Liver Disease In Cats

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 Liver

The 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:

  • 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

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.

Symptoms of Liver Disease in Cats

There 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 -

  • Loss of appetite (of varying degrees)
  • Weight Loss
  • Lack of energy and even lethargy

More advanced and/or specific symptoms include -

  • 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 Cats

It’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 Cats

This 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.


The 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 Cats

Cancer 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 Cats

There 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: [article="33551"]Elevated Liver Enzymes In Cats Should You Be Worried[/article]

Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

3 comments on “Liver Disease In Cats

Anne November 27, 2014
@fatcat5  I copied your question into a thread in the cat health forum. I'm sure you'll get replies there - It's great to leave feedback on articles but when you want to bring up questions for others to respond to, the forums are the right place for that. :)
fatcat5 November 27, 2014
Our kitty has liver disease right now. We are syringe feeding her right now; no fun..but will be having the feeding tube put in on Friday. She too was backed up and it really made her sick. She had x-rays, ultrasound, blood work; the works because originally the vet thought she might have a blockage. I think it was because she became so constipated that she just stopped eating altogether. We didn't notice that she had stopped eating because her bowl would be empty. Turns out our other cat was eating hers too. Now we really have to make sure they are going to be separated. Of course thats going to be when she starts eating again. Right now she is eating a/d. She has never liked soft food; she's only eating it because we're syringe feeding her,  so I'm not sure what we will feed her afterwards. I think I will ask the vet about the LD. Is that a soft food and/or does it come in a dry version? This is so heartbreaking to see her like this. I am committed to doing what it takes to get her health back and maintain it. It looks like a long road ahead, that's for sure. What's the name of the medicine? 
heathernichelle November 6, 2014
My kitty was diagnosed with Liver Disease about 5 years ago. I initially took him into the vet because his stools were backed up and he was turning colors (from light grey to red). We did X-rays and blood work and sure enough, his liver panel came back all out of wack. My vet gave me medicine to give to him every day and changed his cat food to a prescription diet, LD.  Six months later, we repeated the X-rays and blood work and I once again had a healthy kitty! He still eats the LD food and will for the rest of his life. However, his coat is back to it's natural grey color and prettier than ever. Just as a precaution, I have the vet run his blood work once a year, and so far his liver panels have always came back in normal ranges. The LD is the sole reason his disease is being maintained and even though it smells terrible and costs a fortune, it is totally worth it & must taste great because he gobbles it down any chance he can get!

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