What Causes Liver Disease In Cats?
Liver disease is a common problem in cats. There are multiple causes explaining for liver failure. The prognosis for cats with liver disease ranges from good to poor depending on the specific cause and the individual animal. Let’s look at how a cat can get liver disease.
What is the liver’s normal function?
With different functions, the liver acts as one of the major storage systems in the body. The liver detoxifies the blood and synthesizes proteins, which are used in many different processes throughout the body. It also produces many of the chemicals necessary for digestion to occur normally. In addition, it metabolizes carbohydrates and lipids, and produces coagulation factors that are necessary for proper clotting of blood. These are only a few of its functions. When the liver fails to function normally, the situation can become quite serious and can be life-threatening.
What causes liver disease in cats?
There are many different potential causes of liver disease in cats. A particularly common type of liver disease seen in cats is hepatic lipidosis. This disease occurs when a cat stops eating for any reason. When a cat’s nutritional needs are not met, their body reacts by utilizing fat as a form of energy. When the fat stores being sent to the liver become too great for the liver to metabolize properly, the normal function of the liver is interrupted, leading to liver disease.
Any disease or environmental condition which causes a cat to be unable or unwilling to eat properly can result in hepatic lipidosis as a complication. Viruses that may be responsible for liver disease include feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis, feline immunodeficiency virus, and others. Bacterial infections can also be responsible for causing liver disease.
Parasitic diseases can also cause malfunction of the liver. Inflammatory disease, such as pancreatitis or inflammatory bowel disease, can affect the liver. Liver disease can become a complicating factor in these diseases. Several types of cancer can affect the liver. The cancer may start in the liver or may spread there from other parts of the body. There is a long list of toxins and poisons that can affect the liver of the cat.
Medications like acetominophen as well as certain plants can damage the feline liver. Fertilizers and cleaning products can cause liver damage as well, depending on their individual ingredients. Portosystemic shunts occur when the blood flow is rerouted by an abnormal blood vessel, causing the blood delivered to the rest of the body to bypass detoxification by the liver. This results in toxins that would normally be removed and metabolized by the liver rising to abnormal levels in the blood stream.
What are the symptoms of liver disease?
In the early stages, liver failure may cause a lack of appetite for cats. Vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss are some common symptoms. A noticeable increase in thirst and urination is also not infrequent. As liver failure develops, jaundice may become noticeable. Jaundice mentions a yellow coloration to the skin, gums, tongue, sclera (white part of the eyes) and other mucous membranes. It is also sometimes called icterus. Ascites may also be seen and is an accumulation of fluid within the abdominal cavity. Ascites will make your cat look bloated. Bleeding and bruising may also occur because the liver is not able to produce adequate levels of coagulation factors to control clotting. Blood may be seen in your cat’s urine, vomit or feces. Your pet may also have bruises under his skin or small pin-point areas of hemorrhage on his gums.
Hepatic encephalopathy is a brain disorder that occurs as a result of abnormal levels of ammonia and other toxins in the blood reaching the brain. Normally, a healthy liver would metabolize these toxins and keep their levels low. However, the failing liver is unable to properly metabolize the compounds leading to an increase in their blood levels. Incoordination, episodic weakness, disorientation, head-pressing, behavioral changes, drooling, stupor, and mental dullness are seen with hepatic encephalopathy. The symptoms will be more severe after your pet has eaten a meal, particularly a high-protein meal. Seizures and coma may occur as well.
How is liver disease treated?
Treatment of liver disease involves identifying and treating the underlying cause, if possible. The prognosis ranges from good to poor, depending on the cause, the condition of the animal, and the ability to correct the underlying cause.
Liver disease can be a serious issues for cats. Successful treatment depends on identifying and correcting the cause of the disease. Unfortunately, there are many different diseases that can result in liver disease and, even when identification of the cause is straight forward, treating the disease may not be so easy.