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What can I feed a cat with liver problems?

Grey cat with cat food advice

Many cats with liver disease go on to live happily for many years.

© Shutterstock

Diet will play a huge role in helping your cat with liver problems.

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS

Updated on the 12/08/2020, 10:45

The liver is an organ with many roles, ranging from toxin removal to digestion of nutrients. There are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of your cat from developing liver disease, such as age, breed predisposition, obesity, other underlying illnesses and some medical treatments or chemicals.

Liver disease will generally be associated with inflammation, referred to as hepatitis. Diagnosis of liver disease will include blood tests and might also require imaging, such as ultrasound as well as a liver biopsy. Cats can develop a large range of liver diseases, which vary in prognosis and treatment plan. A vet will be able to discuss your cat’s specific illness with you and answer questions that you may have. Depending on how poorly they are, your cat may need to be hospitalised, so that they can receive intravenous fluids for dehydration.

Can a special diet for my cat with liver disease reduce the inflamation?

Many cats that are diagnosed with a liver disease can go on to live happily for many years, and this often involves suitable dietary management along with other treatments, as advised by a vet. Special diets for hepatic (liver) disease will be easily digestible and often low in sodium. This aims to decrease the digestive burden of the diet on the liver and reduce further inflammation.

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How can I help my cat with liver problems?

Once a cat has been diagnosed with a liver disease, a vet will advise a treatment and management plan that is suitable, depending on the underlying cause. In addition to a diet, it is helpful to make sure your cat has plenty of liquid. The vet may also advise medications, which can include Vitamin K supplementation, Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), s-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) and Silymarin.

Can a cat recover from liver damage?

Mild liver damage can be reversible, if the risk factor or underlying cause is identified and removed. Depending on the underlying cause, cats with a greater degree of irreversible damage can still go on to live otherwise healthy lives for many years with suitable management and treatment.

Is liver disease in cats painful?

This can vary with severity and the underlying cause depending on the liver disease itself, but it certainly can be painful.

How long does a cat live with liver disease?

If a cat receives veterinary intervention early in the disease, they can go on to live for many years. Cats in later stages of liver disease may be more life-limited and you should speak to a vet to discuss your cat’s likely prognosis.

How long does it take for a cat to recover from liver disease?

This depends on the degree of liver damage and the underlying cause. In some cases recovery can take months, or the cat may require management of their condition throughout the rest of their life.

What are the signs of liver failure in cats?

Liver failure occurs when the organ is no longer able to fulfil its role sufficiently within the body. This is often suggested to be when it has lost 75 per cent or more of its functioning. Liver failure can be acute (sudden-onset) or chronic (develops gradually due to liver disease), and symptoms can include inappetence, thirst, gastrointestinal symptoms, jaundice, ascites (fluid in the belly) and others.

What causes sudden liver failure in cats?

Sudden-onset, acute liver failure in cats occurs due to necrosis of a significant proportion of liver tissue, which is cell death. This can be caused by a range of drugs and chemicals or toxins. It can also be the side-effect of another disease or injury leading to shock, blood clots, sudden circulatory failure and inability to breathe. There are many other causes of acute liver failure, including heatstroke.

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How long can a cat go without food before liver damage?

Inappetence, or lack of appetite, in cats has been linked to a condition called hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver syndrome. This is particularly a problem in overweight or obese felines, but can also be seen in those with a healthy body condition score. This can occur after as little as 2-3 days without food or with a dramatically reduced intake. As the cat mobilises body fat to meet energy demands, the levels can be too great for the liver to process. The extra fat then becomes stored around the cells and can further impact the ability of the liver to function. Cats with hepatic lipidosis will display a range of symptoms and often become jaundiced.

What causes elevated liver levels in cats?

When liver enzymes are looked at in blood tests, they can often be at higher levels when the liver is damaged, so they are one of the indicators of liver disease. This is useful diagnostic information, and is used in combination with other blood results such as haematology, bilirubin and bile acids to help establish whether liver disease is present and what the underlying cause might be. Further testing may be necessary and can include an x-ray, ultrasound and biopsy.

When should I talk to a vet?

If your pet is showing signs of liver failure, you should contact a vet as an emergency. If you think that they have symptoms that could suggest chronic liver disease, you should book an appointment with a vet who will advise what diagnostic tests are necessary.

What should I ask a vet about the best diet for my cat with liver problems?

If your cat has been diagnosed with a liver problem, you can ask the vet what diet they recommend and whether it is appropriate to feed additional supplements. A therapeutic diet will often be recommended, but should only be fed under veterinary guidance.

Talk to a vet online. Visit myfamilyvets.co.uk