Cat Health

The Causes and Effects of Liver Disease In Cats

Liver Disease In Cats

Liver disease isn’t a condition that happens in solely humans, but can also occur in pets such as dogs and cats.

The symptoms of the feline liver disease can range from mild to severe. Regardless, it’s necessary to make sure your cat is in good health.

According to PetWellbeing, The Feline liver disease typically forms as a result of the cat not eating due to loss of appetite.

The liver begins to store fat as a source of energy. As the cat’s liver is unable to store a large quantity of fat, malfunction goes into place.

What is the liver?

According to PetPlace, The liver is the body’s largest internal organ as well as its largest gland. It is also considered to be the busiest organ, taking on multiple roles for maintaining the system.

It is said that the liver performs more than 500 functions which are essential for health.

The liver mostly consists of hepatocytes, cells that enable the organ to perform the many functions. The hepatocytes make up at least 70 to 85% of the liver.

The organ is housed in the abdomen, neighboring the diaphragm from behind. Blood is pumped into the organ by two vessels which are the hepatic artery and portal vein.

The portal vein, responsible for 70% of inflow, supplies blood from various organs including the gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, and stomach as well as the intestines (small and large.)

The other 30% of blood inflow comes from the hepatic artery. The hepatic artery transports blood into the liver from the heart.

The blood transports into the liver through the porta hepatis. The blood could be carrying toxins or nutrients that we get from our food. The liver cells convert the nutrients into sources which the body can use for fuel.

What are the functions of the liver?

As the liver is an extremely versatile organ, it is responsible for the following functions:

  • Stores vitamins and minerals such as iron and copper. It also stores vitamins A, E, D, K and B12
  • Purifies the blood by decomposing and removing toxic substances
  • Metabolizes lipids, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
  • Produces bile which breaks down fat and cholesterol
  • Absorbs and metabolizes bilirubin (produced by the breakdown of old red blood cells)
  • Breaks down and stores sugar as glycogen, for when blood sugar is low
  • Produces prothrombin, fibrinogen, and albumins proteins. These proteins are essential for blood coagulation
  • Regulates amino acids in the blood
  • Destroys old and damaged blood cells
  • Secretes vital hormones like hepcidin which helps discourage bacterial invasion and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) that aids in growth. Other hormones include betatrophin, angiotensinogen, and thrombopoietin

The liver is also responsible for regulating the body’s sex hormones.

What are the forms of liver disease in cats?

In cats, hepatic lipidosis happens more often than other liver diseases.

Hepatic lipidosis is the most common form of liver disease that occurs in cats. Its causes have been linked to anorexia, a result of the cat’s decreased appetite. In addition, hepatic lipidosis can occur in cats that are obese.

Because the cat is no longer eating, the liver has to substitute fat for energy. As an outcome, the liver fails due to increasing pressure from excess fat storage over a period of time. The condition is otherwise known as fatty liver disease.

How does Cholangiohepatitis happen?

Cholangiohepatitis, otherwise named cholangitis, is a form of the disease that occurs when the liver and bile ducts become swollen, interfering with the flow of bile.

Bile is an acidic fluid that plays an important role in the digestion process. The bile ducts act as a channel which transports the fluid into the digestive tract to break down the food.

Swelling of the bile ducts is typically caused by a bacterial infection or an immune-mediated disorder of lymphocytes, white blood cells that aid in the functioning of the immune system.

If the ducts are swollen, they prevent the bile from accessing the tract. The bile remains in the liver, causing inflammation.

Three types of Cholangiohepatitis that are known to include suppurative, non-suppurative, and lymphocytic/lymphoplasmacytic.

Toxoplasmosis forms when parasites are present in the body.

According to PetHealthNetwork, This disease gets its name from the host, Toxoplasma gondii. These tiny parasites can take over the cat’s body via sources like dirt, meat that’s raw or under-cooked, water, rodents, and contact with a cat that’s already been infected.

Cats suffering from this form of the liver disease may not experience any symptoms at all.

What causes toxic hepatopathy?

The liver can be damaged by exposure to toxins. As one of the liver’s jobs is to filter toxins from the body, it is possible for the organ to become overwhelmed by these harmful substances.

In many cases, cats are vulnerable to excessive exposure to hepatotoxins such as vitamin A, iron, Xylitol, and Effexor.

What is a portosystemic shunt?

According to VetSpecialists, A portosystemic stunt, additionally named a liver stunt, causes blood to bypass the liver as the result of an abnormal connection between the vessels.

All the nutrients and toxins in the blood are carried off into the bloodstream, circulating throughout the body.

Abnormal vessels that form inside the liver are called intrahepatic shunts while the ones that form outside are called extrahepatic shunts.

Cats can develop symptoms at six months of age.

What are the causes of liver disease in cats?

There are various causes of feline liver disease. It’s difficult to make a direct cause for a lot of liver disease cases. For any factor that could cause liver disease in cats, it’s most likely one of the following:

  • Cancer
  • Pancreatitis
  • Alterations in diet
  • Kidney disease
  • Inflammation of bile ducts
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Over-exposure to toxic substances or drugs
  • Various diseases

According to some websites, stress has been named a factor which can liver disease in your cat. Bringing a new furry friend home can have a negative impact.

What are the symptoms of liver disease in cats?

Symptoms can vary from cat to cat. Many symptoms don’t appear until the illness has reached an advanced level. Depending on the disease, your cat may experience symptoms such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice – yellowing of the mucous membranes, skin, gums, whites of the eyes, paw pads, and ear flaps
  • Anorexia (from loss of appetite)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Dark colored urine
  • Melena – black, tarry stool. May contain blood
  • Seizures
  • Foul breath
  • Sore throat
  • Change in liver size
  • Excessive salivation
  • Abnormal clotting
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sluggishness
  • Dehydration (causing them to drink more water)
  • Increased urination
  • Respiratory problems
  • Ascites – build-up of fluid inside the abdomen
  • Changes in behavior
  • Tremors
  • Loss in muscle mass
  • Muscle pain
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

In some cases, liver disease can cause bleeding (from internal organs) and even blindness.

To be more specific regarding changes in behavior, you might observe some aggression from your cat. Take notice if he or she starts randomly wandering or pacing around the home. Restlessness and head pressing could be signs of liver disease as well.

If your cat displays any of these symptoms, contact a veterinarian right away.

How does the veterinarian diagnose liver disease in cats?

In order to diagnose your cat, the veterinarian will have to perform several laboratory tests of the cat’s blood and urine.

What will a urinalysis tell about my pet’s condition?

A urinalysis will reveal the levels of bilirubin in the urine. A rise in the level of bilirubin can be a sign of liver disease.

What does a complete blood count reveal?

The veterinarian can conduct a complete blood count to reveal the level of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Poikilocytes, red blood cells with an abnormal shape, are common to find in cats with liver disease.

A change in levels of white blood cells can mean that your cat’s health is at risk. An elevated level of basophils, white blood cells produced in the bone marrow, can be found in cats with liver disease. You will definitely know something is wrong as these cells are rarely seen in cats.

In addition, the decrease in red blood cell levels can indicate that the illness is present.

How is a biochemical profile used to check for signs of feline liver disease?

According to PetMD, A biochemical profile helps determine the level of enzymes in the blood.

Cats with liver disease have an increase of enzymes such as alanine aminotransferase, alkaline phosphatase, and aspartate aminotransferase. Furthermore, the profile helps evaluate the level of bilirubin.

An increase in bilirubin can be specified by a reduced blood cell count.

The cat’s levels of blood urea nitrogen, glucose, cholesterol, creatinine, and albumin are also measured. Low levels of the following have been associated with liver cancer.

How are X-rays and ultrasound used?

Tools like X-rays and ultrasound equipment are used to examine the physical condition, meaning shape and size, of the cat’s liver.

In addition, the veterinarian will able to check for any indicating factors of the disease such as inflammation of the bile ducts or tumors.

What is a biopsy?

Another method veterinarians use to help diagnose liver disease is a biopsy. With this procedure, the veterinarian places a needle into the liver for collecting a small portion of the tissue sample. The tissue sample is then examined to determine any signs of the illness.

Physical examination includes checking for symptoms like yellowing of the gums and external organs of the body.

You might find it easier to notice jaundice on the ear flaps or in the eyes as the cat’s body is mostly covered with fur.

The veterinarian will quiz you on the cat’s medical history and the state of your pet’s health. You will also notify the veterinarian about any preceding circumstances that may have lead to the cat’s current state.

How is feline liver disease treated?

Treatment is based on the type of liver disease. If the treatment process goes well, recovery time can range from 6 to 8 weeks.

Changes in diet may be necessary for recovery.

It’s suggested that you regulate the amount of protein you give your cat during the recovery process.

The veterinarian can recommend that the pet’s intake of fats and carbohydrates be regulated as well. He or she might advise you to feed the cat foods which are low in sodium.

You may need to use the force-feeding method in case the cat decides not to eat. You will use a syringe.

The syringe is necessary for getting the food through the feeding tube which can be inserted into the stomach or the esophagus.

You can talk with the veterinarian about this procedure. If you prefer, you can check out some online videos such as one below.

How to force feed your cat. As the title states, the video gives you tips on how you force feed your cat.


Be cautious of how much you’re feeding your cat, especially if obesity is a concern.

Antibiotics are used to help fight off bacteria.

Some forms of liver disease can be treated with antibiotics. Toxoplasmosis is an example. Antibiotics are created to destroy bacteria as well as stop them from reproducing.

Nutritional Supplementation plays a role in defense against liver failure.

Giving your pet nutritional supplements can be an effective method of helping it recover from the disease.

Vitamin deficiencies can contribute to failing health of the liver. The absence of vitamin E aids in protecting the organ from free radical damage. Vitamin K helps stop bleeding.

Another supplementation you can use to fight against liver failure is S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) which improves bile flow and milk thistle, a herbal supplement with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

What can I do to prevent liver disease in my cat?

Fortunately, there are ways you can make sure that your pet doesn’t have to go through.

Keep your cat out of stressful incidents as much as possible. For instance, f you decide to change your cat’s diet, don’t just abruptly force the new food. You can mix it with the old food so that the cat will still be willing to eat.

Do your best to take extra precautions to assure that your pet is kept in a healthy, stress-free environment.