What to Expect with Liver Disease in Cats

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By Tess Thompson

The main problem with feline liver disease is that by the time it starts manifesting specific liver related symptoms, almost two-thirds of the liver has already been affected. This is partly because the liver has a huge reserve capacity and continues to function even after a majority of its cells have been destroyed or weakened, and partly because the liver cells have an enormous capacity to regenerate and get back to work. Another possible reason for late detection is the inherent similarity of symptoms of liver disease in cats and dogs with other mild conditions.

The liver is a critical organ that performs numerous and wide ranging functions including digestion, metabolism and production of chemical compounds, elimination of wastes and toxins, and regulation of immunity functions. Toxins consumed by pets reach the liver almost immediately since there is a direct supply of blood from the gut to the liver. The involvement of the liver in multiple functions also presupposes secondary liver disease in cats and dogs caused by primary conditions like diabetes. Most of the malignant cancers often metastasize to the liver as well.

Symptoms of feline liver disease are very similar to liver disease in dogs. They are subtle and vague and are normally difficult to distinguish from symptoms of other common diseases. For example, loss of appetite may relate to digestive disorders due to factors others than a liver disorder. Some of the common symptoms that cat owners should look for include:

  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Occasional fever
  • Increased thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Fluid retention within the abdomen, resulting in a distended stomach and pot-belly
  • Abdominal pain on lifting the cat from the stomach

Once the liver disease advances, it manifests as a typical symptom - jaundice. The gums, teeth and the skin appear yellowish. The membranes under the eye turn yellow. Excess salivation is another manifestation of a liver problem.

Severe liver dysfunction can lead the cat to behave abnormally. Cat owners should be observant about any behavioral changes in their pets since it can lead to an early detection and a better prognosis. Cats are vulnerable to some liver diseases that can be caused due to certain drugs that otherwise do not cause liver disease in other pets. Treating your cat with drugs should be under the supervision of a specialist. While consulting a veterinarian, it will be a good idea to inform the doctor of the drugs that you have administered or toxins that may have been accessible for accidental ingestion.

As mentioned earlier, many malignant tumors spread to the liver. There is also the possibility of a primary liver cancer occurring that originates from the liver itself. Liver cancer has a very poor prognosis and sedative treatment is the only option available. Chemotherapy and radiation that have serious side effects are successful only in increasing the survival time, but they often leave the pet with a poor quality of life.

Liver disease is difficult to treat. Treatments of secondary diseases are often targeted at the cause. Liver specific therapies that are available provide very limited cure. The best course of action is to be aware of liver friendly diet that contains the right balance of high quality proteins, vitamins and mineral meant specifically for cats.


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