Has your cat ever snubbed the food bowl? Neither of mine has, although Karma is a bit picky–but I’m very watchful because loss of appetite could mean cat liver disease.
CAT FACTS, THE SERIES only from Amy’s Newsletter
I’m sharing this information from my CAT LIVER DISEASE entry from Cat Facts, The Series 12 (L): The Pet Parent’s A-to-Z Home Care Encyclopedia which includes these topics:
Laser Technology, Lice, Litter, Litter Box, Liver Disease, Lower Urinary Tract Disease (LUTD), and Lungworms.
I’ve broken the massive CAT FACTS book into catnip-size alpha-chapter sections. Folks can choose which ones they most need. Each chapter will release every week or so, but ONLY for subscribers on my Amy’s Newsletter Of course, you can still get the entire CAT FACTS book either in Kindle or 540+ pages of print.
WHAT IS CAT LIVER DISEASE?
Liver disease is any condition which impairs that organ’s normal function. The liver is the body’s metabolic headquarters. It serves a dual role both as a kind of factory, and as a filter.
The liver processes sugars and fats, stores vitamins and minerals, and makes necessary proteins and enzymes. The liver also manufactures hormones and important blood-clotting substances, as well as the bile that’s necessary for absorption of fats. The processed material is either stored or delivered throughout the body as needed by the blood.
Blood is also filtered as it passes through the liver. Substances like drugs that are carried by the blood are metabolized, or altered, into other forms. Bacteria, toxins, even viruses are shifted out of the blood system by the liver. Liver disease is serious and often life-threatening to the cat, and is estimated to affect about three to five percent of sick cats seen by veterinarians.
SIGNS OF CAT LIVER DISEASE
Liver disease mimics other illnesses, and often the sick cat has problems in other body systems at the same time with symptoms that overlap. Cats that have liver disease can also suffer from diseases of their intestinal tract and pancreas, a triaditis where all three are inflamed at once. The signs of various kinds of liver diseases are remarkably similar, and typically include:
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- jaundice (yellow tinge to skin)
Because signs are so vague and resemble other feline health problems, the cat owner may not realize the cat’s in trouble until the disease is quite advanced.
DIAGNOSING CAT LIVER DISEASE
A profile of the blood is the first step toward diagnosis. Liver enzymes may be elevated for a number of reasons, though, and elevated enzyme values does not automatically mean the cat has liver disease. Blood tests, imaging techniques and symptoms can point to liver disease.
A definitive diagnosis can only be made examining tissue beneath the microscope. An ultrasound-guided needle allows cells to be collected through the abdominal wall, often without invasive surgery. This biopsy generally is done by anesthetizing the cat. Cells may be collected using a fine needle inserted into the liver through the abdominal wall, or the procedure may require surgery.
Treatment depends on the cause of the problem and how early it’s caught. Once the liver scars from the inflammation, the damage is hard to reverse. Inflammation of the liver—the various hepatitis diseases—is treated with drugs to suppress the inflammation. Veterinarians try to select drugs that rely primarily on the kidneys to process.
KINDS OF CAT LIVER DISEASE
Fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis) is the most common. Overweight cats are at highest risk for this condition, and the definitive sign is when an obese cat suddenly stops eating. For reasons not completely understood, fat is moved into the liver and becomes trapped, resulting in compromised function. A feeding tube may be placed to allow the cat to be fed a soft diet, either while in the hospital or after going home. It may take weeks of tube feeding before the cat’s appetite returns to normal.
Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) usually is the result of exposure to a toxin like chemical insecticides, or drugs like aspirin or Tylenol. Treatment consists primarily of supportive care, and removal of the poison. In certain toxicity cases, early intervention allows the liver to recover with little or no damage to the organ. Prednisone isn’t a cure but reduces inflammation in some kinds of liver diseases and cats improve without many side effects.
Cholangiohepatitis is an inflammatory condition of the bile tract that interferes with the excretion of bile, and is considered the second most common feline liver disease. Cure is rare; therapy is designed to control the disease. When caused by bacteria, long term antibacterial therapy is prescribed. Conditions that result from over-reaction of the immune system require immune suppressing drugs.
HOLISTIC LIVER TREATMENTS
Holistic veterinarians recommend a number of herbs and supplements to help cleanse and support the liver. Dandelion helps remove toxins, and milk thistle has been shown to help the liver generate new cells and protect it from toxins. Nutritional supplements such as raw beets contain natural chemicals that also work very well to support the liver.
Some holistic vets recommend creating a raw liver formula by combining raw egg yolk, raw sheep or beef liver, a teaspoon of honey, two tablespoons of plain yogurt and a cup of water in a blender. The nutraceutical SAMe (S-Adenosylmethionine) increases antioxidant levels in liver cells to protect them from toxins and death and often is used to treat liver ailments.
Fortunately, the liver has quite a bit of built-in redundancy, and only a small portion of the organ needs to function to maintain the cat’s health. After some insults, it’s fully capable of regenerating to its original size.
Do you have a fat cat, or ever struggled to keep your cat eating? I hope you’ll never be challenged with cat liver disease! Please share your experiences, though, to help other readers.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!