What do I do about cat liver disease?

As cats get older, they become at risk for liver problems. The liver is a crucial organ involved in producing a number of important chemicals and proteins that the cat’s body needs. It interacts with many other organs in the body – because of this, there are a lot of other diseases that can do damage to the cat’s liver indirectly.

What are the symptoms?

A lot of them are fairly general, but you may see: appetite problems such as your vomiting, weight loss,diarrhea, and a loss of appetite. There may be behavioral changes such as depression, angry behavior, and a general unwillingness to play or move around much. The cat may also have abdominal swelling or jaundice (yellowing of the eyes, ears, and gums). Liver disease is kind of hard to diagnose because usually it is not a direct problem with the liver itself. The liver acts as a “cleanser” for the body – when it gets overloaded by some other problem, the cat’s whole system starts having problems. This is the basic reason alcohol damages the liver – it overloads it with poisons. Many diseases can do the same thing to a cat.

What causes it?

It could be caused by any number of things. Diabetes can cause it. Tapeworms and other parasites have been known to as well. There are also many minor infections that can cause problems with the cat’s liver as a side effect, as well as major diseases such as feline HIV and leukemia. You will need to get your vet to diagnose the specific cause and treat it.

There is also a specific disease called fatty liver disease, that can occur as a result of infections or diabetes. It is also called hepatic lipidosis. Overweight cats tend to get it more than others. The exact cause is unknown, but it seems to be a metabolic problem and is often found in cats experiencing sudden stress from moves or new pets in the home. The cat will stop eating for awhile, and fat begins to build up inside the cat’s liver. The cat’s body begins using up its muscle protein, causing serious damage to the body. Many cats who get this will die from it.

What is the treatment?

The vet will prescribe a treatment for whatever is causing the problems with the cat’s liver. In addition to that, dietary changes are often recommended – special diets can reduce the load on the liver in terms of making and processing chemicals for the cat’s body. Liver damage is mostly not permanent, so if you catch the cause your cat will be able to heal. Livers can regenerate and can function even with large portions of the liver damaged. The key is keeping the liver from having to work as hard. Usually a high protein diet is recommended for cats with liver damage – but NO shellfish (shrimp, crabs, etc.), fish meal, or organ meat is allowed, because those can damage the liver further if it’s not functioning properly. 

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