Feline Liver Disease. The Subtle Signs Your Cat is Struggling


Liver disease is relatively common in cats, with some studies estimating that up to 30% of cats have abnormalities associated with liver disease on routine bloodwork [1]. The most common liver diseases in cats include hepatic lipidosis, cholangiohepatitis, feline triaditis, and chronic hepatitis [2]. Many liver diseases in cats are chronic and progressive if left untreated. However, with early diagnosis and appropriate therapy, the prognosis for cats with liver disease can often be good.

Signs of Liver Disease

When a cat has liver disease, it can cause a number of symptoms. Some of the most common signs of liver disease in cats include:

Loss of appetite

Cats with liver disease often lose their appetite and stop eating as much or at all. Loss of appetite is one of the earliest and most obvious signs of liver problems.


Frequent vomiting is another key symptom of liver disease in cats. The vomit may be clear or yellowish bile.


Some cats with liver issues develop diarrhea, which may contain blood or mucus. The diarrhea is often soft, watery, or greasy.

Weight loss

As cats eat less but their body continues burning calories, they start rapidly losing weight. Significant weight loss with no other clear cause may indicate liver problems.

Increased thirst and urination

Liver disease can cause fluid buildup and dehydration, making cats drink more water. They’ll also urinate more with excessive thirst. [1]


There are several potential causes of liver disease in cats. Some of the most common include:

Inflammation: Inflammation of the liver, known as hepatitis, is one of the most common causes of feline liver disease. This inflammation is often caused by an infection or autoimmune disorder. Cholangiohepatitis, which is inflammation of both the liver and bile ducts, is particularly prevalent in cats. (https://www.statestreetanimalclinic.com/blog/liver)

Cancer: Cancerous growths in the liver, known as hepatic neoplasia, can disrupt normal liver function and lead to liver failure. Cancerous growths often originate in the bile ducts. Lymphoma and metastatic tumors spreading from other parts of the body can also affect the liver. (https://www.petfinder.com/cats-and-kittens/health-wellness/concerns/cat-liver-disease-treatments/)

Toxins: Exposure to toxins like heavy metals, mold, or chemicals can damage liver cells and cause inflammation or scarring. Cats can be exposed through contaminated food or environments. Certain medications, if given in excessive doses, can also be toxic to the liver.

Infections: Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections can infect the liver directly or spread through the bloodstream to the liver. Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and bacterial infections are common causes. These infections cause inflammation, impair liver function, and may lead to liver failure if untreated.

Congenital Defects: Some cats are born with abnormalities of the liver that impair function. One example is a shunt that prevents proper blood flow through the liver.


There are several tests veterinarians use to diagnose liver disease in cats. The most common diagnostic tests include:

Blood Tests

Veterinarians will run blood tests to check liver enzyme levels like ALT, ALKP, AST, GGT, bilirubin, and bile acids. Elevated levels of these enzymes and compounds often indicate liver damage or dysfunction Liver Disease in Cats.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests like x-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs allow veterinarians to visualize the size, shape, and texture of the liver. This can help identify masses, abscesses, swelling, or other abnormalities Causes and Symptoms of Liver Disease in Cats | FirstVet.


A liver biopsy involves surgically removing a small sample of liver tissue for examination under a microscope. This is often needed to confirm a diagnosis and determine the cause and extent of liver disease Liver Disease In Cats: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment.


There are several components to treating liver disease in cats, including dietary changes, supplements, medications, and potentially surgery:

Dietary changes are often recommended, as adjusting protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals can help support liver function. Your vet may prescribe a therapeutic liver support diet or homemade recipes. Avoiding fatty foods, reducing copper intake, and ensuring adequate calories are important.

Supplements like SAM-e, vitamin E, and milk thistle can help protect liver cells from further damage. Your vet will advise on appropriate supplements and dosing.

Medications may be prescribed to treat underlying issues contributing to liver disease. Antibiotics, steroids, or ursodeoxycholic acid may be recommended. In severe cases, liver transplants may be an option.

Surgery is sometimes necessary, like with liver shunts where blood bypasses the liver. Surgery can help restore normal blood flow. Your vet will determine if surgery could benefit your cat’s condition.

Overall, treatment aims to stop ongoing liver damage and support regeneration of liver cells. Your vet will create a tailored treatment plan for your cat based on the cause and severity of their liver disease.


Cats with liver disease often require dietary changes to reduce strain on the liver and improve overall health. The primary dietary goals are to provide adequate nutrition while limiting protein, sodium, and meal size.

Many veterinarians recommend feeding cats with liver issues a prescription low-protein, low-sodium food. These diets typically contain high-quality protein sources that are easier for the liver to process. The reduced sodium helps limit fluid retention and ascites.

Supplements may also be beneficial for cats with liver disease. Milk thistle and SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine) can help support liver function. Vitamin B and potassium gluconate supplements may assist as well. Check with your vet before giving any supplements.

Feeding smaller, more frequent meals is gentler on the liver than one or two large meals per day. Four to six tiny meals spaced throughout the day prevents stress on the liver from processing a large volume at once. Cats may need reminders and encouragement to eat small meals if they are accustomed to grazing.


The prognosis for cats with liver disease depends significantly on the underlying cause and how early it is detected and treated.[1] If the primary disease can be successfully managed, then cats can often live for years with chronic liver disease. Some liver conditions like hepatic lipidosis can be completely reversed if caught and addressed promptly.[2] For diseases like cholangiohepatitis where there is chronic inflammation, long-term medication and dietary management will likely be needed.[3] Regular vet checkups and following treatment plans is important for monitoring disease progression. With proper care and early intervention, many cats go on to enjoy a good quality of life despite liver disease.

[1] https://www.lapoflove.com/resource-center/common-diseases-in-cats/liver-disease
[2] https://blog.petwellbeing.com/blog/cats/understanding-liver-disease-in-cats
[3] https://thecatsite.com/c/liver-disease-in-cats/

At-home Care

Caring for a cat with liver disease at home requires some special considerations. It’s important to provide easy access to their basic needs like food, water, and litter boxes. Place these items in easy-to-reach spots around the house so your cat doesn’t have to exert much energy to get to them. You may need to move food and water bowls upstairs or place additional litter boxes on each level of your home.

Try to provide a calm, comfortable environment for your cat. Give them a soft place to sleep and make sure they have plenty of opportunity to rest and relax. Keep noise and activity levels in the home low to avoid stressing your cat. You may need to restrict access to parts of the home that receive a lot of foot traffic.

Monitor your cat’s appetite and watch for signs of nausea, like gagging or throwing up. Small, frequent meals may be better tolerated than one or two large meals a day. Warming their food slightly can make it more appealing. Provide easy access to fresh water at all times to prevent dehydration.

Weigh your cat regularly to check for weight loss and monitor their energy levels. Track any changes in symptoms and report them to your vet. With attentive at-home care and treatment from your vet, cats with liver disease can still enjoy a good quality of life.


There are several ways to help prevent liver disease in cats:

Avoid toxins – Keep cats away from toxins like antifreeze, pesticides, moldy food, poisonous plants, lead, and other chemicals that can damage their liver. Store household cleaners and chemicals securely out of reach.

Annual vet checkups – Get your cat checked annually by a veterinarian, even if they seem healthy. Bloodwork and exams can catch early signs of liver issues.

Vaccinations – Keep cats up to date on core vaccines like rabies, FVRCP, and FeLV, which help prevent infections that could spread to the liver. Discuss non-core vaccines with your vet as well.


[1] https://www.smalldoorvet.com/learning-center/medical/liver-disease-cats/

[2] https://drgoodvet.com/pet-health-plus/liver-disease-in-cats/

When to See a Vet

Cats with liver disease often exhibit symptoms that warrant an urgent vet visit. According to Merck Veterinary Manual, you should take your cat to the vet if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Yellowing of the eyes or gums (jaundice)
  • Lethargy or other signs of fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or decreased interest in food

These symptoms can indicate potentially serious liver issues that require prompt veterinary attention and treatment. It’s especially important to monitor cats with known liver disease and bring them in if any of these symptoms arise or worsen. The sooner liver disease is caught and addressed, the better the chances of successful management and recovery.

Scroll to Top