All You Need to Know About Liver Disease in Cats


The liver in cats is their largest internal organ, much as it is in human beings, and liver disease in cats can lead to a break-down of critical bodily functions.


Before we move on to the symptoms and treatment of liver disease it is worth educating ourselves about the role the liver plays in the cat’s body. The liver plays an important part in the digestive process as it produces bile and other fluids that help with the absorption of nutrients such as vitamins A, K, D and E, into the body. Enzymes secreted in the liver are also crucial for digestion. The liver plays a part in converting sugars to glycerin and storing the glycogen needed for the body. The liver also helps in regulating the chemical levels in the blood and it helps the cat in getting rid of toxins in the body. By changing ammonia a potential toxin into urea if helps the body flush it out as urine.

So what are the symptoms of liver disease in cats? Among the range of possible symptoms is a yellowing of the skin, eyes and mucous membranes. This is called icterus or jaundice and is an exact parallel to the liver malfunctioning problem seen in humans. You may also notice a loss of appetite in your pet and there may be weight loss resulting from progressive poor eating. Polydipsia, which is increased water consumption, and polyuria, which is increased urination, are both noted as possible symptoms of liver disease in cats. Abdominal effusions, enlargement of the liver, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, bad breath and lethargy are among indicators that your cat is struggling with a liver problem.

There are a few different physiological conditions that can be classified as liver disease in cats:


Hepatic Lipsiodis also called Fatty Liver Disease is the health problem that develops when a cat that is eating poorly turns to its store of far for nutrients. This means the liver is processing or breaking down the fatty substances to provide the body its nutrients and when the liver is not able to do this quickly the fatty substances start building up in the liver and eventually hamper the efficient operation of the liver.


Sometimes there is an infection or inflammation of the liver or the biliary tract and this is called Cholangitis or Cholangiohepatitis. Bacteria, parasites and Pancreatitis are among the known triggers of such infections which will end up affecting the normal functioning of the liver.


Cats sometimes have to deal with liver disease caused by toxins. Improper use of drugs or medications, build up of toxins or inadequate blood supply to the liver can cause Toxic Hepatopathy.


Another potential liver disease in cats is liver cancer. Cancer seldom originates in the liver but is usually metastasized from other body organs.


Portosystemic shunt is another liver condition that develops when the blood flow bypasses the liver and leads to detoxified blood being circulated in the body. This obviously leads to increased toxin levels in the cat’s system. While portosystemic shunt can either be acquired or congenital, it is by and large a condition at birth and signs become apparent within the first year of the cat.

The treatment for liver disease in cat depends on the cause of the actual problem:

Hepatic Lipidosis is treated with focused nutritional change and it is usually an anorexic cat that starts needing the fat as a source of nutrients. By feeding the cat high protein, high calorie food, and even using a feeding tube if needed, you can provide the cat with other sources of nutrients and allow the liver to work at its normal pace instead of having to handle overwhelming amounts of fat. This intensive diet monitoring will be needed for close to two months. If the cat shows signs of dehydration, fluids and electrolytes may need to be administered via an IV.

In the case of infection-related liver disease such as Cholangitis, antibiotics will be prescribed to fight the infection. Medicines may also be administered to cope with the symptoms such as vomiting.

In the case of the portosystemic shunt a surgical intervention or ligation may be needed to fix the problem. A diet with limited protein will be recommended during the recuperative period.

Liver disease in cats can be managed if the symptoms are spotted early and if you seek medical help promptly.