Signs & Symptoms of Liver Failure in Cats

Written by dawn crimmins
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Signs & Symptoms of Liver Failure in Cats
Liver failure is a serious condition for cats. (cats image by Zbigniew Nowak from

The liver is an important organ in cats. It helps the body synthesise proteins, produces chemicals used in digestion and removes toxins from the body. It also produces coagulation factors that help the blood clot as well as processing fats in the cat's body. Acute liver failure occurs when the liver loses 70 per cent or more of its function. There are several symptoms of liver failure.

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Jaundice, or icterus, occurs when there is an elevation of bilirubin in the blood. In a healthy liver, this yellow pigment is secreted into the bile. An injured or diseased liver cannot process the bilirubin successfully, and it is released into the blood stream. Jaundice is difficult for the pet owner to detect, but it might cause a noticeable yellowing of the whites of the eyes. If you suspect your cat is jaundiced, take it to a veterinarian for a blood test to check for an elevation in the bilirubin level.

Lack of Appetite

Several factors can cause your cat to lose its appetite. Although a secondary disease might cause your cat to stop eating, social factors such as moving, getting a new pet or getting lost can have the same effect. When your cat stops eating, excess fat moves from the body to the liver. Because the liver cannot process an increase in fat levels, it becomes swollen and yellow. This is known as hepatic lipidosis and can lead to serious complications, including liver failure. If your veterinarian determines through a blood test or liver biopsy that your cat has hepatic lipidosis, make sure your cat starts eating again, even if it has to be force-fed with a feeding tube. Although this condition can be fatal, cats surviving four days have an 85 per cent chance of recovery.

Signs & Symptoms of Liver Failure in Cats
Make sure your cat is eating regularly to avoid liver failure. (cat food image by Allyson Ricketts from

Weight Loss

The three main causes of liver failure are hepatic lipidosis, cholangiohepatitis and portosystemic shunt. Hepatic lipidosis is the build up of fat in the liver. Cholangiohepatitis is an inflammation of the bile duct caused by bacteria, inflammatory bowel disease, or pancreatitis. Portosystemic shunt is an inherited liver condition in which the digested food is carried to the blood and heart instead of the liver. All of these liver conditions will lead to rapid weight loss. If your cat is losing weight but is not on a diet, consult your veterinarian.

Digestive Changes

Vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation all can be signs of liver failure. Sometimes the faeces might appear grey or white with a soft consistency. Look for blood in the stool, another possible sign of liver failure.

Behavioural Changes

You might notice some behavioural changes in your cat, especially the first several days after it begins to eat again. The reintroduction of food causes insulin to increase and potassium levels to decrease. This can make your cat weak and listless. This weakness might lead to a drooping neck, another sign of liver failure. Watch also for changes in your cat's drinking and urination habits. You might notice an increase in drinking and urination, or urine retention and an inability to urinate. You might also observe drooling, depression, circling or seizures. These are also signs of liver failure.

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