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Liver And Learn (Feline Liver Disease)

Dandy Dan

Dandy Dan

My foster cat Dandy Dan has liver problems, so I’m getting a crash course in feline liver health. He has a handful of other health issues, so his case is unique. But I’m doing my best to learn as much as possible about getting his liver healthy. It’s possible for the liver to regenerate itself, so that’s what we’re trying to do for Dan.

The liver plays important functions the bodies of our dogs and cats including, regulating blood sugar, filtering out toxic substances, producing bile to help with digestion, regulating blood clotting, and helping absorb fats and vitamins.

Liver disease is a term that can refer to a wide spectrum of conditions from cancer to drug side effects to malfunctioning blood vessels. Because there are many types of liver diseases with many causes, successfully treating the liver means diagnosing and treating the underlying cause.

What are the symptoms of liver disease and liver failure?

The most common symptoms of early liver failure are:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased drinking
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Pale gums
  • Diarrhea (One of the reasons a worrier like me pays very close attention to litter box contents)
  • Light gray stool (Ditto)
  • Orange urine (Ditto)
Jaundice in cats

Jaundice in cats

The most common symptoms of later-stage liver failure are:

  • Swollen or bloated abdomen
  • Confusion
  • Jaundice
  • Convulsions, seizures, or compulsive circling

What causes liver disease and liver failure?

Lots of things can cause liver problems including infections, immune-system problems, inflammation, inappropriate nutrition, parasites, and exposure to toxins.

In cats, a common cause is lack of food. Most cats who have had a period of 24 hours or more without food at some point in their lives, are likely to sustain liver damage and develop hepatic lipidosis. Many cats develop hepatic lipidosis within a few years following a period of starvation.

Some breeds are more likely to have liver problems than other breeds. In dogs, purebred dogs who have an increased risk are Terriers, Miniature Schnauzers, Doberman Pinschers, Labradors, Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds, Standard Poodles, Deerhounds, Maltese, Pugs, and Irish Wolfhounds. Among cats, mixed breed cats, purebred Persians, and purebred Himalayans are more likely to have liver problems.

How are liver problems diagnosed?

Most veterinarians use physical exams and blood tests to diagnose liver problems and determine how extensive they are.

Acute liver failure is diagnosed using blood tests, urine analysis, biopsy, and ultrasound or radiology imaging

How are liver problems managed and treated?

A5205-Feline-Hepatic-90TThe liver is able to regenerate itself, so animals with early-stage liver problems can recover and continue to live long, healthy lives.

Treatment of liver disease depends on the underlying cause of the disease and how advanced the disease is. There’s tons of variety in treatment and management of liver issues. Some treatments are easy and inexpensive, such as supplements in the form of tasty treats (like Feline Hepatic Support by Standard Process) and or powders that are sprinkled on their food (such as Denamarin by Nutramax). Other treatments may include acupuncture, antibiotics, corticosteroids, intravenous fluids,  subcutaneous fluids blood transfusions, or even chemotherapy.

Many vets also suggest changing an animal’s diet as described below.

How does diet affect liver health?

Talk with your veterinarian about the ideal diet for your companions who have liver problems. The vet will take into account the individual’s age, activity level, overall health, and breed when deciding what changes to make in your dog’s or cat’s diet.

For pets with liver disease or liver failure, veterinary nutritionists generally recommended feeding them small, frequent meals that:

  • Are low in fat
  • Are low in sodium
  • Are low in copper
  • High in zinc
  • Contain easily digestible grains
  • Have easily digestible, high-quality, limited levels of protein

There are a handful of helpful amino acid, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory supplements that support liver health. The most frequently recommended supplements for improving liver function and promoting liver regeneration are zinc, vitamin E, B vitamins (especially B12 and B6), vitamin C, vitamin K, milk thistle, burdock, and SAM-e. Standard Process makes Feline Hepatic Support which is a tasty treat and Nutramax’s Denamarin is easy to sprinkle on food.

If this article is helpful & you’re able, please consider sending a thank-you tip/donation. Even small donations will help me keep my business running during the travel industry slump that has brought pet sitting to a screeching halt. Thank you! (FYI, for a sliding scale fee starting at $30, I offer consultations to help people solve their specific cat-related issues. Let me know what I can help you with.)

(Note: Nonexclusive use of this article has been granted to other pet industry organizations but Kari Kells retains copyright.)

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1 comment to Liver And Learn (Feline Liver Disease)

  • My Main Coon Alexa had it when she dropped weight like crazy, but fortunately we were able to turn it around. She was hyperthyroid but we didn’t know it–before we got her in, she’d lost 5 or 6 pounds–dropped like a rock. Scary.

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