Can This Cat Bounce Back from Jaundice?

What is Feline Jaundice?

Feline jaundice, also known as icterus, is a condition in which a yellow pigment called bilirubin accumulates in a cat’s blood and tissues, causing a yellow discoloration of the skin, gums, and whites of the eyes (1). This occurs when there is too much bilirubin in the bloodstream or when the liver is not properly processing and removing bilirubin from the body.

There are several potential causes of jaundice in cats:

  • Liver disease – Liver inflammation, infection, cancer, or congenital defects can impair the liver’s ability to process bilirubin. Some common liver diseases linked to jaundice include cholangiohepatitis and hepatic lipidosis (2).
  • Hemolytic anemia – This condition causes accelerated red blood cell breakdown, releasing excessive bilirubin into the bloodstream which can overwhelm the liver’s processing capacity. The anemia may be caused by parasites, toxins, or immune-mediated disease (3).
  • Bile duct obstruction – Obstruction of the bile ducts (often due to gallstones or cancer) prevents bilirubin from being excreted into the intestines, causing a buildup in the blood.
  • Pancreatitis – Inflammation of the pancreas near the bile ducts can obstruct bile flow.

Common symptoms of jaundice in cats include (1):

  • Yellowing of the skin, gums, and sclera (whites of the eyes)
  • Change in stool color to dark or grey
  • Change in urine color to dark yellow or orange
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting

Diagnosing Jaundice in Cats

A veterinarian will use several tools to diagnose jaundice in cats:

Physical exam: The vet will look for signs of jaundice like yellowing of the gums, ears, and skin. They will check for enlarged organs like the liver or spleen by feeling the cat’s abdomen. The vet will also assess the cat’s overall health.

Blood tests1: Blood tests allow the vet to check levels of bilirubin, liver enzymes, blood counts, and other indicators. Elevated bilirubin confirms jaundice. Liver enzyme levels help assess how well the liver is functioning.

Imaging tests1: Ultrasound, x-rays, or CT scans of the abdomen may be done. These imaging tests allow the vet to visualize the liver, gallbladder, pancreas and other organs. They can check for enlargement, masses, stones or other abnormalities that may be causing the jaundice.

Common Causes of Feline Jaundice

Jaundice in cats often indicates an underlying condition affecting the liver or bile duct. Some common causes of jaundice in cats include:

  • Liver disease – Conditions like hepatitis, liver cancer, or liver failure can impair the liver’s ability to process and excrete bile. This causes a buildup of bilirubin that leads to jaundice (source).
  • Blood disorders – Diseases that destroy red blood cells, like hemolytic anemia, release excess bilirubin into the bloodstream which can cause jaundice (source).
  • Inflammation – Pancreatitis is a common inflammatory condition in cats that can obstruct the bile duct and lead to jaundice (source).
  • Blocked bile duct – Gallstones, tumors, abscesses or other obstructions in the bile duct prevent bile from draining properly, allowing bilirubin to build up (source).

Identifying the underlying cause of jaundice through diagnostic testing is important for determining the appropriate treatment.

Treatment Options for Feline Jaundice

The treatment for feline jaundice focuses first on addressing the underlying cause of the condition. This may involve medications, surgery, or other interventions depending on the specific diagnosis.

Cats with jaundice often need supportive care such as intravenous (IV) fluids to prevent dehydration and promote kidney function. IV fluids can help flush out bilirubin and support liver function.

Medications may be prescribed to treat infections, stop vomiting, stimulate appetite, or protect the liver. Antibiotics, antiemetics, appetite stimulants, and liver protectants like S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) may be used.

If a tumor, gallstones, or other obstruction is causing the jaundice, surgery may be necessary to remove the blockage and allow bile to flow normally again. Surgery can be curative if it successfully removes the underlying cause.

In all cases, the goal is to diagnose and treat the condition leading to jaundice. With prompt treatment of the underlying cause and supportive care, many cats can recover fully from jaundice.

Diet and Care for a Cat with Jaundice

Cats with jaundice require special dietary considerations and care. It’s important to feed them a diet high in quality protein to reduce the workload on the liver, along with highly digestible carbohydrates for energy. The diet should also contain high quality fats and antioxidants like vitamin E and vitamin C.

Some veterinarians may recommend prescription hepatic diets designed for cats with liver issues, which meet these nutritional requirements. Examples include Royal Canin Hepatic Formula or Hill’s Prescription Diet Feline Hepatic Formula.

Supplements like vitamin K can help with blood clotting issues associated with jaundice in cats. Always consult a veterinarian before giving any supplements.

Providing a low-stress environment is also important for a cat recovering from jaundice. Minimize loud noises, changes to their routine, and contact with other household pets during recovery.

Prognosis for Feline Jaundice

The prognosis for a cat with jaundice depends greatly on the underlying cause of the condition. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, some diseases that lead to jaundice can be fatal, while others have a good prognosis for full recovery if the underlying disease is treated effectively.

Cats can make a full recovery from jaundice if the underlying cause is diagnosed and treated appropriately, according to PetMD. For example, if a bile duct obstruction is surgically repaired, the jaundice may quickly resolve within days or weeks. However, the prognosis is guarded to poor if liver failure is the cause of the jaundice.

Potential complications of prolonged jaundice include liver damage, brain swelling, blood clotting issues, and secondary infections, according to WagWalking. However, once the underlying cause is identified and properly treated, many cats can live healthy lives for years after recovering from jaundice.

Preventing Feline Jaundice

There are several things cat owners can do to help prevent jaundice in their felines:

Get regular veterinary checkups. Annual exams allow vets to monitor your cat’s overall health and catch any underlying conditions early. Bloodwork at yearly checkups can detect liver issues before jaundice develops (source).

Keep your cat up to date on vaccinations. Core vaccines like rabies, FVRCP, and FeLV can help prevent infectious diseases that could damage the liver and lead to jaundice (source).

Avoid exposing your cat to toxins. Keep medications, chemicals, plants, and other potential toxins safely out of your cat’s reach. Cleaning products, antifreeze, and human medications can be toxic to cats and cause liver damage (source).

Feed a high-quality diet. A nutritious diet supports your cat’s liver health and function. Choose a balanced commercial cat food or consult your vet on creating a homemade diet with the right nutrients (source).

Living with a Cat with Jaundice

Caring for a cat with jaundice at home requires diligent monitoring and care. It’s important to closely observe your cat’s appetite, energy levels, and overall condition. Loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, or other concerning signs should prompt an immediate call to your veterinarian.

Be sure to give any prescribed medications exactly as directed by your vet. Medications may include liver protectants, antibiotics, anti-nausea drugs, vitamin supplements, or others. Never adjust or stop medications without veterinary approval.

In addition to medications, provide supportive care such as feeding small, frequent meals of a highly digestible diet. Help keep your cat hydrated by providing fresh water sources. Limit activity to short, gentle play sessions to avoid fatigue. Monitor litter box habits for any concerning changes. And give your cat affection and comfort to help them remain calm and content.

Caring for a jaundiced cat takes time, attention, and dedication. But with diligent home care under veterinary supervision, many cats can recover and go on to live a good quality of life. Be patient through the recovery process and alert your vet to any setbacks or concerns.

When to Seek Emergency Care

If your cat is presenting with symptoms of jaundice, it is crucial to watch for signs that require immediate veterinary attention. Some red flags that indicate a need for emergency care include:


Frequent vomiting or vomiting that contains blood is a serious symptom in a jaundiced cat. This can be a sign of internal bleeding, liver failure, or a blockage in the bile ducts.Source Vomiting prevents your cat from keeping down food and water, leading to dehydration and malnutrition, which makes treating the underlying condition even more difficult.


Lethargy and overall weakness is common in cats with jaundice, but excessive sleepiness to the point of near unconsciousness is an emergency. This level of lethargy indicates your cat’s condition is rapidly worsening.Source Immediate veterinary care is needed to stabilize your cat and treat the cause before irreversible organ damage occurs.

Loss of Appetite

A decreased appetite can be expected with feline jaundice. However, complete refusal to eat anything for more than 12-24 hours is a serious sign. Loss of appetite leads to malnutrition and makes jaundice symptoms worse. It can also point to liver failure or sepsis. Getting veterinary assistance to get your cat eating again is very important.Source

Pale Gums

One of the first signs of jaundice is yellowed gums and mouth tissue. However, if your cat’s gums appear very pale or white, it indicates a dangerous level of anemia. The liver helps produce red blood cells, so advanced liver disease leads to severe anemia. Pale gums are a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment.Source

Outlook for Feline Jaundice Recovery

The prognosis for a cat with jaundice depends greatly on the underlying cause and how quickly treatment is started. However, with proper care and treatment, many cats can make a full recovery from jaundice.

In cases where the jaundice is caused by a treatable condition and caught early, the prognosis for complete recovery is often very good. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “When the underlying disease is diagnosed and treated successfully, icterus will resolve.”1 With prompt veterinary care and appropriate treatment, the liver can heal and jaundice will clear up.

Even when the jaundice is caused by something more serious like liver disease or cancer, the cat’s prognosis depends greatly on the specifics of the case. According to Merck Veterinary Manual, “Depending on the level of illness, the outlook for recovery may be poor.”2 However, many cats can still live happily for years with proper management of an underlying chronic liver condition.

While jaundice can potentially be life-threatening if left untreated, an early diagnosis and prompt treatment can allow for a good quality of life. With attentive home care and regular veterinary follow-ups, many jaundiced cats can recover and continue to live happily with their families.

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