The liver is a vital organ, performing many important functions within your cat’s body. When the liver is compromised, there are serious health implications for your cat that can affect not only their day-to-day happiness but also their longevity.
So, how can you recognise if your cat has liver problems?
And, more importantly, how can you help them get better?
We’ve put together this handy guide to help cat lovers deal with cat liver disease.
Cats are always behaving strangely. Some even more strangely than others that they end up getting viral on the internet! So, cat parents may just shrug off odd behaviour as one of their funny, unique quirks.
However, if your cat is refusing treats, meowing/crying out more frequently, and you’ve noticed them becoming increasingly lethargic. Chances are - your cat might have liver disease.
Cats can suffer from a large number of different liver diseases and each one has its own set of causes, symptoms and treatment options.
The scary thing is if you don’t know what you are looking for it can be very difficult to tell if your cat has liver disease. If left untreated, most liver diseases can lead to death in just a few short months. We’ve also mentioned a few times in our other blogs that cats are masters at hiding pain. This makes it doubly difficult to determine what’s going on with them. Are they suffering? Do they just want attention? Sometimes we really do wish our cats could talk and just tell us how to help them.
But, as responsible cat parents, it’s important that we learn everything we can about cat liver disease so we can fully understand what our cat is going through and make sure they get the right treatment.
What Is Cat Liver Disease? (Signs, Symptoms & Causes)
Cat liver disease is a broad category of diseases and conditions affecting the cat liver. It is the second leading cause of death in cats, yet many cases are preventable.
The liver is the largest internal organ in your cat’s body and plays a critical role in digestion. It weighs about three pounds and is located in the upper right part of the abdomen, slightly under the diaphragm. It produces bile, which breaks down fat so it can be absorbed by the body. It also stores nutrients and regulates blood clotting.
It’s also good to note that animals have a much more complicated liver than humans because it has to deal with so many different kinds of toxins. Some animals, especially cats, are very sensitive to various chemicals and medications that humans can handle quite easily.
There are many different types of liver disease in cats and most cases of feline liver disease are caused by more than one factor. In most cases, it's due to a build-up of fat, which can cause inflammation and blockage of the bile ducts that lead from the liver to the small intestine.
A lot of times, most people don't know their cat has a liver problem until it is too late. There are some signs that you can watch for with your cat to determine if he or she has liver disease.
- Weight loss
- Abdominal swelling
- Excessive drooling
- Crying without reason
- Disorientation and confusion
- Wandering all over the house and being "out of character"
- Increased thirst and urination
- Darkening urine
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes, gums or skin)
- Fluid accumulation under the skin or in the abdomen or chest
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite or reduced interest in eating
- Constipation or increased frequency of defecation
- Changes in water consumption
Cats who suffer from liver disease can be treated, but early diagnosis is important. If you notice your cat has lost weight or is simply behaving oddly, take them to the vet for an exam right away. The earlier liver disease is diagnosed, the better your cat's prognosis will be.
💡 Petz Park Alert
The most common sign of cat liver disease is jaundice. If you notice yellow tinting on your cat’s whites or his eyes appear yellow instead of clear, call your vet right away.
Cat Liver Disease Treatment Options
The first step in treating feline liver disease is through prevention and early detection.
To prevent liver disease, you must learn how you can keep your cat’s liver healthy by feeding with the right diet, supplements and providing them with a clean environment. Jump over to the next section for our list of liver-friendly recommendations.
To detect liver disease early on, take note of the symptoms above and any time you notice your cat experiencing odd behaviour or acting lethargic, take them to the vet right away. It’s also good to note that a lot of the other symptoms above signal other cat illnesses like cat UTI or, in some cases, it could indicate signs of kidney failure in cats. So, even if you’re not sure what’s going on yet, should your cat display any of the above symptoms - your vet might find another health condition that needs immediate treatment.
In any case, here’s what will happen at the vet’s:
If your vet suspects that your cat has liver disease, he or she will probably recommend a blood test to check for elevated levels of liver enzymes. If these are present, a biopsy may be necessary to conclusively diagnose liver disease.
Cat liver disease is generally treated with diet changes initially, but if the problem progresses, additional medications may be necessary. Your vet will discuss all treatment options with you.
Take note that there are several types of liver diseases, including:
- Lymphocytic Cholangitis
- Neutrophilic Cholangitis
- Hepatic Lipidosis
- Toxic Liver Damage
In addition to the above, there are a number of other cat liver diseases, such as portosystemic shunts, toxoplasmosis, and feline infectious peritonitis.
Your doctor will discuss with you exactly what your cat has. In terms of treatment, it depends on the type and severity of the liver disease which is primarily the reason why your vet may order a liver biopsy. Supportive treatments may also be helpful (in addition to specific treatments). These include:
- Intravenous fluid for dehydrated cats
- Nutritional support/changes in diet
- Drugs that will support liver function/blood clotting such as Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), s-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), Vitamin K or Silybin/Silymarin
Should your cat require surgery, your vet will let you know, as well. Post-surgery pain management will be given to you in detail once your cat is ready to leave the clinic.
Petz Park Tip:
How long does it take for my cat to heal from liver disease?
It will vary from cat to cat, but it's not uncommon for a cat to take 3-6 months to fully recover from liver disease. This is because the liver has a poor ability to regenerate itself, so it takes time for your pet's body to repair the damage done.
How Do I Keep My Cat’s Liver Healthy?
The quick answer: the right nutrition and regular visits to the vet especially if your cat is older, overweight or has a compromised immune system.
Cats are a challenge to feed. Since they are carnivores, this means that they need certain nutrients that are only found in animal tissues. They cannot get these nutrients from plant sources. In addition to that, they are simply picky eaters.
Finding the right balance of meat and vegetables can be tricky for cat owners who want to keep their pet's liver healthy but if you know what to look for and what to feed your cat, it’s easy!
Here are some suggestions for safeguarding your pet's liver:
- Feed your cat food with high-quality ingredients.
Avoid giving them foods containing by-products or fillers that are harmful both for their liver and overall health.
- Feed your cat a variety of proteins.
Cats need a high level of protein in their diet to help maintain strong muscles and promote healthy organ function - but too much protein can cause them to develop liver disease. The best way to keep your cat's liver healthy is to feed them quality cat food that contains less than 30% protein. Many cat foods contain up to 35% protein or more, so be sure to read the labels carefully before buying.
- Feed your cat healthy liver supplements.
Boosting your cat’s regular diet with liver-friendly supplements will help them fight liver disease (if they’re currently healing from it) or avoid it altogether.
- Avoid too much dry food.
For a number of reasons, too much dry food in their overall diet is generally not good for cats. It can cause dehydration, the buildup of plaque and tartar in their teeth and it’s hard to digest. So, for cats with liver disease, dry food is something you should avoid giving altogether.
- Formulate a feeding plan based on age.
Since aging affects metabolism, it is advisable to change the feeding plan of your cat when they get older. Older cats need fewer calories than younger ones, but they require more high-quality protein and less fat.
- Avoid feeding your cat with human food.
The food we eat may not be liver-friendly or sometimes toxic for your cat.
- Be aware of the medication your cat is taking.
There are prescription medications that can cause liver problems in cats. Some of these medications should be avoided, especially if your cat is on a diet. Ask your vet about medication prescribed to your cat to ensure it’s safe for their liver.
- Feed your cat with food that’s rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
Giving your cat more seafood or tuna will provide them with Omega-3 fatty acids which are proven to keep their liver healthy. You can also choose to provide them with Omega-3 supplements.
- Provide fresh water at all times.
Cats need plenty of clean water. Not only is it best to maintain their overall health, but the liver also needs water in order to function properly. If your cat isn't getting enough water from her food or from other sources, then you should provide her with a bowl of water as well as an automatic waterer.
- Limit giving treats.
Many commercial treats contain high amounts of sugar which can increase the risk of diabetes and lead to other health problems. So, even if your cat puts on the cutest face and does the most irresistible things, you need to keep treats in check to keep your cat healthy.
Aside from a healthy, balanced diet, another way to keep your cat’s liver healthy is to provide them with ample opportunity to play and exercise. They also need a clean environment - and more importantly, a loving home.
It may seem like a lot of work to make sure your cat has a healthy liver, but the effort is worth it. Going the extra mile means that your favourite feline friend will be able to stay active all day long and enjoy life to its fullest. The key thing to remember, however, is that much like human diseases, prevention and early detection is crucial when it comes to ensuring that your cat avoids liver disease altogether or is treated right away before it becomes fatal.
This information is intended as general information only. It was not written or intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please seek professional guidance from your pet’s veterinarian before taking any action that could affect your pet’s health.