The liver is the largest organ in the body and is necessary for survival. It is very complex and performs over 1,000 tasks. It's main function is to filter the blood coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body. Some nutrients must be changed (metabolized) in the liver before they can be used by the rest of the body. The liver produces substances that break down fats, makes certain amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), makes proteins important for blood clotting, produces urea (the main substance of urine), converts glucose to glycogen, and contributes to the regulation of blood glucose levels. All of the blood supply travels through the liver where chemicals are detoxified and drugs metabolized. Many vitamins and other nutrients are stored in the liver and released when needed. The liver is involved with almost all of the biochemical pathways involved in fighting disease
Understandably, liver disease in cats is a very complex matter and the causes of liver disease are diverse. Many of the functions of the liver are similar to the functions of other bodily organs, and the symptoms of liver disease may resemble those of diseases of other organs. Some diseases, such as leukemia, diabetes, and feline immunodeficiency virus, can cause damage to the liver but are not considered liver diseases. Your cat's liver disease symptoms may be a secondary result of an existing infection, or even parasites. This is why several tests might need to be performed by a vet when a cat is showing certain symptoms, to determine exactly what the problem is.
The liver has a great reserve capacity and therefore, two-thirds or more of the liver is affected before liver disease begins to be outwardly apparent. Fortunately, the liver is the one organ in the body that has the potential to regenerate, which means that recovery is often possible.
Answers and advice on your pet's symptoms
Signs and Symptoms of Liver Disease
Signs and Symptoms of liver disease can include some or all of the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting, diarrhea, constipation.
- Excessive salivation (probably due to nausea)
- Weight loss or wasting- due to the cat not eating much as well as the liver not properly metabolizing fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
- Jaundice (icterus). Any pale or white skin or visible tissue takes on a yellow hue. One may notice it in the mucous membranes, the gums, roof of the mouth, and the inner ears or the whites of the eyes. This is due to the biliary pigments that are accumulating in the body because the liver is not processing them.
- Progressive depression or lethargy.
- Swollen belly. This is known as ascites and is fluid accumulation in the belly due to circulation alterations in the abdomen.
- Pain associated with the abdomen. This is due to the stretching of the liver capsule.
- Pale gray feces. Bile pigments are what give the feces its usual brown color. When the liver is not processing bile properly, the feces will not get the brown color.
- Overly dark or orange urine. The improper processing of bile results in the excretion of bilirubin in the urine in high amounts, resulting in orange urine.
- Behavioural changes, seizures, aimless pacing or circling, head pressing, often after eating.
- Increased water consumption (polydipsia) and urination (polyuria). Most likely due to dramatic shifts in serum and kidney salt balances.
Treatment will vary depending upon what is found to be the cause.
Causes of Liver Disease
Causes of liver disease include, among other reasons:
- Viruses, bacteria or parasites
- Other diseases that then affect the liver
- Hepatic lipidosis
- Congential abnormalities
- Cholangiohepatitis (an inflammation of the bile carrying structures and the surrounding liver tissue)
Hepatic Lipidosis occurs in some cats when they have stopped eating, for whatever reason. In some cats, this condition can develop in as little as three days of not eating, or hardly eating at all. Overweight cats who suddenly experience a weight loss are likely to develop hepatic lipidosis, but it occurs in thin cats as well who have not eaten much or at all for a time period. Untreated, the cat will die.
The treatment for Hepatic Lipidosis is primarily force feeding the cat.
Cat with hepatic lipidosis being force fed.
If a cat stops eating for more than a day, get that cat to vet to find out why. Do not assume that a cat will just eat again when it is hungry or that the cat is merely being "picky" or "finicky". Cats that stop eating have some sort of medical or physical problem that needs treatment. In some cases, it it due to dental problems, where eating causes too much pain, so the cat stops eating. Other illnesses that make a cat feel very unwell can cause the cat to not want to eat. Feeling nauseated, which occurs with several cat illnesses and diseases, will make a cat not want to eat.
You don't have much time to get treatment started for a cat who has stopped eating, before things take a serious downturn to where it may not be possible to reverse the situation, so treat not eating for more than a day as an emergency.
A caregiver's recounting of saving several cats from death due to Hepatic Lipidosis, despite a vet saying the cats would not live. The cats did! http://www.eattheapple.com/sandra