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How to help your cat with liver conditions

Tabby cat lying on the floor advice

Cats with liver disease feel really unwell and need urgent attention by a vet.

© Shutterstock

With prompt intervention a cat with liver problems has a good chance of getting back to a normal life.

By Dr. Helen Donald BA BVetMed MBA MSc MRCVS

Updated on the 12/08/2020, 10:55

There are many causes of liver problems in cats, from congenital conditions they are born with, to infections, poisons, metabolic disorders and cancers. Yet the symptoms are often similar and prompt veterinary help to get the most appropriate treatment is essential.

Can cats recover from liver problems?

The answer to this depends on the underlying problem. Recovery from liver disease can be slow and require treatment in a veterinary hospital. Yet with prompt treatment, many cats go on to lead normal, healthy lives. Having said that, owners may need to be prepared to spend a lot of time and money to help their cat to get better.

Can cats recover from fatty liver disease?

One of the most common liver problems cats suffer from is hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver disease. It can be caused by other health issues, usually when a cat loses weight too rapidly or doesn’t eat for a while, and the vast majority of cats will get over it with the right treatment.

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

Is liver disease in cats painful?

Cats are very good at hiding signs of pain and so owners may not spot immediately if their cat is suffering. Changes in behaviour such as hiding or interacting less may be the only clues they give you. The level of pain cats experience varies depending on the type of liver problem, but there is no doubt that cats with liver disease feel really unwell and need urgent attention by a vet.  

What causes liver inflammation in cats?

Liver inflammation is usually centred on the bile ducts and is commonly caused by spreading inflammation from the nearby pancreas or small intestine. In addition to blood tests, a vet will probably recommend ultrasound scans and liver biopsies in order to pin down the type and cause of inflammation in your cat’s liver. Cats with liver inflammation commonly have pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease as well.

How can a cat with liver disease eat?

Cats with liver disease rarely want to eat, but good nutritional support to speed up their recovery is essential. Force feeding can often make things worse by making a cat averse to food, so a vet will commonly place a feeding tube directly into your cat’s body either via their nose or a small hole in their side. Feeding tubes are generally well tolerated by cats and are very successful until your cat is ready to start eating on their own. A vet will show you how to feed your cat through the tube at home.

What do you feed a cat with liver disease?

Usually a vet will recommend a suitable high protein for your cat, fed in several small meals spread throughout the day. Yet in some cases, a low-protein diet is better for your cat. It is essential to discuss the options with a vet and to get their advice on the most appropriate diet for your cat at every stage of its illness, even once it has recovered.

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

How long can cats live with liver disease?

If your cat has been born with a congenital liver problem such as a portosystemic shunt, its quality of life may deteriorate quite rapidly without surgery. Most liver cancers are secondary tumours and the prognosis for this type of tumour is poor, as the cancer is usually well advanced by the time it is diagnosed. The prognosis for a primary liver cancer is better, but will depend on the type and location of the tumour. Cats with acute liver inflammation have a good chance of survival if they survive initial treatment and those with chronic inflammation can live comfortably for several years.

How can I help my cat with liver problems?

Your cat may need treatment for quite a long time before it is completely better. It is really important to finish any course of medicine that a vet prescribes and to take your cat back to the vet for follow-up appointments and tests, even if you think they are better. If your cat has fatty liver disease, it’s important to make sure that they keep eating, particularly after a feeding tube has been removed. Any food is better than none, so if your cat won’t eat the food recommended by the vet, be sure to tempt them to eat with something tasty instead.

How long can a cat live with fatty liver disease?

Once a cat has recovered from fatty liver disease, there is no reason why they shouldn’t lead a normal, healthy life. A vet may well advise lifestyle and diet changes to ensure that you cat doesn’t have a recurrence.

When should I see a vet?

Always see a vet immediately if your cat stops eating, starts to vomit or has diarrhoea and seems more lethargic than normal. Cats with liver problems can have waxing and waning symptoms, so they may appear to get better at first before deteriorating again. If you are unsure, check your cat’s gums, eyes and ear tips for a yellow tinge, which may indicate jaundice and a severe liver problem.

What should I ask a vet about liver problems in cats?

Treating any liver problem in a cat can be prolonged and expensive, so make sure that you ask a vet to give you an outline of the procedures they expect your cat might need and the costs of tests and treatment. If your cat is very unwell, ask what the prognosis is and be prepared for your vet to suggest euthanasia, if the chances of recovery are slim.  

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