How Liver Disease Affects Cats
The liver executes some of the most complex functions in a cat’s body. It metabolizes fat, carbohydrates and protein. It also stores vitamins and minerals and aids in digestion and detoxification of wastes. The effects of liver disease are extremely variable. They include inappetence, depression, lethargy, weakness, weight loss, unkempt hair coat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. Another common sign is abdominal enlargement. Some more specific signs of liver disease include jaundice, bilirubinuria, changes in the color of feces, increased thirst and frequency of urination, and neurological and behavioral changes that can include aggression, agitation, disorientation, depression, trembling, circling, lack of coordination, aimless wandering, pacing, head-pressing, blindness, excessive salivation, generalized seizures and even comas. These signs can wax and wane over time. Cats with liver disease can also have blood clotting abnormalities. Liver disease can affect cats of all breeds and all ages. However, liver problems are more prevalent in cats that are overweight, diabetic, feline-leukemia-virus positive and/or suffering from hyperthyroidism.
Causes of Liver Disease in Cats
There is no one cause of liver disease in cats. It can be inherited or caused by infection or ingestion of toxins. Liver disease also can be caused by fibrosis, congenital vascular disorders, biliary tract disorders, abscesses or cancer. Liver disease can be acute in onset or it can come on slowly. There are innumerable toxins that can damage the liver if ingested. Any heart or circulatory problem affecting blood flow to the liver can contribute to liver disease. Secondary liver problems can be triggered by metabolic disorders like diabetes, pancreatitis, Cushing’s disease and/or hyperthyroidism. Some other possible causes include trauma, infectious disease (fungal, viral and bacterial) and environmental stress.
Prevention of Liver Disease in Cats
Other than maintaining a healthy environment for your cat – with a high-quality diet, free access to fresh water, warm well-padded bedding and lots of play time – there is no real way to prevent liver disease.
Liver disease is a serious, life-threatening condition which requires aggressive medical treatment. There are a number of treatment protocols for cats with liver disease. These include prescription and over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, lifestyle changes, supportive care, surgical procedures and a number of other possible therapies that your veterinarian can discuss with you. The liver is a remarkably complex organ that can malfunction and yet still recover in multiple ways.