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What is Yellow Skin?

If your cat is exhibiting signs of yellow skin, which is also referred to as icterus, it is imperative that they visit a veterinary clinic. Jaundice can happen to cats of any age, breed, or sex and whether they are an indoor cat or an outdoor cat.

Yellow skin in cats is a direct result of jaundice, which is a sign of liver issues just as it is in humans. Since cats are usually covered in fur it is often in the whites of the eyes, in the cat's gums, or in the flaps of their ears that you will notice the yellow skin discoloration.

Symptoms of Yellow Skin in Cats

A yellowing of the skin is only one of the symptoms of liver disease or failure in a cat. If your cat is exhibiting yellow skin it is likely to display some of the following symptoms as well:

  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Frequent urination
  • Orange-colored urine
  • Weight loss
  • Changes in eating habits

Causes of Yellow Skin in Cats

The main causes of yellow skin in cats are liver issues. These can include:

  • Fatty liver 
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Inflammatory issues in the bowels and the liver
  • Viral and bacterial infections
  • Some drugs and toxins, such as heavy metals
  • Cancer

There are also non-liver related problems that can lead to yellow skin in cats.

  • Parasites in the blood
  • Heartworm disease
  • Anemia 
  • Immune deficiency
  • Reactions to blood transfusions

Diagnosis of Yellow Skin in Cats

It is an increased amount of bilirubin in the system that causes jaundice and the yellowing of the skin, both in animals and in humans. Your veterinarian will do a blood test on your cat that will tell them if the bilirubin count is abnormal.

Your vet will also do urinary tests to identify possible causes of yellowing of the skin. Since it could be anything from a viral infection to cancer or a failing liver, it is important that they run as many tests as possible to plan the most effective course of treatment.

Your veterinarian may also ask you some questions to help with the diagnosis. They will want to know when you first noticed the yellowing of the skin, if there have been recent changes in urination habits or bowel movements, and what those changes have been. You should monitor your cat's bathroom habits prior to the visit, as well as after.

Treatment of Yellow Skin in Cats

Once your veterinarian knows the cause of the skin yellowing, they can make a treatment plan for your cat. Jaundice is something you simply cannot treat at home since there are so many underlying factors that could be leading to the skin discoloration. 

Fatty Liver

There are underlying diseases that can lead to fatty liver, or hepatic lipidosis, in cats, including cancer and diabetes. Once the underlying cause is determined, treatment can be started. However, if the illness has progressed to cirrhosis, it may be too late for successful treatment. At this point the best bet is to help the cat remain comfortable for its final days.

The best treatment for a fatty liver is changing the cat’s diet to a healthy one that promotes healing the liver. Because cats with this condition may not be able to eat, a feeding tube could be required, which is not painful but may be needed for many weeks.

Liver Cancer

If your cat’s jaundice is being caused by liver cancer there is potential for a successful recovery. Up to 75 percent of your cat's liver can be removed and still have proper function. Your vet will determine if your cat needs something a drastic procedure depending on the findings of tumors or nodules. 

Oftentimes, liver cancer can be treated with chemotherapy on an outpatient basis without surgery. 

Recovery of Yellow Skin in Cats

Once your cat has received the treatment they need for whichever ailment has caused their yellow skin you will want to keep an eye on them during recovery. Cats that have undergone surgery will need time for lots of rest and should be confined to a small area to promote healing and prevent injury.

It is important to monitor the color and condition of the cat’s skin, eating and drinking habits, urinary and bowel movements, as well as its energy level. Your veterinarian will also recommend you bring your cat in for regular checkups periodically following any treatment.

Yellow Skin Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

3 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Yellow Gums
Yellow Skin
Yellow Eyes

She has yellow skin and gums she has normal appitite, urniation,and BMs but is vomiting and has very noticeable weight loss. Could it be something other the jaundice?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2318 Recommendations
Jaundice is a symptom and not a disease, the yellowing of skin is a sign that there is something else wrong which may be due to liver disease, bile duct obstruction, haemolytic anaemia (infectious, parasites, poisoning, tumours) among other causes. You need to visit your Veterinarian for an examination and blood tests. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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12 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Yellow Eyes and yellow skin

I have noticed that my cat stopped moving completely and only wants to sleep he has yellow eyes and skin he rarely even goes to the bathroom and always wants to hide what does this mean?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
876 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Yelllowing of the skin, or jaundice, happens with liver disease, or anemia. Both conditions are very serious, and Mufasa needs to be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible for assessment and treatment.

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American Wirehair
9 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Looks weak
Yellow Skin
Losing weight
Loss of Appetite

She has weight loss, moved from hard to soft food, real meat, and she licks the juice but not eating much. Her ears are turning yellow, but teeth and gums look good.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
876 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Princess should be seen as soon as possible by your veterinarian. Those are all signs of liver disease or immune mediated disease, and your veterinarian will be able to examine her, perform any testing that needs to be done, and give you an idea as to what the next best step for her is. I hope that everything goes well for her.

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short hair
11 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Yellow Skin

My cat has been loosing weight, the vet tested him but only said that could be his liver but was unable to be accurately since most results were normal, our cat has continued to lose weight and looks weaker today.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
876 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I'm sorry that Snowly isn't doing well. Two possible causes for jaundice in cats are liver disease and immune mediated anemia. Both of those conditions require aggressive therapy, so if he is not doing well and continuing to deteriorate, he needs to be seen again for more intensive care. If your veterinarian wasn't sure what was going on, you can either have them reassess him and suggest treatment, or you can seek a second opinion with another clinic who may be able to offer more testing and treatment options. I hope that he is okay.

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