What is Liver Disease in Cats?
What is it?
How is it Treated?
Liver disease can affect any cat, regardless of breed, age, or gender.
When Karen observed her usually vibrant Maine Coon, Jasper, becoming lethargic, losing weight, and vomiting, she knew something was wrong. Alarmed by these symptoms, she took Jasper to her veterinarian for a detailed evaluation. After conducting blood tests and imaging, the vet diagnosed Jasper with liver disease, a condition that can affect cats of various breeds and ages.
Feline liver disease (FLD) is a condition affecting cats caused by fatty deposits in the liver. These deposits form due to excessive amounts of fat in the diet. Fatty deposits can cause inflammation, bleeding, scarring, and eventually cirrhosis. Other causes include genetic disorders, toxins, parasites, and infections.
What Does the Liver Do?
The liver is one of the most vital organs in a cat’s body. It performs over 500 functions, including detoxification, protein synthesis, storing vitamins and minerals, synthesizing glucose, blood clotting, bile production, digestion, regulating hormones, and metabolism. In addition, the liver produces bile, which helps break down fats and fat-soluble vitamins.
Bile is stored in the gall bladder until needed. For example, when your cat eats food, its stomach signals to the brain what it ate. This signal tells the brain how much energy to release into the bloodstream to use to perform activities like walking, playing, etc.
If too little energy is released from the food, the brain will send another signal to the liver asking for more bile to help digest the food. On the other hand, if too much energy is released from the food (like eating a large meal), the brain will tell the liver to stop releasing bile because the body doesn’t need any extra energy right now.
What Causes Liver Disease in Cats?
In cats, liver disease can take several forms. Some are caused by bacteria or viruses, while others are related to several diseases and conditions, including infections, toxins, genetic disorders, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and chronic inflammation.
The bacteria that cause feline liver diseases include those that affect cats’ intestines (colon) and those that affect their livers. The most common bacterial infections affecting cats’ livers include Pasteurella multocida, E. coli, Staphylococcus spp., Streptococcus equi subsp: zooepidemicus, and Leptospira interrogans serovar icterohaemorrhagiae.
What are the Common Liver Diseases in Cats?
- Cholangiohepatitis Fibrosis
Cholangiohepatic fibrosis (CHF) is a common type of chronic hepatitis in cats. CHF occurs when bile ducts become damaged and scarred over time, causing them to narrow and block the bile flow.
This causes inflammation and damage to the liver cells. The most common cause of CHF is cholangiopathy, which results from infection, injury, or obstruction of the biliary tract.
Other factors may include dietary indiscretion, genetic predisposition, toxins, trauma, and neoplasia.
- Lymphocytic cholangitis
Lymphocytic cholangitis (LC) is a rare liver disease affecting only cats. LC causes inflammation of the bile ducts and gallbladder, which leads to jaundice. The condition usually occurs in older cats.
LC usually occurs between 2 and 5 years of age, and most cats recover entirely within 1 to 4 months. However, it can be fatal if left untreated.
- Hepatic lipidosis
Feline hepatic lipidosis occurs when too much fat is stored in the liver cells. This causes the cat’s body to produce excessive amounts of ketones which cause weakness and lethargy. Hepatic lipidosis symptoms vary, but some signs may include dramatic weight loss (over 25 percent of body weight), anorexia, vomiting, sedentary behavior, and diarrhea.
The condition usually affects older cats and those fed diets containing large quantities of meat products. However, it is treatable if caught early.
- Infectious Peritonitis
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), caused by a virus, is one of the most severe infectious diseases affecting domestic cats. It is a common cause of death in cats with liver disease. It is fatal in up to 90% of cases. There is no known cure.
The most common symptom of infectious peritonitis is abdominal pain. Other symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, lethargy, weight loss, and dehydration.
- Chronic Hepatitis
Cats with chronic hepatitis will usually have a history of obesity and will sometimes be overweight. In addition, it is often associated with old age, obesity, diabetes mellitus, kidney failure, and certain types of cancer.
Cats with chronic hepatitis often suffer from liver failure. This condition causes cats to become weak and lethargic. They may vomit blood and lose weight. Their coats may be dull and lifeless.
- Acute hepatitis
Acute hepatic failure occurs when the liver loses most of its ability to perform essential functions. This happens suddenly and is characterized by nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fever, weakness, and dehydration. These symptoms typically occur within three weeks of exposure to a toxin, infection, or another factor that damages the liver.
Symptoms of Liver Failure in Cats
It could be liver disease. If you notice symptoms like losing weight, you should stop vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss, abdominal pain, or jaundice. Your cat may even become dehydrated because he isn’t drinking enough water. Sometimes, the cat’s appetite decreases, and its coat becomes dull and matted.
If your cat is losing weight, you should take him to the veterinarian to check his health. You’ll probably find out that there are some things you can do to help keep your cat healthy.
Diagnosis of Liver Disease in Cats
There are many ways to diagnose liver disease in cats. The most common method is through blood tests. Your veterinarian may perform routine blood work, including testing for total protein, albumin, globulin, alkaline phosphatase (ALP), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), and bilirubin.
If your cat has any abnormal values, it may suffer from liver disease. However, not every abnormality indicates liver disease. So, your vet should run additional tests to determine whether there is actual damage to the liver.
Your vet may recommend imaging studies, such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or nuclear scintigraphy. These procedures allow your vet to view internal organs, detect tumors, and evaluate organ function.
Finally, your vet may suggest a biopsy. This procedure involves removing tissue samples from the affected area(s). Tissue samples are examined under a microscope to identify abnormalities.
Treatment for Cats with Liver Disease
Treatment options for liver disease in cats depend upon the severity of the problem. Treatment includes dietary management, medication, surgery, and euthanasia.
- Dietary management involves reducing the amount of fat consumption and fiber intake. It would be best to feed your cat a diet that contains less fat and fewer calories.
- Medications are often prescribed to treat cats with liver problems. These medications can slow down the progression of the disease. They can also improve the quality of life for your cat. Medication treatments include antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anticoagulants, and corticosteroids.
- Surgery is another option for treating cats with liver disease. It is used to remove diseased livers. Your veterinarian will recommend surgery based on the severity of your cat’s condition.
- Euthanasia is the last resort treatment for cats with liver disease. This is performed when the cat cannot recover from severe illness. Euthanasia means putting your cat to sleep. It’s done when other treatments aren’t working.
Your vet will give you recommendations for managing your cat’s liver disease. They will also explain the pros and cons of various treatments.
Recovery after Treatment
Liver disease in cats can be treated successfully. But, it requires careful monitoring by veterinarians and owners alike. In addition, recovery depends on how quickly your cat recovers after receiving medical care.
A healthy diet is essential to preventing the recurrence of liver disease in cats. Veterinarian Dr. Sarah Gantenbein recommends feeding dry food exclusively to cats with chronic liver disease. She says that canned foods contain too much fat and protein, which can worsen the problem. Dry food contains less fat and protein and is easier to administer.
Regular follow-ups with the veterinarian are necessary to monitor progress. They need immediate veterinary attention if a cat develops jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or weight loss. You should contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any signs of illness.
In general, recovery takes about two weeks. Your cat must eat a special diet and receive regular veterinary visits during this time. In addition, your veterinarian will monitor your cat’s progress.
The prognosis for cats recovering from liver disease is good. Most cats make a full recovery. However, some cats have mild symptoms that don’t require further treatment. Others develop complications during their recovery period.
Complications of Cat Liver Disease
Complications occur when your cat suffers from more than one type of liver disease. Complications include:
- Hepatic encephalopathy — A build-up of toxins in the brain caused by liver failure.
- Ascites — An accumulation of fluid around the lungs.
- Hepatocellular carcinoma — Cancerous cells form within the liver.
- Portal hypertension — The pressure build-up in the portal vein carries blood away from the liver.
- Hepatitis — Inflammation of the liver.
Frequently Asked Questions
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