What Causes Liver Failure In Cats


About Dr Pete Wedderburn Dvm

Cat Health : Signs of Liver Problems in Cats

Dr Pete Wedderburn qualified as a vet from Edinburgh in 1985 and has run his own 4-veterinarian companion animal practice in County Wicklow, Ireland, since 1991. Pete is well known as a media veterinarian with regular national tv, radio and newspaper slots, including a weekly column in the Daily Telegraph since 2007. Pete is known as “Pete the Vet” on his busy Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, regularly posting information on topical subjects and real-life cases from his clinic. He also write a regular blog at www.petethevet.com. His latest book: Pet Subjects, was published by Aurum Press in 2017.

What Are The Symptoms Of Liver Disease In Cats

Symptoms of liver disease in cats include:

  • Swelling in the abdomen

If the liver disease is more severe, sometimes this causes jaundice â or yellowing of the eyes, skin, and gums. The buildup of fluid in the abdominal area â or ascites â may also occur.

Sometimes with severe disease, toxins build up in the brain that the liver would normally clear. This can lead to strange behavior in your cat like disorientation, extreme salivating, or seizures. These symptoms can mimic other serious conditions like liver cancer or peritonitis, so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis.

What Causes A Cat To Have Kittens Too Early

Occasionally a cat may experience premature contractions causing early delivery of her kittens. Some cats can be genetically predisposed to early labor while others may have an infection, a hormonal imbalance, ovarian cysts, stress or malnutrition. The death of a fetus in the womb can also cause early labor.

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What Causes These Tumors

The reason why a particular pet may develop this, or any other tumor or cancer, is not straightforward. Very few tumors and cancers have a single known cause. Most seem to be caused by a complex mix of risk factors, some environmental and some genetic or hereditary. In the case of primary liver tumors, there are no known causes. They tend to arise in older pets .

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How To Prevent Cat Liver Disease

Liver Disease in Cats. Causes, Symptoms and What to Expect

Some ways to prevent liver disease in cats include:

  • Maintain your cat at a healthy weight.
  • Visit the veterinarian yearly, and perform blood work when requested.
  • Administer parasite prevention as directed by your veterinarian.
  • Keep your cat indoors so he cannot interact with cats unknown to you, cannot get parasites or ingest toxins.
  • Keep all toxic substances locked up so your cat does not have access.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Muscle Contraction Disease In Cats

Symptoms of muscle contraction disease in cats are very clear. Cat owners will be able to visibly see the disease causing the muscles of their felines legs, abdomen, head, neck or jaw to contract. The muscle contractions of myoclonus are usually short-lived, lasting just a few seconds from the time they started.

Common Conditions That Cause Or Increase A Cat’s Risk Of Hepatic Lipidosis

While a cat can get “primary hepatic lipidosis,” or hepatic lipidosis that has no underlying cause, it’s more often the case that cats develop hepatic lipidosis “secondary” to some other underlying condition. And in reality, it’s quite likely that many of the “primary” cases actually have an underlying cause, but it’s just not detected or diagnosed. Below are some of the more common conditions that can cause or increase a cat’s chances of a case of hepatic lipidosis:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

Another thing that’s important to know about hepatic lipidosis in cats is that it predominately affects, or is at least typically significantly worse in, cats that are overweight or obese. Given this fact, along with the fact that there is typically a preventable or, at least, treatable condition underlying most cases of hepatic lipidosis in cats, it means that there are several things you can typically do to protect your cat and minimize their chances of suffering from a bout of hepatic lipidosis. These steps are outlined below.

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Diet For Liver Disease In Cats

Diet is very important in cats with liver disease. Your veterinarian will want to make sure your cat is staying hydrated, has an appropriate electrolyte balance, and is eating well/has a good appetite. Your veterinarian will work with you to recommend an appropriate diet that addresses your cats specific needs based on their clinical symptoms.

Supplementing vitamins within your pets diet is also important, as liver disease can cause vitamin deficiencies. Vitamins your veterinarian may recommend supplementing can include B vitamins, vitamins E and K, and zinc.

If your cat is not eating on their own, an esophageal tube may need to be placed to provide your cat with a high-protein and calorie-dense diet.

The Best Food To Feed A Cat With Kidney Problems

Pet Tips Liver Disease in Cats

The best food for cats with kidney problems is not determined by ones preference each cats individual requirements will necessitate a different diet. Hills Prescription Diet k/d , Royal Canin Renal Support, Purina ProPlan Veterinary Diet NF Kidney Function, and Rayne Clinical Nutrition Adult Health Canned tuna may be good for cats, but for cats with kidney disease, there are non-prescription diets designed specifically for them. There is also a dry food that does not require a prescription available for cats with kidney disease at Forza10. It is critical to consult with a veterinarian if you intend to give a specific cat the best possible food, because each cat is unique and requires its own level of care. Taking these steps can help ensure that your cat has the best chance of recovering from kidney disease.

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Advanced Ckd: When Feeding Needs An Assist

Assuring hydration and food intake is one of the most important components of nutritional management of cats with CKD. The goal when recommending a specific food and dose is to maintain stable, healthy body weight. Monitoring kidney function, hydration, body weight, BCS, and MCS is key to catching any decline quickly. If cats are unable to maintain weight on their own, intervention is essential.

How To Prevent & Treat Failing Kidneys

One of the best ways to prevent the above disease and liver disease in cats is to keep them on a preventative care plan. This is what a cat wellness plan is. While pet insurance for cats is important, a cat wellness plan actively keeps your cat healthy. Some of the tops ways in which liver disease in cats can be diagnosed includes:

Routine Bloodwork: If your vet is running routine bloodwork such as hematology or a biochemistry profile, they can often see signs of liver disease. This is because they can examine and compare liver enzymes, electrolytes, and bilirubin. Your vet might also run tests to rule out other common diseases in cats, such as FeLV, FIV, and thyroid conditions.

Routine Urinalysis: Urine exams will likely also be conducted, helping the vet get a better overall view of the liver function. Typically a simple feline urine exam can quickly show that a cat is not at its peak health.

Diagnostics: If your vet is quite concerned about your cats urinalysis and bloodwork status, they might then order x-rays and ultrasounds to get a better look. These diagnostics can be pretty expensive but are covered by Wagmos pet insurance for cats.

If your cat has been diagnosed with acute feline liver disease, your vet might prescribe a few different ways of treatment. Usually, when caught early enough, the vet will be trying to improve the livers role in the bodys metabolism. To do this, they might prescribe:

  • Bile acid modifying supplements

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Signs Of Liver Dysfunction Or Failure In Cats

Because the liver is involved in so many body functions, the signs you might see when your cat is suffering from hepatic lipidosis, or any other condition that causes liver dysfunction, can vary widely. Below are some of the signs that could indicate a problem with your cat’s liver:

  • Yellowing of the ears, eyes , gums, or skin
  • Small, pin-sized bruises on gums, ears, or elsewhere on the body
  • Large bruises under the skin
  • Blood in urine or stool
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Swollen abdomen

Questions? To chat with a veterinarian about your cat and fatty liver disease,

How Long Can A Cat Live With Liver Problems

The Telling Sign of Fatty Liver Disease in Cats

Diseases elsewhere in the body can also affect the livers function. Fortunately, liver disease can be effectively managed and progression limited. Many cats go on to live happily years after their diagnosis. Proper nutrition and continuous dialogue with your veterinarian are key to managing your cats liver disorder.

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Fancy Feast Renal Diet For Cats

Cats do not need a prescription to consume a kidney diet. A well-balanced diet is important because it provides the cat with the necessary nutrients. You can also provide your cat with protein by feeding it grass-fed meats, free-range poultry, or wild-caught fish. Fancy Feast is an excellent choice for a renal diet because it contains the same nutritional profile as retail food.

Whats The Prognosis For A Cat With Liver Disease

Depending on what the underlying cause of the liver problem is in cats, the prognosis can vary from good to grave. The prognosis is good for hepatic lipidosis, cholangitis/cholangiohepatitis, toxins, and even pancreatitis. But the prognosis is very poor for cancer or other rarer diseases.

Keep in mind that with any sickness in your pets, the sooner you and your veterinarian diagnose it, the less expensive it is to treat. More importantly, know that liver disease in cats can sometimes result in liver failure and death, and result in a costly visit at an ER vet. When in doubt, get to your veterinarian if your cat shows any worrisome signs.

Cover photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash


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Treatment Of Acute Liver Failure In Cats

Fluid Therapy

The cat will be given fluids intravenously in order to prevent dehydration and to support the circulation. Electrolytes and intravenous dextrose will also be administered to correct any electrolyte imbalances and low blood sugar levels.

Feeding Tube

The veterinarian will place the cat on a special diet that will be given to the cat through a feeding tube if they are not eating themselves. The feeding tube may either be inserted through the nose or directly into the esophagus through a small incision in the cat’s neck. The tube will deliver calories, protein and nutrients directly to the stomach or intestines. The diet will be high in protein with vitamins E and K to promote healing and prevent blood clots from occurring.


A variety of complications can occur throughout the body as a result of acute liver failure. Medications will be prescribed both to treat these complications and to treat the primary cause of the liver failure. These medications include:

  • Antioxidants to promote healing
  • Hepatoprotectants to prevent additional damage to the liver
  • Antiemetics to treat vomiting and nausea
  • Antibiotics to kill bacteria or infections in the liver or other organs
  • Diuretics to help remove excess fluid from the body
  • Mannitol to decrease cerebral swelling
  • Lactulose to stop the absorption of ammonia
  • Antiulcer medications to treat ulcers
  • Coagulopathy medications to help the blood clot to prevent internal bleeding

Treatment Of Liver Disorders

What Causes Liver Problems in Cats?

Early treatment is critical for cats with sudden liver failure. Your veterinarian will prescribe specific treatment if an underlying cause can be identified. In cases of longterm or end-stage liver disease, and in cases of sudden liver disease when no underlying cause has been identified, supportive treatment is directed at slowing progression of disease, minimizing complications, and allowing time for the liver to regenerate and compensate. Supportive treatment may include the administration of fluids, medications to protect the liver, and dietary support.

The diet usually recommended for cats with liver disease is typically easy to digest and high in calories. Some liver disorders require modifications of fat or protein or supplementation with certain vitamins. Follow the specific advice provided by your veterinarian. It may be best to feed small, frequent meals. Cats that refuse to eat may require tube feeding.

Vitamin deficiencies can occur with liver disease. Prescribed vitamin and mineral supplements may include zinc, B vitamins, vitamin K, and vitamin E. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations on vitamin supplementation because overdoses of some vitamins can be harmful.

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What Can Cause A Pregnant Cat To Give Birth Early

There are many conditions that can cause a pregnant cat, or queen, to experience premature contractions leading to preterm delivery of kittens. Bacterial infections, viral infections, death of one or more fetuses, ovarian cysts, hormonal imbalances, injury, malnutrition, a change in environment/moving,

Types Of Kidney Failure Seen In Cats

There are two types of kidney failure in cats. Each type differs in causes, treatment options and prognosis.

Acute Renal Failure

If your cat is suffering from acute kidney failure, it means that their kidneys are suddenly unable to function properly. This type of kidney failure occurs suddenly, within days or weeks. If diagnosed in time, acute renal failure can often be reversed.

It can happen in cats of any age and typically results from poisons, trauma, infection, organ failure, urethral blockages, dehydration and other causes. Poisons, such as toxic plants, pesticides, cleaning fluids and human medications, are the most common cause of acute renal failure.

Chronic Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney failure in cats is a gradual condition that typically develops over several months or even years. This type of kidney failure is typically caused by autoimmune diseases, cysts in the kidneys, and genetics.

Chronic kidney failure is a progressive illness that can lead to total kidney failure, where the kidneys gradually stop working as they lose the ability to filter toxins out of the blood.

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Obstruction Of The Bile Duct

Obstruction of the bile duct is associated with a number of conditions, including inflammation of the pancreas , intestines, gallbladder, and bile duct intestinal foreign objects parasites gallstones and tumors. Tissue swelling, inflammation, or scarring can cause compression of the bile duct. A sudden, complete obstruction can lead to lethargy, fever, jaundice, vomiting, pale stools, and changes in appetite . Some cats develop abnormal bleeding within 1 week.

Diagnosis is based on laboratory tests, x-rays, and ultrasonography. Abdominal surgery is frequently necessary to diagnose and treat the obstruction. Cats with infections in the biliary tract are at risk for serious complications during surgery. Cats with pancreatitis can sometimes be treated with medication to relieve the obstruction, but if this is not successful, surgery may then be necessary. Gallstones rarely cause obstruction, but when this does occur, removal of the gallbladder is the preferred treatment in most cases. When cancer is present, surgery can provide temporary relief but is usually not a cure.

What’s The Outlook For Cats With Liver Disease

Signs Of Kidney Or Liver Disease In Cats

Although the liver can regenerate in mild or even moderate cases and regain normal function, Anthony says a liver disease prognosis for your furry friend depends on how early the issue is caught and when treatment is instituted.

“Unfortunately, many of these cases aren’t seen until the cat is very ill,” she notes. “They often require hospitalization for several days with aggressive rehydration, nutritional support, and medications.” The prognosis in these situations is case-by-case, especially if underlying or co-occurring conditions exist.

Anthony adds that liver disease in cats is challenging to flesh out since the symptoms are often subtle and the causes of the disease are so varied. “The main takeaway for any cat owner is: watch your cat closely for changes in appetite, activity, and body weight,” she says. “Take your cat to a vet right away so the disease can be determined quickly. And prepare yourself for a lengthy, sometimes expensive, treatment plan.”

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Can A Cat Recover From Liver Failure

Liver disease in a cat’s life expectancy is virtually nil if left untreated with a mortality rate of above 90%. Cats usually die due to severe malnutrition or other complications. Cats treated in the early stages can have a recovery rate of between 80-90%.

Feline Liver Disease | Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments | Dr. Bill’S Pet Nutrition | The Vet Is In

How To Diagnose Liver Disease In Cats

In order to make a diagnosis of liver disease, your veterinarian will need to get a thorough history, do a complete physical examination, and start with several initial blood tests. The most important workup will be an ultrasound and aspirate of the liver.

Initial tests that your veterinarian can do include:

  • A complete blood count to evaluate the red and white blood cell count, along with the platelet count
  • Specific blood tests to evaluate liver function
  • A biochemistry panel to evaluate the liver enzymes , protein level, electrolytes, blood sugar, and kidney function
  • A clotting test to evaluate the bodys ability to clot

Depending on what these initial tests show, a referral to a veterinary specialist may be warranted for additional testing. This includes:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • A liver aspirate or biopsy to remove a few cells or small amount of tissue for analysis. By aspirating a few liver cells out and evaluating them on a slide, this will help determine what is going on in the liver, and differentiate other causes for jaundice
  • Placement of a temporary feeding tube

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Clinical Signs Of Liver Disease In Cats

So, what do you need to be on the lookout for? Signs of liver disease in cats can be really subtle, and often look similar to a host of other medical problems. For that reason, its really important to get to your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these signs, especially if its been going on for more than a few days. Signs of liver disease in cats include:

  • Eating less to nothing at all
  • Bruising, especially after phlebotomy, due to abnormal clotting
  • Abnormal behavior progressing to abnormal neurologic signs
  • Black tarry stool

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