The liver is a metabolic organ that serves many essential functions in a cat’s body. Situated in the abdomen and at the back of the diaphragm, the liver is vital in keeping cats healthy since it has a crucial role in managing the chemical processes that the body needs for optimal function.


  1. What Does the Liver Do in Cats?
  2. Types of Liver Diseases in Cats
  3. Causes of Liver Disease in Cats
  4. Signs and Symptoms of Liver Disease in Cats
  5. Diagnosis for Cats with Liver Disease
  6. Treatment
  7. Prognosis
  8. Emergency Fund
  9. FAQ

What Does the Liver Do in Cats?

Among the main functions of the liver are the following:

  1. It helps with digestion, especially fat.
  2. It regulates protein and energy for metabolism.
  3. It synthesizes hormones and proteins.
  4. It helps with metabolism and eliminating waste and toxins in the body.
  5. It helps regulate the immune system.

Being an important organ with several functions, the liver may become affected by disease processes in more ways than one.

Types of Liver Diseases in Cats

There is a wide range of liver diseases that cats can be susceptible to. These include:


Neutrophilic cholangitis

According to medical research, a bacterial infection in the liver causes inflammation. This condition normally results from the transportation of bacteria from the small intestine up toward the bile duct and then the liver. Sometimes, it can happen together with intestinal or pancreatic disease.

Lymphocytic cholangitis

This non-contagious cholangitis also causes inflammation. Although the cause of this disease is unknown, a possible cause could be an immune system abnormality. Oftentimes, Lymphocytic cholangitis enlarges the liver and may also result in an accumulated increase of fluid in the abdomen.

Toxic liver damage

As compared to other species, cats are more inclined to acquire liver damage caused by a variety of drugs and toxins. The reason for this is that a cat’s biological makeup makes it harder for them to metabolize certain drugs and toxins, making them more sensitive to such.

Hepatic lipidosis

This happens when a high amount of fat gets accumulated in the liver cells. It then causes extensive swelling and liver damage, which can lead to serious dysfunction of the liver. Hepatic lipidosis is more common in cats that abruptly stop eating, especially in those who were previously obese or overweight. The accumulation of fat is the probable cause for the sudden change in their metabolism.

Liver tumors

A wide range of tumors can develop within a cat’s liver. These tumors may either be primary (which only affects the liver) or secondary (a tumor that has spread to the liver from somewhere else). Sadly, many liver tumors have poor prognoses. In some cases, however (ex., lymphoma), chemotherapy may help in eliminating the tumor. Also, if the tumor is confined to only one liver, surgery may be done to remove it.

Amyloidosis and hepatic peliosis

This disease happens when an amyloid protein is deposited in the liver, which causes a disturbance and liver dysfunction. This risks the cat of having a rupture in the liver as well as bleeding in the abdomen. There are some cats that have a genetic predisposition to this disease.

Among the other liver diseases that cats may be susceptible to are: toxoplasmosis, portosystemic shunts, and feline infectious peritonitis, among others.

Causes of Liver Disease in Cats

Two of the most common causes of liver disease in cats are fatty liver and inflammation within the liver. Two-thirds of cats diagnosed with liver disease are due to the said causes.

Fatty liver (also known as hepatic lipidosis) occurs when there is an accumulation of fat cells in the liver, preventing it to function normally. If this isn’t reversed, it can be fatal.

Meanwhile, liver inflammation is more common and may be due to a bacterial infection or a deficiency in the immune system. What happens is that the flow of bile is disrupted, leading to an accumulation of bile that results in damage to tissues.

Signs and Symptoms of Liver Disease in Cats

Cat liver disease symptoms to look out for include:

Other possible liver disease symptoms in cats include pale gums, darker-colored urine, and fluid buildup in the abdomen.

If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned, consult with your vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment options.

It’s best to be observant and look out for your pet to know when something’s amiss. Products such as the Petcube Cam may help you do so whether you’re home or away. This advanced and interactive pet camera allows you to see, talk, and play with your pet. You also get access to the Online Vet service, which allows you to consult with licensed vets anytime and anywhere.

Diagnosis for Cats with Liver Disease

There are a variety of blood tests that may be performed to help your vet determine whether your cat is suffering from liver disease. Exams such as x-rays and ultrasounds may help measure the size of the liver as well as check for abnormalities. When an x-ray is done, the size of the liver will be checked to see if there is something preventing the flow of bile.

Analysis of blood chemistry, urinalysis, formation of blood clots, and bile acids may be done as well. There are also cases when an exploratory abdominal surgery may be performed to be able to examine the liver and gallbladder.

For the vet to determine what’s causing the disease, a biopsy of the liver is usually performed. Here, a pathologist examines a liver sample, and cultures may also be performed to know whether a bacterial infection is present. There are 2 kinds of biopsies that may be done: needle or surgical. Usually, biopsies are performed with anesthesia and cannot be done when a cat has blood clotting disorders.


Treatment options would depend on the cause of the liver disease. Because of this, proper diagnosis is vital. Upon early diagnosis, those with liver disease due to bacterial infection may be able to recover after antibiotic treatment. Meanwhile, cats that have liver disease due to an immune system deficiency, when diagnosed early, have a good prognosis of remission.

When it comes to their diet, cats with liver disease are usually given a high-calorie diet that is easily digestible at the same time, with a focus on protein and fat content. It will be best to give them small and frequent meals. In cases where cats refuse to eat, they may be given IV support for their nutritional needs as well as to keep them from being dehydrated.

Because vitamin deficiencies are common in cats with liver disease, supplements containing vitamins E, K, B, and Zinc may also help. However, it is important to follow your vet’s advice on the supplementing of vitamins because there are some vitamins that may harm your cat if given in excess doses.

When it comes to long-term liver disease in cats, your vet may prescribe constant supportive treatment to help slow down complications brought about by the disease. Supportive treatments may include dietary support, medications, and the giving of fluids via feeding tubes.


Upon early diagnosis of liver disease in cats, there is a positive prognosis for a full recovery. However, if it is untreated, it can lead to severe complications such as biliary cirrhosis (where the connective tissue replaces the bile duct). They may also be at risk of acute liver failure (where ⅔ of the liver is seriously damaged). Intervention before this may prevent it from happening.

Among the other complications that a cat may experience when their liver disease is untreated include: fibrosis and hepatic encephalopathy.

Given the possible complications, early diagnosis and treatment of liver disease are best to help your cat fully recover from the disease.

Emergency Fund

When it comes to liver disease, especially when there are complications already, it would really help to have all the support that you need to take care of your pet while they are sick. That is why services such as Petcube’s Pet Emergency Fund would greatly benefit both our pets and ourselves.

With Pet Emergency Fund, you get to talk to a certified vet 24/7, and you also get $3000 for pet emergencies (for up to 6 pets) regardless of age, breed, and medical history. This service is the best alternative to pet insurance that you can get.


What does it mean if a cat has elevated liver enzymes?

It’s common to see elevated liver enzymes along with an elevated white blood cell count in cats with chloangiohepatitis (where the liver and bile ducts are inflamed). Upon diagnosis of the condition, antibiotics are often prescribed with a good prognosis after treatment.

What is the prognosis for a cat with liver cancer?

Unfortunately, the prognosis for cats with liver cancer or hepatocellular carcinoma is not good since it is often a malignant type of cancer. Even if there is no metastasis, the survival rate for cats after having surgery is not more than 3 months. The prognosis, however, will depend on the spread of the tumor, how much can be successfully removed, and whether the cancer has already spread.

How do you treat hepatitis in cats?

Treatment for cats with hepatitis would depend on how affected they are by the disease. Hospitalization may be needed, together with supplementary treatments such as IV fluids, potassium, and vitamin B. While cats are being treated and while they are recovering, it may be necessary to restrict their activity as well.

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