What to Feed Your Cat with Liver Disease. 7 Vet-Approved Options

Understanding Feline Liver Disease

Feline liver disease refers to a variety of conditions that impair the liver’s function in cats. Some of the most common liver diseases in cats include:

  • Hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease): This occurs when fat accumulates in the liver, impairing its ability to function properly. It often develops when cats stop eating due to other illness. It can lead to jaundice, vomiting, and lethargy.
  • Cholangitis: This is inflammation and infection of the bile ducts. It causes jaundice, vomiting, and loss of appetite. It can be caused by bacterial infections or blockages.
  • Hepatitis: This is inflammation of the liver that can be caused by infections, toxins, cancer, or an overactive immune system attacking liver cells. Symptoms include fever, jaundice, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
  • Cirrhosis: This is late-stage scarring of the liver. It is often caused by long-term inflammation. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and fluid buildup in the abdomen.
  • Hemangiosarcoma: This is an aggressive cancer of the blood vessels in the liver. It can cause swelling or a rupture leading to collapse.

Many liver diseases like hepatitis and cirrhosis tend to cause similar nonspecific symptoms in cats. Diagnostic tests like bloodwork, imaging, and biopsy are needed to pinpoint the specific condition.

Diagnosing Liver Problems

Cats with liver disease often exhibit some common signs and symptoms that clue owners and vets into potential problems. According to VCA Hospitals (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/liver-diseases-in-cats), the signs of liver disease in cats can include:

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

The Merck Veterinary Manual (https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/digestive-disorders-of-cats/disorders-of-the-liver-and-gallbladder-in-cats) also notes that cats with liver issues may exhibit fever, blood clotting problems, and neurological signs like seizures or disorientation in more advanced cases. Catching liver disease early on can help mitigate symptoms and complications.

To diagnose liver problems in cats, vets will perform a physical exam, take a medical history, run blood tests checking liver enzymes and bilirubin levels, and conduct imaging tests like x-rays, ultrasounds, or biopsies of liver tissue. Based on these diagnostic steps, vets can identify the type and severity of liver disease present and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Causes and Risk Factors

There are several potential causes of liver disease in cats:

Obesity – Carrying excess weight can lead to fatty liver disease. Overweight cats are prone to developing fat deposits in their liver, resulting in inflammation and impaired function (source).

Infections – Bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections can all affect the liver. Common culprits include feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), toxoplasmosis, histoplasmosis, leptospirosis, and bartonellosis (source).

Toxins – Exposure to toxins like acetaminophen, antifreeze, rodenticides, and plants like lilies can damage the liver (source).

Inflammation – Liver inflammation (hepatitis) has numerous causes, including bacterial/viral infections, cancer, and autoimmune disease. This can lead to scarring (cirrhosis) over time (source).

Cancer – Feline lymphoma and other cancers sometimes originate or spread to the liver.

Birth Defects – Congenital abnormalities of the liver or bile ducts may be present from birth.

Treatment Options

In addition to dietary changes, cats with liver disease may require other treatments depending on the underlying cause and severity. Common medical treatments include:

– Medications like ursodeoxycholic acid to improve liver function and reduce inflammation (Source).

– Antibiotics if there is concurrent bacterial infection of the liver (Source).

– Vitamin supplements like vitamin K and B complex to support liver function and improve appetite (Source).

– Surgery may be necessary to remove gallstones or tumors blocking bile ducts. Or to remove severely damaged portions of the liver.

– In end stage liver failure, a liver transplant may be the only remaining option, but availability is limited.

Designing a Liver-Friendly Diet

When designing a diet for a cat with liver disease, it’s important to focus on high-quality, easily digestible nutrients to reduce strain on the liver. According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, some key nutritional considerations include:

  • Protein: Cats with liver disease need high-quality, highly digestible protein to help spare liver tissue. Chicken, eggs, dairy and fish can be easier to digest.
  • Carbohydrates: Easily digested carbs like rice and sweet potatoes are best. Avoid fillers that are hard to digest.
  • Fats: Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids support liver health but avoid saturated fats.
  • Vitamins & Minerals: B vitamins, vitamin E and zinc support liver function.
  • Sodium: Moderate sodium levels are important – too much or too little sodium can cause problems.

Reducing protein, copper and nitrogen intake may also be recommended in some cases according to the disease severity. It’s best to consult with your vet on the optimal diet composition for your cat.

Recommended Foods

When it comes to commercial liver diet options for cats, there are a few prescription brands that are formulated specifically for feline liver disease and support liver health. These include:

Hill’s Prescription Diet l/d Feline Liver Care https://www.hillspet.com.cy/en-cy/cat-food/pd-feline-prescription-diet-ld-dry – This dry food is made with high-quality protein and contains all the nutrients needed for daily nutrition. It is easy to digest and made for cats with liver disorders.

Royal Canin Hepatic Feline https://www.royalcanin.com/uk/shop/hepatic-4012 – This complete dry diet is formulated to support liver function for cats with chronic liver disease. It contains high levels of protein and moderate fat.

These prescription liver diets are only available with a veterinarian’s prescription. Consult with your vet to determine which commercial brand may be best for your individual cat’s needs.

Homemade Food Options

Homemade cat food can be nutritionally balanced while also being gentle on the liver. Here are some vet-approved recipes that are friendly for cats with liver issues:

The Pumpkin and Turkey recipe contains pumpkin, which is a good source of fiber and can improve digestion. It also has turkey, which provides lean protein. Potatoes and eggs round out this recipe with carbohydrates and healthy fats.

A Chicken and Rice recipe combines chicken thigh meat with white rice, an easily digestible source of carbohydrates. Carrots add vitamins and minerals. Adding supplements makes this recipe nutritionally complete.

For a treat, try making Tuna Cakes using canned tuna and whole wheat breadcrumbs baked into patties. Tuna provides protein while the breadcrumbs are an alternative grain source.

When making homemade food, be sure to consult your vet on proper ingredient proportions, supplements, and portion sizes for your individual cat.

Foods to Avoid

When feeding a cat with liver disease, it’s important to avoid certain ingredients that could further tax the liver. Some key things to avoid include:

High levels of protein – Excess protein places strain on the liver to metabolize it. Look for cat foods with protein levels between 20-35%.

Copper – Copper can build up in a diseased liver and cause further damage. Choose copper-restricted cat foods.

Fat – High fat foods are difficult for the liver to process. Look for cat foods with less than 15% fat.

Sodium – Excess sodium places additional strain on the liver. Limit salty treats and foods.

Toxins – Things like onions, garlic, avocados, alcohol and chocolate are toxic for cats and even more damaging to cats with liver issues.

Tips for Transitioning Diets

When transitioning your cat to a new diet, especially one designed for liver health, it’s important to do so gradually to allow your cat to adjust. Sudden changes can upset your cat’s stomach and cause them to reject the new food.

Here are some tips for smoothly transitioning your cat to a new diet:

  • Mix a small amount of the new food in with your cat’s current food, starting with a 75/25 ratio. Slowly increase the amount of new food over the course of 5-7 days until only the new food remains.
  • If your cat is on wet food, mix the old and new varieties together in each serving during the transition.
  • Warm the new wet food slightly to increase its aroma and appeal.
  • Hand feed your cat portions of the new food to encourage eating. Praise or treat when they take bites.
  • Sprinkle some nutritional yeast on the new food to add flavor.
  • Try adding water, low-sodium broth, or tuna juice to the new dry kibble to increase palatability.
  • If your cat rejects the new food entirely, go back to the previous ratio and transition more slowly.
  • Consult your vet if your cat goes longer than two days without eating during the transition.

With patience and coaxing, you can get your cat used to a liver-friendly diet. Going slowly and making the new food appealing can help it become a tasty mealtime option.

Source: https://www.purina.com/articles/cat/feeding/guides/changing-cat-food

Outlook and Monitoring

The prognosis for cats with liver disease depends on the specific condition, how early it is caught, and how aggressively it is treated. Some forms of liver disease like hepatic lipidosis can be fully reversed if treated promptly. For other conditions like liver cancer, the long-term prognosis may be poor even with treatment.

According to PetMD, with early detection and aggressive treatment, “cats can have a good prognosis and go on to live a normal life”. However, advanced liver failure is difficult to reverse.

Veterinarians recommend close monitoring and follow-up care to assess how cats are responding to treatment. This may involve regular blood work, imaging tests, and physical exams to check enzymes, liver values, and other indicators. Adjustments to medications or diet may be needed over time.

Pet parents should watch for signs of recurrent symptoms and contact the vet promptly if the cat stops eating, acts lethargic, vomits, or shows other worrying signs. With diligent at-home monitoring and ongoing vet care, cats have the best chance of managing liver disease and maintaining quality of life.

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