Most owners think of cats as resilient creatures and don't think much of some vomiting or increase in sleep time. Add to that the fact that cats are good at hiding their pain and it's easy to see why sometimes cats develop liver disease which goes unnoticed until it becomes very serious. As responsible owners, we have to learn about liver disease in cats, so we can recognize the telltale signs early on and get Kitty to the vet in time.
What is the LiverThe liver is one of the body's vital organs. It is one of the largest organs mammals have, made out of separate lobes and supporting blood vessels. The liver is part of the metabolic system and has many functions, among them:
Clearly, the liver is a very complex and important organ. Complete liver failure is always fatal. It is very important to know the early signs of liver problems and address them in time before irreparable damage is done.
- Synthesizing proteins, glucose and glycogen and some fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides
- Storing substances such as glucose and some types of vitamins and minerals
- Breaking down excess hormones
- Breaking down toxins (or modifying them into harmless forms)
- Creating components of the blood stream
- Taking part in the body's immune system
Symptoms of Liver Disease in CatsThere are many kinds of liver diseases and conditions. The liver may also be affected by systemic medical problems such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism. Whatever the cause or trigger, the symptoms of liver damage are often the same. Early symptoms are vague and include -
More advanced and/or specific symptoms include -
- Loss of appetite (of varying degrees)
- Weight Loss
- Lack of energy and even lethargy
- Jaundice (can be seen in the cat's eye tissues and gums) and dark urine
- Enlarged abdomen
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Neurological signs (such as seizures or extreme behavior changes)
Common Liver Diseases and Conditions in Cats
Hepatic Lipidosis in CatsIt’s the most common metabolic cause of liver failure in cats. No one knows what exactly brings about hepatic lipidosis in cats but one reason could be lack of appetite. When a cat quits eating, fat accumulates in liver cells resulting in Kitty’s liver becoming enlarged and sick.
Cholangiohepatitis in CatsThis is the second most common liver disease for cats. The gallbladder is a small organ which stores bile produced by the liver. With this disease, the liver and bile ducts leading to the gallbladder are inflamed. If bacteria from the small intestines is moving into the bile duct, it gets into the gallbladder and the liver too. It’s also associated with IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and pancreatitis, sometimes both.
PoisoningThe liver plays a major role in toxin breakdown (or modification) in the body. Some toxins cannot be handled by a cat's liver and can damage it instead. In fact, some substances, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be far more toxic to cats than they are for humans. It can bring about liver failure in cats very fast.
Liver Cancer in CatsCancer that begins in the liver itself - hepatocellular carcinoma - is uncommon in cats. However, bile duct carcinoma is more common and can reach the liver too. The liver can be also affected by any cancer that starts elsewhere in the body.
Diagnosis of Liver Conditions in CatsThere are many possible things that can go wrong with a cat's liver. Your vet can run the necessary tests to properly diagnose your cat and work towards a cure. Tests may include blood tests, a urinalysis, ultrasound scans, X-rays and even liver biopsies.
If you suspect your cat may be sick do not delay diagnosis and treatment. Some liver conditions can deteriorate quickly and may become fatal if left untreated.
Worried about Kitty's liver enzymes test results? You should probably read this:
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