Treatment of jaundice in cats

Updated April 17, 2017

Jaundice indicates a cat is suffering from a more serious underlying medical condition. Jaundice is caused by an increase of bilirubin in the cat's blood. Bilirubin is a pigment created by older red blood cell breakdown. This orangish-yellow matter is filtered by the liver and transported through the gall bladder into the small intestine to aid in digestion. If the feline's liver is compromised, bilirubin builds up in the blood, causing the yellowish skin associated with jaundice.


Classifying jaundice is critical in deciphering the underlying illness. Jaundice is classified three different ways: pre-hepatic, hepatic and post-hepatic, which simply mean, prior to the blood passing through the liver, problems with the liver itself and after the blood passes through the liver, respectively. Veterinary testing determines the classification of jaundice and its exact underlying cause, after which the appropriate treatment regimen is prescribed.


Pre-hepatic jaundice is caused by parasites in the blood, medication, hemolytic anaemia, a reaction to a blood transfusion, reduced phosphate levels or, in very rare cases, heartworm disease. Hepatic jaundice results from hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver), hepatitis and/or bile duct disease, toxic poisoning from heavy metals, medication, cancer, infection or cirrhosis. Post-hepatic jaundice generally indicates pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer, gall bladder disease or intestinal disease resulting in blocked bile ducts, says Dr. Bari Spielman on


Diagnosis for the classification, cause and treatment of jaundice includes blood work and urinalysis to assess the cat's blood cell (particularly red cells) and sugar counts, electrolytes, protein and urine concentrations; a complete overview of the liver by performing x-rays and ultrasounds to assess the shape, size and presence of tumours, as well as a biochemical profile of the liver's enzymes; liver biopsy or exploratory laparotomy in severe cases where other testing has not revealed the classification and cause of the jaundice.


Dr. Spielman indicates treatment of jaundice may not only come in steps, but also be included in the actual diagnostic process. For example, discontinuing certain medications and therapy for other illnesses the feline was undergoing prior to the jaundice, such as blood transfusions, diazepam and acetaminophen might effectively resolve the excess bilirubin, as these may be the causing factors. Other treatments include intravenous fluid with electrolytes for cats that are seriously ill and/or dehydrated, and the administration of "blood products to those patients that are profoundly anaemic," per Dr. Spielman. Should the feline be suffering from liver failure or cancer, treating that disease is key in controlling the jaundice.


Once the jaundice is classified, the underlying cause determined and the hospital treatment concluded, there is no doubt the cat will be happy to go home. However, at home treatment is as critical as hospital treatment to ensure the cat does not become jaundiced again. At home treatment includes keeping the cat stress-free, relaxed and happy. The cat's owner must also give the feline any medications prescribed by the vet and remove any possible triggers of the jaundice including toxic substances in the cat's environment.

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