How Soon Will My Cat’s Jaundice Symptoms Disappear?

What is jaundice in cats?

Jaundice, also known as icterus, is a condition characterized by a yellow discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes, and eyes in cats. It occurs when there is a buildup of bilirubin, a yellow pigmented bile product, in the bloodstream and tissues (VCA Animal Hospitals, 2022). This happens when the liver cannot excrete bilirubin properly or when red blood cells break down too rapidly.

There are several potential causes of jaundice in cats:

  • Liver disease – Conditions like hepatitis, fibrosis, or cancer can impair the liver’s ability to process and excrete bilirubin. This leads to a backup of bilirubin in the blood (PetMD, 2021).
  • Bile duct obstruction – Obstructions like gallstones or cancer can block the bile ducts, preventing bilirubin from being excreted into the intestines. This causes bilirubin to accumulate in the blood instead (Kingsdale, 2023).
  • Hemolytic anemia – This condition causes premature breakdown of red blood cells. The spleen cannot clear away all the bilirubin released from the destroyed cells, leading to jaundice (VCA Animal Hospitals, 2022).

Jaundice itself is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying condition. Identifying and treating the root cause is crucial for resolving jaundice in cats.

Signs and symptoms

The most obvious sign of jaundice in cats is a yellowing of the skin, gums, ears, mouth, and eyes. This is caused by an accumulation of bilirubin in the bloodstream, which is then deposited into the tissues. Some other common signs and symptoms of feline jaundice include:

  • Yellow discoloration of the urine
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the yellowing typically first appears in the ears, gums, and conjunctiva (the membranes around the eyes). As jaundice progresses, it will spread to the skin and other mucous membranes ( The yellowing occurs because bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment, accumulates faster than the liver can clear it from the bloodstream.

In addition to visible yellowing, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite are common symptoms of feline jaundice. These signs indicate that the liver is not properly processing nutrients and toxins from the blood. According to PetMD, severely jaundiced cats may become dehydrated, weak, and depressed (

Diagnosing jaundice

To diagnose jaundice in cats, veterinarians will start with a complete physical exam, looking for signs of yellowing in the cat’s skin, gums, and the whites of the eyes. They will check for enlarged lymph nodes, take the cat’s temperature, and feel the abdomen for any abnormalities in size or shape of internal organs like the liver or spleen.

Blood tests are also commonly used to check liver enzyme levels like ALT, AST, GGT, bilirubin, and bile acids. Elevated enzyme levels can indicate liver disease or obstruction of bile ducts preventing proper bile flow. A complete blood count may also show abnormalities like low red blood cell count or high white cell count indicating infection [1].

Imaging tests like an abdominal ultrasound allow vets to visually inspect the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas, and other organs for signs of swelling, masses, gallstones, or obstruction. Ultrasound can help identify the cause and severity of jaundice.

In some cases, a tissue sample may be taken from the liver or lymph nodes and sent for biopsy to determine the underlying cause of jaundice. Liver biopsy is considered the most accurate way to diagnose liver disease leading to jaundice in cats.


Treatment options

Treatment for jaundice in cats depends on the underlying cause. Some common treatments include:

Medications: Vets may prescribe medications like antibiotics, steroids, or ursodeoxycholic acid to treat infections, inflammation, or liver conditions causing jaundice. According to the VCA Hospitals article, “Medications may be prescribed to improve liver function and regulate bile flow” (

Dietary changes: Special nutritional supplements and foods may be recommended to support liver health. As PetMD notes, “Your vet may prescribe a special diet formulated for liver disease and jaundice in cats” (

Surgery: If there is an obstruction or blockage in the bile ducts causing jaundice, surgery may be done to remove gallstones or infected/damaged parts of the liver or bile ducts. According to WagWalking, “In many cases, surgical removal of the obstruction is necessary” (


The prognosis for jaundice in cats depends on the underlying cause. According to VCA Animal Hospitals (, “The prognosis is dependent upon the underlying cause. Some diseases causing icterus are fatal, but others have a good prognosis for full recovery.” If the underlying condition can be diagnosed and treated, the prognosis is often good.

With appropriate treatment guided by a veterinarian, many cats fully recover from jaundice. PetMD ( states “Depending on the underlying condition, many cases of jaundice can be readily diagnosed and cured, while some cases may take longer.” WagWalking ( notes “Once the vet determines the exact cause of the cat’s jaundice and develops an effective treatment plan, many cats can live for many more years.”

So while the prognosis depends on the cause, jaundice often responds well to treatment if the underlying condition is addressed. With prompt veterinary care, most cats with jaundice can recover and live a normal lifespan.

Mild jaundice

Mild jaundice in cats refers to a slight yellow tinge to the gums, skin, or whites of the eyes. It may be caused by a minor issue like a reaction to a medication or toxin. Mild jaundice often resolves on its own within 1-2 weeks if the underlying cause is treated or removed (VCA Hospitals).

With mildly elevated bilirubin levels, cats may act normally and show few signs besides the yellowing. Vets can diagnose mild jaundice through bloodwork and a physical exam. Treatment involves stopping any medications that could be causing jaundice, changing to a low-fat prescription diet, and providing supportive care while monitoring bilirubin levels (WagWalking). Most cats recover fully from mild jaundice within a couple weeks with appropriate treatment.

Moderate jaundice

When a cat has jaundice at a moderate level, the yellowing of the skin and eyes is more pronounced. There may also be additional symptoms like fever, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. Bile pigments in the blood will likely be significantly elevated.

Treatment focuses on addressing the underlying cause and supporting the liver. Hospitalization, IV fluids, antibiotics, and liver protectants may be needed. The prognosis depends on the specific cause and how quickly treatment begins.

It often takes 2-4 weeks for moderate jaundice to fully clear up in cats. According to this source, the jaundice will start improving within days if the treatment is effective, but complete resolution takes more time as the liver repairs and regenerates.

With appropriate care and liver support, most cats can recover fully from moderate jaundice. However, quick treatment by a vet is essential for the best prognosis.

Severe jaundice

Severe jaundice is indicated by dark yellow or orange coloring in the mouth and gums, as well as the ears, skin and whites of the eyes. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, severe jaundice is often caused by diseases that result in destruction of large numbers of red blood cells, like feline leukemia virus infection or immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. It can also be caused by complete bile duct obstruction.

Severe jaundice that is left untreated can be fatal. However, with aggressive treatment such as fluid therapy, blood transfusions, antibiotics and surgery to address underlying causes, many cats can recover. The jaundice itself may take quite some time to clear up – potentially 4 to 8 weeks or longer for the bilirubin levels to return to normal and the yellow coloring to fade.

It’s important to work closely with your veterinarian if your cat has severe jaundice and follow their recommendations for treatment and monitoring. With appropriate care and patience for recovery, the prognosis can be good even for severe cases. But severe jaundice does require prompt, dedicated treatment under veterinary supervision.

Preventing recurrence

The key to preventing recurrent jaundice in cats is addressing the underlying cause. If an infection, obstruction, or other condition caused the initial jaundice, following veterinary recommendations for treatment and management is essential (The Yellow Cat: Diagnostic and Therapeutic Strategies).

Diet can also play a role in prevention. Your veterinarian may recommend a prescription low-fat, highly digestible diet to support liver and gallbladder health (5 Important Causes Of A Jaundiced Cat). Avoiding fatty foods and ensuring adequate hydration is also important.

Supplements may help some cats as well. Milk thistle, SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine), and other supplements support liver function and regeneration. Work closely with your veterinarian to determine if supplements could benefit your cat (Jaundice in Cats). Lifestyle factors like maintaining an ideal weight and avoiding toxins are also key.

While jaundice can recur if the underlying disease is chronic, close monitoring and proactive care from your veterinarian can often extend periods of remission and quality of life.

Outlook with appropriate care

With prompt veterinary attention, the prognosis for cats with jaundice is often excellent. However, the outlook depends on the underlying cause of the jaundice. Some diseases that lead to jaundice can be fatal if left untreated, while others have a good prognosis for full recovery.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “The prognosis is dependent upon the underlying cause. Some diseases causing icterus are fatal, but others have a good prognosis for full recovery.”

In mild cases of jaundice caused by a treatable condition, the jaundice may resolve within days to weeks if proper treatment is administered (VCA Animal Hospitals). With prompt veterinary care, most cats make a full recovery.

However, jaundice can potentially lead to serious complications if the underlying cause goes untreated. That’s why it’s critical to have a veterinarian examine any cat exhibiting signs of jaundice as soon as possible. An accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan are key to ensuring the best possible prognosis.

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