline infectious peritonitis.

Once the vet determines the exact cause of the cat’s jaundice and develops an effective treatment plan, many cats can live for many more years. Cat owners need to consistently give their cats prescribed medications and feed only the foods that are recommended, which helps to improve the cat’s recovery. By feeding high-quality foods and administering medications as prescribed, causes of jaundice can be successfully resolved.

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Jaundice Average Cost

From 492 quotes ranging from $500 - $5,000

Average Cost

$1,800

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Jaundice Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Siamese

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Five Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Yellow Gums

-Hasn’t been very active as she used to be -Sleeps more -Drinks lots of water -Isolates herself more than the usual *Noticed these things 3days ago. Not sure if I should be concerned. Any advice would be greatly appreciated it.

Aug. 7, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question, I'm sorry your cat is not feeling well. If she has yellow gums and is displaying signs that you described, it would be best to have her seen right away, as she may have a problem with an immune disorder, or her liver. Your veterinarian will be able to examine her, and see what might be going on in more detail, and let you know what testing or treatment is needed. I hope that she is okay.

Aug. 8, 2020

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Domestic shorthair cat

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Fifteen Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Bloated Abdomen

Hi, I really need some help and advice. Last week Thursday the 2nd of July I found out my cat who is 15 years of age has got some type of liver cancer which I found so hard to believe due to him being so active and recently went for annual boosters in April all healthy. The blue cross animal hospital in London did a quick ultrasound which they found mixed echogenicity with multiple hard, irregular liver . mixed echogenicity with multiple hypoechoic circular lesions. Please can I get some advice on this can he survive after surgery? Do cats have this due to there age? Any cure he has yellow ear

July 11, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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Hello, Cats can develop liver cancer as they get older. A common sign of the liver disease is the yellowing of the skin and eyes. I have removed part of a liver in a cat who was much younger and he is still doing great today. Depending on if cancer has spread to other organs and what type of cancer your cat has will determine his prognosis after surgery. Your vet should be able to discuss all of your concerns with you. I hope your cat gets to feeling better soon.

July 11, 2020

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Himalayan cat

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Thirteen Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Jaundice

My cat has been diagnosed with gallbladder stones, diabetes and kidney stones. I’ve given her food to support her gastrointestinal since the gallbladder effected her bowl movement. My vet gave her injections to support her kidneys and liver but no progress yet. He tells me that a surgery is risky in her condition and i’m afraid this is what left to do. I am asking you for second opinion and wether a surgery would be advised in her case. My cat is a fighter and it saddens me that my options might come to none, I look forward for your reply. Thank you. Batool

July 11, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Ellen M. DVM

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Hi Batool, I am so sorry to hear that your cat isn't doing well. I know that it is so hard to see them sick, and to have to make tough decisions about what to do next. Without examining your cat and having some more in-depth knowledge about her case, it's very hard for me to know exactly what the next best step would be. If she has diabetes, supporting her by starting some insulin might be a reasonable first step to try to improve her quality of life, but if she isn't eating well, that makes it more difficult. Sometimes cats with gallbladders issues can have an infection in their gall bladder in liver, so you could ask your veterinarian if antibiotics would be indicated in this situation. Also, giving her fluids frequently to support hydration, and treating for nausea can help a lot. Even if she isn't vomiting, a lot of cats with liver and kidney disease do have some amount of nausea, so I recommend asking your veterinarian about these options and seeing if they might help. I would defer to your vet's opinion though, just because they know so much about the case. Again, I'm so sorry that you and your kitty are going through this. I hope she starts feeling better soon!

July 11, 2020

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Shadow

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Simese cat mixed as

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14 Weeks

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Yelling Eyes

I just had my kitten fixed 2 week's ago yesterday in today i saw that her eyes are really yellow where they fixed her at will not call me back. I don't know what else to do she eats plays in all my Male cat babies her big time.

Sept. 12, 2018

Shadow's Owner

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Alice

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Tab

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3 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Jaundice

My cat went missing the day we were suppose to move house. We went back every day for 2 weeks but now one month later she's been found. Emergency vets wasn't very informative. She can't walk just crawls and falls about. Looks like she has no vision she has no balance in her head. She ate a bit the first night but yesterday and today she seems not to want anything. Diarohea every time all over the place and her. Is there any cases of recovery from this?

Sept. 9, 2018

Alice's Owner

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Kellerman

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Bengal

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11 Years

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Critical severity

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Sudden Onset Anorexia
Sudden Onset Anorexia, Jaundice

Our cat, Kellerman stopped eating suddenly. We tried different textures and meats, to no avail. I cooked fresh for him which he enjoyed once or twice a week. I tried broth. He is now only drinking water and is quiet skeletal. The vet says he has jaundice, yelled at us for allowing Kellerman to “get to this point,” and did bloodwork. (Results pending). The vet also sold us an “appetite stimulator” which makes Kellerman more thirsty but seems to make food repulsive to him - he now snaps his head away from food bowls when we offer food. He is, and has always been, an indoor only cat. He is neutered. He walks fine, jumps up on his favorite lounging spots without trouble, including my lap. He is urinating fine, color of urine unknown. Kellerman is the eldest of four cats living with us and the only cat experiencing these problems. He just refuses all food, is jaundiced, as is breaking my heart. Kellerman will be eleven years old on 05/01/2020.

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Zoey

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Siamese

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8 Days

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Yellow Ear Flaps, Vomiting.

My poor sweet Zoey had what I thought was an ear problem. I took to a vet who vigorously cleaned her left ear so much that it caused her to loose her equalbruim over a long period. I didnt want to return to this vet so I went to another vet. He actually did a swan test and it turns out she just had wax in her ear. After this happened in a couple of weeks I noticed my cat had yellow skin in her ears and she started vomiting and couldn't keep food down. She had a hole bunch of tests and it was liver failure and no more then a 30% chance of survival after tube feeding after 2 months. She was miserable and was in obvious discomfort, I decided with the vets advice that I would have her put down. It is very sad.

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meuw

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not known

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14 Months

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Jundice

my cat has eaten paracetamol and now he is showing jaundice symptoms. he is 1-year and 2 months old. Can you please let me know can I save him. he is nither eating anything and nor moving much. Even he is not able to cry as well. my vet is saying that you can't. Please suggest.

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Midnight

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Black russian

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8 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Yellow Eyes
Loss Of Appetite
Sleepiness

Love the wee barrel, she is sleeping loads, not really eating, is still cleaning herself, still tussel's with her mate, has a barrel for a tummy, coat still shines, short hair, midget in size, pads are still black, eyes are bright & yellow

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Tiger

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Street cat

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6 Months

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Dark Pee,Fat Belly,Increased Thirst

My 6 months old tiger has been very lethargic for a week.I thought he might be upset over something. He stopped playing and his apetite reduced. Then all of a sudden he refused to eat at all. Also, he was peeing a very yellowish concentrated thing. This got me so worried. We rushed to the vet and he said it was mere cold and the pee was due to the dehydration. 🙄 we came back home, relieved. Then the next day, his condition didn't improve so we went back and he diagnosed jaundice looking at his paler jaws and ears. Tiger is receiving his liver tonic and normal saline plus oxidil drips daily at home. But one thing that is concerning me the most is that he has a very bloated and fat stomach. And it keeps growing. I hope there's nothing serious. Plus, please pray for his speedy recovery :(

Jaundice Average Cost

From 492 quotes ranging from $500 - $5,000

Average Cost

$1,800