When Do Cats Start Getting Liver Disease? The Answer May Surprise You.


Feline liver disease is a common condition in cats, affecting approximately 10-15% of the feline population according to some studies (source). The liver plays an important role in metabolizing nutrients, detoxifying chemicals, and producing proteins. When the liver becomes diseased, these vital functions can be impaired.

Some of the most prevalent liver diseases in cats include hepatic lipidosis, cholangiohepatitis, hepatic lymphoma, and polycystic liver disease. These diseases can arise from a variety of causes including infections, toxins, cancer, and metabolic disorders. Feline hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver disease, is one of the most common liver diseases in cats accounting for approximately 50-60% of liver disease cases (source). Early detection and treatment is key to managing feline liver disease and improving outcomes.

This section provides a brief overview of the prevalence of liver disease in cats and introduces some of the major types of feline liver diseases. Let me know if you would like me to modify or expand this introduction section.

Anatomy of the Feline Liver

The liver is a vital organ located in the upper right portion of the abdomen. It performs several crucial functions in cats including:

  • Removing toxins from the blood
  • Metabolizing nutrients absorbed from the digestive tract
  • Producing bile to aid digestion
  • Storing vitamins and minerals
  • Regulating blood clotting

Structurally, the feline liver consists of four main lobes made up of many small lobules. The lobules contain liver cells called hepatocytes that carry out the organ’s metabolic functions. The liver receives nutrient-rich blood from the hepatic portal vein and hepatic arteries. It filters this blood and releases waste products into the gallbladder and small intestines via the common bile duct. The liver’s strategic position and extensive blood supply allow it to detoxify and metabolize before the blood circulates through the rest of the body.

Source: https://findersites.net/felineliving.net/

Common Liver Diseases in Cats

The most common liver diseases in cats include:

Hepatic Lipidosis: Also known as fatty liver disease, this is the most common liver disorder in cats. It occurs when fats accumulate in the liver, usually due to anorexia or extremely low food intake. Symptoms include lack of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, and jaundice. It can be life-threatening if not treated promptly with nutritional support (source).

Cholangiohepatitis: This inflammatory disease affects the bile ducts and liver. It is often caused by bacterial infections. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, jaundice, and abdominal pain. Long-term inflammation can lead to liver failure and death (source).

Hepatic Neoplasia: Liver tumors and cancer are common in older cats. Tumors can be benign or malignant. Symptoms depend on the type of tumor but often include weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. Imaging tests and biopsy are needed for diagnosis, and treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation (source).

Other less common liver diseases in cats include feline hepatitis viruses, copper storage disease, and congenital portosystemic shunts.

Risk Factors

There are several factors that can increase a cat’s risk of developing liver disease:

  • Obesity – Excessive body fat puts strain on the liver and increases inflammation.
  • Poor diet – High-carb, high-fat, or deficient diets can lead to liver problems over time.
  • Toxins – Exposure to toxins like acetaminophen, antifreeze, or toxic plants can damage the liver.
  • Infections – Bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections can infect the liver.
  • Cancer – Liver cancer or cancer spreading from other areas can develop.
  • Genetics – Purebred cats like Persians and Siamese are prone to some liver disorders.
  • Medications – Certain medications are processed by the liver and could potentially cause damage.
  • Dental disease – Bacteria from dental infections can spread to the liver.

Reducing risk factors through proper diet, avoiding toxins, controlling infections, and regular vet checkups may help prevent liver problems in cats.

Onset and Progression

Feline liver disease typically occurs in middle-aged to older cats, usually around 9-12 years old or older (1). However, it can potentially develop at any age. Liver disease can arise either as a chronic, progressive condition over time or as an acute condition with sudden onset.

Chronic liver disease tends to develop gradually as the liver sustains repeated damage over many months or years. This results in slow replacement of healthy liver tissue with scar tissue in a process called fibrosis. Eventually the liver may become cirrhotic, which is severe scarring that causes dysfunction (1). Chronic liver disease may initially cause subtle symptoms like weight loss and changes in appetite that an owner may not notice right away.

Acute liver failure involves rapid loss of liver function over days or weeks, usually due to a severe insult like poisoning or infection (2). It tends to cause more obvious symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, and lethargy. Acute liver failure can be reversible if treated promptly, but delays can lead to irreversible damage.

In general, the prognosis worsens as liver disease progresses to end stages. But early detection and treatment can help slow progression and prolong life.


There are several ways veterinarians diagnose liver disease in cats:1

Blood tests: Complete blood count, biochemical profile, and coagulation tests can detect abnormalities indicating liver issues. Elevated liver enzymes like ALT, AST, and ALP often signal liver disease. Bilirubin and bile acid levels may also be elevated.

Ultrasound: An abdominal ultrasound allows visual examination of the liver’s size, shape, and texture. It can detect masses, inflammation, or anatomical problems.

Biopsy: A liver biopsy is the most definitive diagnostic tool. It involves surgically removing a small sample of liver tissue for examination under a microscope. This reveals the cause, type, and severity of disease. Coagulation tests should be run first since liver disease impairs blood clotting.


Treatment for liver disease in cats focuses on managing symptoms and slowing the progression of disease through diet changes, surgery, and medication. According to the University of Bristol (TREATING FELINE LIVER DISEASE), early treatment is key to preventing liver failure and increasing a cat’s chances of recovery.

Diet is one of the first lines of treatment for cats with liver issues. Veterinarians often recommend switching to a prescription low-protein, high-calorie food that is easier for the liver to process. Cats with liver disease need high-quality protein but in reduced amounts. Dietary changes help reduce the workload on the liver and prevent muscle wasting (What To Do If Your Cat Has Liver Disease – Petz Park).

In some cases, surgery may be recommended to remove blockages in the bile ducts or to biopsy the liver for diagnostic purposes. Surgery carries risks for cats with compromised livers, so veterinarians weigh the benefits vs risks carefully.

Medications can help manage some of the symptoms and slow progression of liver disease. For example, antibiotics may be prescribed for concurrent infections while ursodeoxycholic acid helps improve bile flow. Other medications focus on reducing nausea, vomiting, and jaundice. However, there are no medications that can cure or reverse liver damage in cats.


Preventing liver disease in cats starts with regular veterinary checkups and bloodwork. Annual exams allow vets to monitor liver enzyme levels and catch problems early (1). Establishing a baseline while your cat is healthy makes it easier to identify abnormalities down the road.

Feeding a high-quality diet is also important for feline liver health. Commercial cat foods should contain adequate levels of protein, fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants. Avoid cheap brands with fillers and by-products. Homemade diets must be balanced and complete. Consult your vet about nutritional needs for liver disease prevention (1).

Reduce exposure to toxins like chemicals, plants, and medications. Keep antifreeze, cleaners, pesticides, and other hazardous substances locked away. Remove poisonous houseplants and monitor your cat outside. Only give approved OTC or prescription medications under veterinary direction (2).

With attentive, proactive care, many liver problems can be avoided. But some congenital conditions and cancers cannot be prevented entirely. Still, proper nutrition and limiting toxins gives your cat the best chance at lifelong liver wellness.

Outlook and Prognosis

The outlook and prognosis for cats with liver disease depends largely on the underlying cause and how early treatment is initiated 1. For conditions like hepatic lipidosis that are caught early, the prognosis can be good with aggressive nutritional support. Cats with hepatic lipidosis that receive consistent nutritional therapy often make a full recovery within 3-6 weeks 2.

For chronic liver diseases, early diagnosis and treatment are key. If the underlying cause can be identified and treated before significant cirrhosis and failure occur, cats may live many months or years with proper management. However, the prognosis worsens once advanced liver failure develops.

In cases of acute liver failure or end-stage chronic liver disease, even aggressive treatment may only provide days to weeks of extended life. Euthanasia to prevent suffering should be considered when a cat’s condition is rapidly deteriorating despite therapy. Quality of life is an important consideration for cats with advanced liver disease.

When to See a Vet

It’s important to be aware of the signs of potential liver disease in cats and get them checked out by a veterinarian. Some signs to look out for include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and gums)
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal swelling

According to experts at PetMD, cats often show no signs in the early stages of liver disease, so regular veterinary checkups are important to screen for potential issues (source). Bloodwork and other diagnostic tests during annual exams can detect liver problems before they progress.

Don’t wait until symptoms appear – be proactive with preventative vet care. Catching liver disease early greatly improves the chances of successful treatment. Contact your veterinarian right away if you notice any of the signs above to have your cat evaluated.

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