What is Liver Disease?
Since the symptoms of liver disease are not specific, owners may have difficulty recognizing a potential problem. Any cat who has stopped eating for two to three days or is exhibiting other concerning symptoms should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Liver disease is serious and can be life-threatening. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to the likelihood of recovery.
The liver is responsible for many important functions including filtering toxic substances from the blood, digesting nutrients, and storing vitamins and minerals. Its many functions make the liver susceptible to damage, while its ability to regenerate decreases the likelihood that damage will be permanent. Cats with liver disease may experience a neurological syndrome known as hepatic encephalopathy which is indicated by behaviors such as aimless wandering, circling, and head pressing. Loss of appetite and extreme weight loss are also potential signs of the condition.
Symptoms of Liver Disease in Cats
Symptoms of liver disease will depend on the underlying cause. Affected cats may experience one or more of the following:
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Pale gums
- Excessive thirst
- Stomach ulcers
- Excessive urination
- Dark-colored urine
- Excessive drooling
- Muscle Wasting
- Distended abdomen
- Buildup of abdominal fluid
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Changes in liver size
- Behavior changes
Common types of liver diseases include:
- Hepatic lipidosis
- Cholangiohepatitis (acute or chronic)
- Lymphocytic Portal Hepatitis
Causes of Liver Disease in Cats
Hepatic lipidosis, or “fatty liver disease”, is the most common severe liver disease found it cats. It is more likely to occur middle-aged cats and those that are extremely overweight. The condition is connected to malnutrition which may be caused by any of the following factors:
- Lack of protein or inability to process protein
- Prolonged Anorexia
- Hormonal disturbances
- Changes in Diet
- Kidney Disease
Cholangiohepatitis has been linked to the following conditions:
- Bacterial, fungal, or protozoal infection
- Feline infectious peritonitis
- Feline leukemia
- Liver flukes
Lymphocytic Portal Hepatitis
Lymphocytic portal hepatitis is thought to be related to an immune or thyroid disorder, though no specific cause has been definitively determined.
Diagnosis of Liver Disease in Cats
The treating veterinarian will begin by reviewing the cat’s medical records and discussing with owners the severity and onset of symptoms. The vet should also be made aware of any preceding events that may have brought about the condition. A standard set of lab tests will be ordered including complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, electrolyte panel, and urinalysis. X-rays or ultrasound may be ordered and a liver biopsy or needle aspiration will be needed to make a definitive diagnosis.
Treatment of Liver Disease in Cats
Treatment recommendations will depend on the underlying cause of the liver disease and the severity of symptoms.
If the cat is suffering from advanced disease or displaying acute symptoms, intensive in-patient care and treatment will likely be necessary to stabilize it before other treatment methods are considered. Electrolytes imbalances will need to be addressed promptly. The cat is likely to receive fluid therapy and supplements of B-complex vitamins, thiamine, and cobalamin. Abdominal swelling will likely be treated with a needle aspiration or prescribed diuretic.
If the cat is malnourished, the vet may prescribe an appetite stimulant. It is often more likely that the cat will require food to be administered through a syringe or feeding tube. This many need to continue for as long as several weeks until the cat is able to consume sufficient calories on its own.
Depending on the underlying cause, the veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics and/or corticosteroids to address any underlying infection and reduce inflammation. In the case of lymphocytic portal hepatitis, immunosuppressant drugs may also be recommended.
Once the cat has been released from the hospital, the focus will be on minimizing stress on the liver by reducing the amount of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and drugs that must be processed. This can be accomplished in part by feeding a high-quality diet that is high in protein, calorie-dense, easy to swallow, easily digested, and low in sodium. The cat will need to frequently be fed small meals to minimize stress on the system. Ongoing dietary supplements may also be prescribed.
Recovery of Liver Disease in Cats
If an affected cat is able to survive the first few days of treatment, prognosis is generally good and recovery can be expected within three to six weeks. It is important that veterinary recommendations are followed and that dietary restrictions are adhered to closely. Follow-up visits will be necessary to ensure proper recovery.
Efforts should be made to ensure that the cat is not stressed, and it should be given a quiet place to rest and recover away from children and other animals. Owners will need to keep a close eye on the cat’s weight, hydration, and overall health and inform the veterinarian promptly of any changes.
Liver Disease Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have a 16 year old cat and he has hyperthyroidism with symptoms of weight loss, diharrea, increase thirst, behavioral changes, lethargy. His skin also turned yellow because of his liver levels from blood work were abnormal. A couple days ago I had enema done for him because he was very constipated for 2 days. The vet gave him antibiotic injection that lasts two weeks and fluids that I administer everyday. He also takes tapazole, prednisolone, denamarin, cernia, Mirtazapine, and Renal K+ gel because he has low levels of potassium. After he got his colon cleaned out he has been very tired, drinks a lot and even lays by his water fountain bowl, and ocassionally eats treats. He is at the point where he doesn’t want to eat but just drink water. I ended up force feeding him by syringe twice a day less than half a cup of wet watery food Hill’s Y/D to keep his thyroid under control and get some food in him. So finally my question is what are the chances that his liver will recover and he’s appetite kicks in as well as bowl movements and energy? Also he has one small and big kidney but blood work indicated kidney levels were normal regardless of the difference in size. He also has a heart murmur with normal respiratory rate. He weighs right now 7 lbs. He hasn’t gain or lost weight in the past three days after enema procedure.
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We took our cat to the vet after he stopped eating. They diagnosed it as an upper respiratory infection and gave medication for it. He still wasn't eating after a week and they said we should start force feeding. He isn't getting better. What do you think is the best course of action. I think he's in alot of pain. He can hardly move.
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My Cat is 9 years Old,last week she took a small amount of anesthesia for her hair cut the next Day she was given revolution for fleas,the very next day she started to get sick,loss of appetite shivering,i went to a vet where a blood test was taken and found ALT AST is very high ,they started by transferring syline 100 ml through vein plus vitmanis and antibiotic and suggest to force feeding her,a week now no progress at all in her condition she is always not moving not responding to any sounds/moves,the only improvement that she accept syrnge feeding without resistance ,is there hope she can recover?
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Morris our cat has just returned from emergency vet care for the 4th time in his life. He is only 4. Between each episode he is a lively, bouncey, full of life healthy cat that has a good appetite and energy. You would think a normal, healthy 4 year old. Then sporadically the most devasting thing happens all presenting the same symptoms and he deteriorates very quickly. The first time internal bleeding, low blood count. Transfusion sorted it fairly quickly. 2nd time same symptoms - lethargy, loss of appetite. Pancreatitis was picked up on a test but said not totally reliable later and also never been positive for it since. No internal bleed. Treatment sorted him & since been on a easy digest diet, no grain etc . . 3rd time again same symptoms and low blood count diagnosed. 4th time recently same symptoms, low blood count. Transfusion of own blood not so successful so another cat transfusion carried out. Scans picked up liver disease. Some blood clotting. Vet said cannot determine which form of liver disease & biopsy not possible with blood levels & clotting. Other cat transfusion and Vitamin K seemed to improve him and increase bloods and stop clotting over a few days plus had fluid drip. Began eating on own accord as bloods risen and was back to self in a few days. Told biopsy very dangerous and will not be very useful for treatment considering risk. We now have to manage him at home in fear he can deteriorate again very quickly at any time with no idea why or how to try and prevent it. It has been all reactive care and no proactive. We have had no nutrition or supplement advice but have read that this is so important to prolong the longest healthiest life in cats with liver disease. Hence no idea what is best to feed him on or whether there are certain supplements that could help halt the progression? As we weaned him off commercial run of the mill cat food and selected food that was higher quality, grain free, low fat & highly digestible after the Pancreatitis episode, we are wondering is this ok to continue or more harmful now liver disease has been identified? What diet is best / recommended and what supplements if any may help?
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I went to a terrible vet who did not diagnose my cat with fatty liver. The cat went from 9 lbs to 6 lbs, has jaundice and has completely stopped eating. Vet didn't even explain Hepatic lipidosis as a concern and didn't express urgency in getting calories down immediately. I learned all from google and calling an old vet friend. My cat it taking the food (A/D w/ calorie boost gel + olive oil). He is vomiting about 2-3 hrs after feeding. Is he still getting calories and nutrients to the liver? He is very thin but walks around, jumps on bed to sleep with me, etc. cause of fatty liver is unknown. Vet friend wants to make sure not tumors. In meantime, what the the signs of improvement? I've started B vitamins, curcumin and SAMe. Going to get anti nausea from vet friend to help him. I give fluids subcutaneously- got this from the bad vet I saw and refuse to go back to.
What are he signs he is recovering and receiving enough calories? Is there anything else I should be doing. He gets around 300 cals per day. I force feed- vet friend who I am going to see says he doesn't think feeding tubes are a good idea. I just feel like I'm not getting enough help and I'm scared a new vet will try to put him down.
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