Reverse Jaundice in Cats. 3 Proven Ways to Help Your Feline Friend

What is Jaundice in Cats?

Jaundice, also known as icterus, is a condition characterized by yellowing of the skin, gums, and eyes in cats. It occurs when there is an excessive buildup of bilirubin in the bloodstream and tissues of the body (, 2022). Bilirubin is a yellow pigment and a waste product formed from the breakdown of old red blood cells. Normally, the liver filters out bilirubin and excretes it in bile. But when the liver is diseased or obstructed, bilirubin accumulates in the blood, causing the yellow discoloration associated with jaundice.

Some common symptoms of jaundice in cats include (PetMD, 2021):

  • Yellowing of the gums
  • Yellowing of the skin, especially visible on the ears, nose, and pads of the paws
  • Yellow discoloration in the whites of the eyes
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

Jaundice itself is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying problem with the liver, gallbladder, blood, or pancreas. Identifying and treating the underlying cause is important for reversing jaundice in cats.

Diagnosing Jaundice

To diagnose jaundice in cats, the veterinarian will start with a thorough physical examination, looking for yellow discoloration in the gums, tongue, eyes or ear flaps which can indicate jaundice (source). They will check if the yellowing is caused by an accumulation of bilirubin by looking at the conjunctiva and sclera of the eyes with a penlight.

The next diagnostic step involves blood tests to check levels of bilirubin in the bloodstream. Elevated levels of bilirubin in the blood (hyperbilirubinemia) confirm jaundice. The bloodwork also gives information about liver enzyme levels and kidney function (source).

Additional diagnostic imaging such as X-rays or ultrasound of the abdomen may be recommended. These tests allow the vet to visualize the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts and other internal organs to determine if there are any anatomical abnormalities causing the jaundice (source).

Causes of Jaundice

There are several potential causes of jaundice in cats:

Liver Disease

Diseases affecting the liver are a common cause of jaundice in cats. These include infectious diseases like feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and fungal diseases. Other liver conditions like cancer, cirrhosis, and hepatic lipidosis can also lead to jaundice.

Bile Duct Obstruction

Obstruction of the bile ducts, such as from gallstones or cancer, prevents bile from draining properly from the liver. This causes a buildup of bilirubin that leads to jaundice.

Blood Disorders

Certain blood disorders like hemolytic anemia can cause abnormal breakdown of red blood cells and lead to jaundice. The spleen helps filter out these broken down cells, but if overwhelmed, bilirubin builds up.


Inflammation of the pancreas from digestive enzymes can impair liver function and obstruct bile flow, resulting in jaundice. Pancreatitis is a relatively common cause of jaundice in cats.

Treating the Underlying Cause

The treatment for jaundice in cats depends on the underlying cause. Some common causes of jaundice include:

  • Liver disease: Treatment may include medications, dietary changes, supplements, or surgery depending on the specific condition. Liver support medications like SAM-E or milk thistle can help protect and regenerate liver cells.
  • Pancreatitis: This is treated by managing pain, providing intravenous fluids, antinausea medication, and feeding a low-fat prescription diet once the cat can eat again. Antibiotics may be needed if infected.
  • Cancer: Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or palliative care depending on the type, location, and stage of cancer.
  • Infection: Broad spectrum antibiotics. Address any abscesses or infected organs if present.
  • Gallstones: Surgical removal of the gallbladder and stones.
  • Toxins: Stop exposure and provide supportive care as toxins are metabolized and excreted.

By diagnosing and treating the underlying disease causing jaundice, the obstruction preventing normal bile flow can be resolved in many cases. This allows bilirubin levels to return to normal and the jaundice to clear up.

Supportive Care

Providing supportive care is an important part of managing jaundice in cats. This can help prevent complications, alleviate symptoms, and give the liver time to heal.

Some key aspects of supportive care include:

  • IV fluids – Vets often administer intravenous (IV) fluids like lactated Ringer’s solution to prevent dehydration and promote kidney function. This helps the kidneys excrete bilirubin and other toxins from the bloodstream (1).
  • Nutritional support – Appetite stimulants, digestive enzyme supplements, and feeding tubes may be used to provide adequate nutrition. Cats with liver disease often have poor appetites but require extra calories and protein (2).
  • Medications – These can help manage nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, pain, infections, clotting issues, acid reflux, and other problems. Antibiotics, pain relievers, antiemetics, vitamin K, and ursodiol are sometimes prescribed (3).

With attentive nursing care and treatment of symptoms, jaundiced cats can gradually regain strength while the underlying disease is addressed.


Improving Bilirubin Excretion

There are a few ways to help improve bilirubin excretion in cats to reverse jaundice:

Phototherapy involves exposing the cat to specific wavelengths of light which help convert the bilirubin into forms that can be more easily excreted. This is often done with specialized lights or laser treatment under veterinary supervision (1).

Activated charcoal can be administered to cats orally or via enema. It binds to bilirubin in the gastrointestinal tract so it can be eliminated from the body rather than reabsorbed (2).

Antioxidant supplements like S-Adenosyl methionine (SAM-e) help protect liver cells and may improve bile flow and bilirubin excretion. Veterinarians may recommend SAM-e for cats with liver disease or gallbladder issues (1, 3).

Along with these treatments, ensuring adequate hydration and encouraging movement and gentle exercise can also help improve circulation and bile flow to eliminate bilirubin from the body (4). Monitoring bilirubin levels with repeat blood tests allows vets to evaluate the effectiveness of therapy.

Preventing Further Liver Damage

Once jaundice has set in, it’s important to take steps to prevent further damage to the liver. Some strategies include:

Administering hepatoprotectants like milk thistle. Milk thistle contains the active ingredient silymarin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps protect liver cells from toxins and supports liver function (Liver Diseases in Cats – VCA Animal Hospitals).

Feeding a low protein diet. Protein restriction helps reduce the workload on the liver and prevents hepatic encephalopathy. Look for cat foods specially formulated for liver disease, containing moderate, high-quality protein sources (Liver Disease in Your Cat: Causes, Signs & Symptoms).

Avoiding toxins that further damage the liver. This includes drugs like acetaminophen, insecticides, heavy metals, aflatoxins from moldy food, etc. Prevent access to toxins and harmful substances.


The prognosis for jaundice in cats depends heavily on the underlying cause. Some diseases that lead to jaundice can be fatal if left untreated, while others have a good prognosis for full recovery when addressed promptly.

In cases where jaundice is caused by an infection or toxin exposure, the prognosis is generally good if treatment begins before severe liver damage occurs. With aggressive therapy such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and supportive care, many cats recover fully. However, delays in treatment can allow irreversible liver failure to develop.

Jaundice resulting from cancer, end-stage liver disease, or congenital defects has a poorer prognosis. While treatment can help manage symptoms and slow progression, these conditions are often chronic. With cancer specifically, early detection and treatment provide the best outlook.

Overall, rapid diagnosis and treatment are key to improving the prognosis for jaundiced cats. The sooner the underlying issue is identified and addressed, the better the chances of recovery. Close monitoring and follow-up care are also important, as relapse is possible with some conditions. While jaundice can be very serious, many cats respond well to timely vet care.


There are a few key things cat owners can do to help prevent jaundice in their cats:

Prevent underlying diseases: Many of the conditions that lead to jaundice are preventable with proper care. For example, ensuring cats are up-to-date on vaccines can help prevent infectious diseases. Maintaining a healthy weight and diet can help prevent pancreatitis and liver disease. Avoiding toxins and poisons can prevent liver damage and inflammation.

Avoid toxins: Keeping cats away from toxic substances is crucial. Make sure all household cleaners, chemicals, plants, and human medications are kept in a secure, pet-proof area. Promptly clean up any toxins or poisons if they spill.

Regular vet checkups: Annual veterinary examinations allow early detection and treatment of conditions like cancer, infections, and liver or gallbladder disorders before they progress. Bloodwork helps identify issues brewing long before symptoms appear.

With proactive care and prevention methods, cat owners can reduce the likelihood of their pet developing jaundice down the road.

When to See a Vet

You should take your cat to the vet immediately if you notice any signs of jaundice, including:

  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes – This is the most obvious sign of jaundice in cats. Yellowing starts around the ears, face, and paw pads, then spreads to the rest of the body. The whites of the eyes will also turn yellow. (
  • Loss of appetite – Jaundiced cats often lose interest in food as they start feeling unwell. Appetite loss may progress to complete anorexia. (
  • Lethargy – Lethargy and weakness are common as jaundice worsens. The cat may seem depressed and sleep more than usual.
  • Vomiting – Some jaundiced cats vomit repeatedly. The vomit may be yellow from bile. (

Jaundice indicates serious liver disease or biliary tract obstruction. Without prompt veterinary treatment, jaundice can lead to liver failure, seizures, coma, and even death. So early diagnosis and treatment are critical.

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