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
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.
Overweight cats that stop eating are at higher risk for fatty liver disease.
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 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.
Are Ear Mites Bugging Your Cat? Here’s Ear Mite Treatments for Dogs & Cats
Pets often suffer from earaches from ear infections. Sometimes infection results from parasites like ear mites. These tiny parasites are common in cats, and causes otodectic mange, more commonly known as ear mite infestation. Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are a kind of arthropod that are actually related to and look something like spiders. The first four legs of all stages bear unjointed short stalks and suckers, and adult males also have suckers on the rear legs. Ewwww!
The mites live on the surface of the skin of the ear and ear canal. Adult females lay eggs with cement that stick them in place. After incubating four days, eggs hatch into six-legged larvae. Larvae feed for three to ten days, consuming the debris of the ear canal, and piercing the skin to suck lymph. Each larva hatches into an eight-legged protonymph, which then molts into a deutonymph. The deutonymph becomes attached to an adult male end to end by the suckers on their rear legs. If a female adult emerges from the deutonymph, fertilization occurs and the female becomes egg bearing. The life cycle lasts three weeks.
Intense itching with resultant scratching can damage the ear.
CONSEQUENCES OF INFECTION
Ear mites are the most common cause of ear inflammation. Symptoms of ear mite infestation include brown, waxy debris in the ear canal, and/or crust formation. The crawling mites inside the ear canal produce intense itching and discomfort. Infested cats will shake their heads, dig at their ears, and show a variety of restless behavior. That can result in an aural hematoma, where the ear flap swells.
Excessive head shaking or scratching at the ears caused by ear mites can result in secondary trauma to the pinna, the external portion of your cat’s ear. This can cause a kind of blood blister called a hematoma.
Vet examining drop eared dog with otoscope to check for ear mites.
DIAGNOSING EAR MITES
Ear mites are extremely contagious, and outdoor cats are most commonly affected. These parasites aren’t selective; they infest many species, including cats, dogs, rabbits, ferrets and other pets. Kittens often acquire ear mites from their mother.
If one pet is diagnosed with ear mites, all the animals in a multi-pet household must be treated to prevent reinfestation. When left untreated, ear mites can cause severe problems of the middle and inner ear, which may affect the cat’s hearing and balance.
Diagnosis is made by actually seeing the mite. The parasite is tiny, white, and nearly impossible to see with the naked eye. Generally, the veterinarian will make a slide of a sample of the ear debris, and examine it under the microscope to identify the parasite.
EAR MITE TREATMENTS FOR DOGS & CATS
Treatment consists of flushing out the debris, and applying insecticide to kill the mites. Bland oil, like mineral oil squirted into the ear canal followed by gentle massage helps flush out the crumbly material. Because of the three week lifespan of the mites, more than one ear mite treatment for dogs and cats may be necessary to kill the mites as they hatch.
A number of over the counter ear drop medications are available for treating ear mites in cats. Many of them contain insecticides such as carbaryl or pyrethrins in a mineral oil solution. Sometimes, steroids are necessary to help the inflammation subside, and antibiotic ointment may be indicated to treat bacterial infections.
NATURAL OPTIONS FOR TREATING EAR MITES
Holistic veterinarians may recommend using a green tea rinse as an ear mite treatment for dogs and cats, since it’s a natural antiseptic and can gently remove the ear debris caused by the mites. Steep a tablespoon of green tea leaves in a cup of hot water for three or four minutes, strain it, and allow to cool to room temperature. Flush your pet’s ear canal with the tea, using a small dropper.
A natural traditional way to treat ear mites is to suffocate the bugs with oil. Place two or three drops of vegetable oil in the pet’s ears, and massage. The oil also soothes the itch, but you’ll need to treat the ears daily for at least a month to catch all the maturing bugs, and your cat’s oily head may not be to his (or your) liking.
When the cat’s ears are very sore, sedation may be necessary to properly clean his ears. Even when ear drops are effective, some cats object to having their ears cleaned and treated, and unless the entire course of treatment is completed, the problem will recur. In addition, some cats are resistant to certain medications, or are hard for owners to handle and medicate at home.
For these stubborn cases, an injectable medication may be the answer. One or two beneath-the-skin injections of an insecticide called Ivermectin is effective, but not FDA approved for this use. Veterinarians may use the drug “off label” with the informed consent of their clients.
Has your cat ever suffered from ear mites? How did you get rid of them? Please share your experiences! (Oh, and I hope you’ll forward this post to those who need the info…)