Can Your Cat Bounce Back from Jaundice?

What is jaundice in cats?

Jaundice, also called icterus, is a condition characterized by a yellow discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes, and ocular tissues (source). It is caused by an excessive accumulation of bilirubin in the blood and tissues. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment produced when old or damaged red blood cells are broken down.

Normally, the liver filters out bilirubin and excretes it in bile. But liver disease or biliary tract obstruction can prevent proper excretion, leading to a buildup of bilirubin. This results in the yellow discoloration of jaundice (source).

The most noticeable symptoms of jaundice in cats include yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes, especially the gums, ears, and sclera (whites of the eyes). Other signs include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and dark urine.

Causes of jaundice in cats

There are several potential causes of jaundice in cats, including:

Liver disease

Liver disease is one of the most common causes of jaundice in cats. Conditions like hepatitis, liver cancer, or cirrhosis can impair the liver’s ability to process and excrete bilirubin, leading to a buildup in the bloodstream.

Bile duct obstruction

Obstruction of the bile ducts, such as from gallstones, inflammation, or trauma, can prevent bile from draining properly from the liver. This causes bilirubin to back up into the bloodstream.

Red blood cell destruction

Hemolytic anemia and other conditions that cause excessive breakdown of red blood cells can overwhelm the liver’s processing capacity. The byproduct bilirubin builds up faster than the liver can excrete it.


Inflammation of the pancreas, a condition called pancreatitis, can sometimes obstruct bile ducts and lead to jaundice. According to PetMD, pancreatitis accounts for around 15% of feline jaundice cases.

Diagnosing jaundice

Veterinarians will typically diagnose jaundice through a combination of a physical examination, blood tests, and imaging tests. During the physical exam, the vet will check for yellowing of the cat’s skin, gums, ears, and eyes, which indicates a buildup of bilirubin. Blood tests like a complete blood count (CBC) and a chemistry panel can help identify liver disease and check liver enzymes for abnormalities.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “Your veterinarian will perform a test called a complete blood count (CBC). The CBC measures the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets (”

Imaging tests like X-rays and ultrasound allow the vet to visually examine the liver, gallbladder, and bile ducts for blockages, inflammation, tumors, or other issues that could be causing jaundice. An ultrasound can also be used to guide the vet in taking a liver biopsy if needed.

Mild vs Severe Jaundice

The severity of jaundice in cats can vary widely. Mild cases may resolve on their own, while more severe jaundice requires veterinary treatment.

In mild cases of jaundice, a cat may have slightly yellowed eyes and gums. Their bilirubin levels are only mildly elevated. With supportive care at home such as nutritional support, mild jaundice may resolve on its own within 1-2 weeks as the liver recovers and begins processing bilirubin normally again.[1]

In severe cases of jaundice, a cat will have very yellow gums and eyes, and yellowing may extend to their skin and ears. Bilirubin levels are very high. Severe jaundice requires medical treatment to address the underlying cause and support the liver function. Without treatment, severe jaundice can lead to long-term liver damage or even death.[2]

Key factors that determine severity include: extent of yellowing, bilirubin levels, presence of additional symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, appetite and energy levels, and underlying cause. Diagnostic tests like bloodwork and imaging are needed to fully assess severity and determine appropriate treatment.

Treatment options

Treatment for jaundice in cats focuses first on addressing the underlying cause:

IV fluids may be given to flush out toxins and support kidney and liver function. Fluids can help dilute bilirubin levels and increase urination to eliminate it from the body.

Medications may be prescribed depending on the cause. For example, antibiotics for infections, liver protectants and supplements, or corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.

If a tumor or obstruction is blocking bile ducts, surgery may be required to remove it and allow bile to flow freely again.

Any underlying conditions like pancreatitis or cholangiohepatitis will also need to be managed. In some cases, a special diet may be recommended.

The vet will tailor treatment based on the cat’s specific diagnosis and needs. Quickly addressing the cause gives the cat the best chance of recovering from jaundice.

Prognosis and Recovery

A cat’s prognosis and likelihood of recovering from jaundice depends greatly on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Mild cases of jaundice caused by something like inflammation of the liver may fully recover with proper treatment and supportive care [1]. However, severe cases of jaundice resulting from end-stage liver failure or cancer are likely to be fatal if left untreated [2].

In mild cases of jaundice, a cat’s yellowed skin and eyes may return to normal coloration within a few days or weeks after starting treatment. However, it can take several months for their bilirubin and liver enzyme levels to normalize. Regular veterinary checkups are necessary to monitor a cat’s recovery and watch for any recurrence of symptoms. With appropriate care, many cats can recover fully from mild jaundice.

In severe cases, jaundice itself is not fatal, but it indicates significant underlying disease. Without treatment of the root cause, irreversible liver damage and failure can occur. Severe jaundice has a grave prognosis in cats if the underlying condition cannot be treated. However, cats with treatable diseases like cholangitis may have hope for recovery with aggressive veterinary care, even when jaundice is severe initially [3]. Consulting a veterinary specialist is crucial for cats with advanced jaundice.

Supportive home care

Caring for a cat with jaundice at home requires monitoring their condition closely and providing supportive care to help them recover. Some key aspects of home care include:

Encourage eating: Appetite stimulation is important, so offer smelly, flavorful foods like tuna, sardines, or boiled chicken. Hand feeding may help get them to eat. Maintaining calorie intake helps support the liver and overall health.

Fluids: Keep your cat hydrated by encouraging drinking water or unflavored Pedialyte. Subcutaneous fluids administered under the skin may be prescribed by your vet.

Rest: Allow your cat ample time to rest and recover. Low activity helps conserve energy for healing.

Monitor for worsening: Weigh your cat daily and watch for increased lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea or loss of appetite as these may indicate worsening jaundice. Contact your vet if you observe any concerning symptoms (Source).


There are some steps cat owners can take to help prevent jaundice in their cats:

  • Regular vet checkups – Having your cat seen by a vet at least annually for a wellness check can help catch any underlying conditions early before they progress to jaundice.
  • Avoid toxins – Keeping your cat away from toxic substances like antifreeze, fertilizers, lead-based paints, harmful plants, and medications can help prevent toxin-induced jaundice.
  • High quality diet – Feeding your cat a balanced, high quality cat food recommended by your vet can help keep their liver healthy and avoid nutritional causes of jaundice.

While not every case of jaundice can be prevented, taking these precautions can reduce your cat’s chances of developing this condition.

When to seek vet care

Jaundice in cats can become serious quickly, so it’s important to watch for signs that indicate a vet visit is needed. Seek immediate veterinary care if your cat’s symptoms appear suddenly or seem to be worsening rapidly. Specific signs that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Refusing to eat or not eating normal amounts
  • Repeated vomiting

A sudden onset of jaundice symptoms, lethargy, appetite loss, and vomiting can indicate a serious underlying condition requiring treatment. It’s especially crucial to take your cat to the vet promptly if their skin and eyes turn very yellow. The more intense the yellow color, the higher the bilirubin levels, which is a cause for concern. Don’t wait to see if symptoms resolve on their own, as timely treatment will give your cat the best chance of recovery.


Here are some frequently asked questions about jaundice in cats:

Is jaundice in cats fatal?

The prognosis for jaundice in cats depends on the underlying cause and severity. Mild cases often resolve on their own, but severe jaundice can be fatal if left untreated. However, with prompt veterinary treatment even severe jaundice is often manageable. Seek immediate vet care if your cat has jaundice. Source

What are the first signs of jaundice in cats?

Initial signs include loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, and yellowing of the eyes, gums, and skin. Jaundice develops as bilirubin accumulates in the blood and tissues, causing a yellow discoloration. Additional symptoms depend on the underlying condition causing jaundice. Source

How is jaundice in cats treated?

Treatment focuses on addressing the underlying condition causing jaundice. This may include fluids, medications, supplements, dietary changes, or surgery. Supportive care like vitamins and appetite stimulants may also be used. The vet will monitor bloodwork to ensure the jaundice and liver are improving. Source

Can jaundice in cats be cured?

With appropriate treatment, many cats fully recover from jaundice. However, severe or long-standing jaundice can sometimes cause permanent liver damage. Even then, there are medications and dietary changes that can help manage chronic liver disease. Regular vet monitoring is important. Source

How long does it take for jaundice to go away in cats?

The duration depends on the cause and severity. With treatment, mild jaundice may resolve within 1-2 weeks. More severe cases can take 4+ weeks to fully resolve. Cats with chronic liver disease may have intermittent bouts of jaundice. Follow your vet’s advice for monitoring and continued care. Source

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