What to Feed a Jaundiced Cat. The Vet-Approved Diet

What is Jaundice in Cats?

Jaundice, also known as icterus, is a condition in which a yellow pigment called bilirubin accumulates in a cat’s blood and tissues, causing a yellow discoloration of the skin, gums, and whites of the eyes (1). It is caused by excess bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment produced when old or damaged red blood cells are broken down (2).

There are three main classifications of jaundice in cats:

  • Pre-hepatic jaundice occurs when too many red blood cells break down, producing excess bilirubin that overwhelms the liver’s ability to remove it from the blood (2).
  • Hepatic jaundice happens when the liver is diseased or damaged and cannot properly process and excrete bilirubin (1).
  • Post-hepatic jaundice arises when there is an obstruction in the bile ducts preventing bilirubin from being excreted out of the liver (2).

Common causes of jaundice in cats include (1, 2):

  • Liver disease such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, or cancer
  • Gall bladder/bile duct inflammation, infection, or blockage
  • Hemolytic anemia from blood parasites, toxins, or immune disorders
  • Pancreatitis
  • Certain medications or toxins

Symptoms of jaundice in cats may include (1, 2):

  • Yellow color in ears, gums, skin, or eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Nausea or vomiting

Jaundice indicates an underlying disorder, so prompt veterinary care is essential for diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosing Jaundice

Jaundice is typically diagnosed during a physical examination by a veterinarian. Vets will check for yellowing of the cat’s gums, inner eyelids, and ear flaps. This yellow discoloration signals an accumulation of bilirubin in the blood and tissues.

In addition to a physical exam, blood tests can help diagnose jaundice and determine the underlying cause. Bloodwork evaluates levels of bilirubin as well as liver enzymes like ALT, AST, and ALP. Elevated bilirubin and liver enzymes indicate liver disease or dysfunction (VCA Hospitals).

Advanced imaging like ultrasound or X-rays may also be used to evaluate the health of the liver, gallbladder, and bile duct system. These images help identify blockages, inflammation, or other abnormalities that could be causing jaundice (Today’s Veterinary Practice).

Treatment for Feline Jaundice

Treatment for feline jaundice focuses on addressing the underlying condition causing it, providing supportive care, and managing symptoms. Some key aspects of treatment include:

Treating the underlying condition: The specific treatment will depend on what is causing the jaundice. For example, if it is due to an infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. If it is caused by a blocked bile duct, surgery may be necessary.

IV fluids: Providing intravenous fluids can help flush waste products from the body and support kidney function. Fluids also help prevent dehydration.

Medications: Certain medications may be used to help manage jaundice symptoms, including:1

  • Ursodeoxycholic acid to improve bile flow
  • Steroids to reduce inflammation
  • Antibiotics if there is an infection
  • Vitamin K if clotting factors are low

In severe cases, a blood transfusion may be necessary. Hospitalization for supportive care is often required until jaundice improves.

Dietary Considerations

When feeding a cat with jaundice, it’s important to make dietary adjustments to support liver function. Here are some key considerations:

Feed smaller, more frequent meals – Smaller meals are easier to digest and less taxing on the liver. Aim for 4-6 small meals spaced throughout the day rather than 1-2 large meals. Portion meals into a few tablespoons at a time.

Choose a low-fat, highly digestible diet – Fatty foods are difficult for a compromised liver to process. Look for cat food with under 10% fat content. Easily digestible carbs like rice and wheat are gentler on the liver.[1]

Supplement with antioxidants – Vitamins E, C, and B can help protect liver cells. Consider adding these through cat-safe supplements. Talk to your vet for dosage recommendations.

Avoid unnecessary supplements and treats – Over supplementing certain vitamins can be toxic to the liver. Keep supplementation focused only on what your vet recommends.

Recipe for Homemade Cat Food

This nutritious homemade cat food recipe is easy to make at home and provides all the nutrients a cat with jaundice needs. The ingredients are simple and many cat owners already have them in their kitchen.


  • 1 pound ground turkey or chicken
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup cooked carrots
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon fish oil


  1. Cook the brown rice according to package directions.
  2. In a nonstick skillet, cook the ground turkey or chicken until no longer pink, 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add the cooked carrots, turmeric, and garlic powder. Cook for 2-3 more minutes.
  4. Transfer the cooked meat and vegetables to a large bowl. Add the rice, olive oil, egg, and fish oil. Mix well until fully incorporated.
  5. Portion into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. To serve, warm up a portion as needed.

Nutritional Content

This recipe provides protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. The ingredients are highly digestible for cats with jaundice. If your cat needs more calories, you can increase the amount of meat or rice.

Tips for Feeding a Cat with Jaundice

When feeding a cat with jaundice, it’s important to keep their nutrition and hydration up. Here are some tips:

Feed Small, Frequent Meals

Cats with jaundice often have a poor appetite. Feeding smaller, more frequent meals can help encourage eating. Aim for 4-6 small meals spaced throughout the day rather than 1-2 large meals.

Make Food Attractive

Warming food to body temperature or just above can make it more aromatic and enticing. Adding a bit of low-sodium broth, nutritional yeast, or freeze-dried meat can also make food more appetizing.

Keep Hydrated

Dehydration is a risk with jaundice. Make sure fresh water is always available. You can also add water to canned food to create a gruel or offer low-sodium chicken broth between meals.

Work closely with your vet on the best diet and feeding techniques for your cat’s situation. Small tweaks can often get a cat with jaundice to eat more readily.

Foods to Avoid

When feeding a cat with jaundice, it’s important to avoid certain foods that may further stress the liver and worsen symptoms. Here are some key foods to limit or avoid completely:

Fatty foods – Fatty foods like bacon, sausages, and fatty cuts of meat put extra strain on the liver to process fat. It’s best to avoid fatty meats and choose lean options like skinless chicken breast instead. According to PetMD, diets should have less than 10% fat for cats with liver issues.

Raw meat – Raw meat may contain bacteria that could further challenge the liver and immune system of a cat with jaundice. It’s safer to cook meat thoroughly to kill any pathogens. Stick to cooked meat for cats with liver disease.

Milk products – Milk contains lactose sugar which may be difficult for some cats to digest. Since the liver helps process sugars, dairy products can add extra workload. Avoid milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy foods.

Overall, stick to a bland, low fat diet without rich or fatty foods. Focus on lean proteins cooked thoroughly and avoid raw meats and dairy products. Check with your vet for any other foods to specifically avoid for your cat’s condition.


There are several supplements that can be beneficial for cats with jaundice:

Vitamin K – Vitamin K helps with blood clotting. Cats with liver disease often have poor absorption of vitamin K, which can lead to hemorrhages. Supplementing with vitamin K can help prevent bleeding problems (1).

Milk thistle – Milk thistle contains active compounds called silymarins that help protect the liver from toxins and promote liver cell regeneration. Several studies have shown benefits of milk thistle for various liver diseases in cats (2).

Other supplements that may help include vitamin B12, vitamin E, SAMe (S-Adenosyl methionine), and L-carnitine. Vitamin E and SAMe help reduce oxidative damage to the liver, while L-carnitine assists with fat metabolism (3).

Always consult your veterinarian before starting any new supplements, as high doses of some can be toxic for cats with compromised liver function.


(1) https://www.petmd.com/blogs/nutritionnuggets/cat/dr-coates/2014/april/nutritional-supplements-cats-liver-disease-31582

(2) https://www.nhvnaturalpetproducts.com/cats/conditions/liver-failure/

(3) https://www.vetriscience.com/vetri-liver-feline-milk-thistle-supplement-for-cats.html

Recovery Timeline

The recovery timeline for feline jaundice can vary significantly depending on the underlying cause of the condition. In general, the recovery can take weeks to months.

For mild cases where the jaundice is caused by something temporary like an infection, the jaundice may start to improve within a few days as the infection clears with antibiotics. However, it may still take a couple weeks for bilirubin levels to return to normal.

With more severe liver disease, recovery can be prolonged over the course of months. Cats being treated for hepatic lipidosis may need to be hospitalized for 1-2 weeks initially, with full recovery taking 6-12 weeks or longer [1]. For chronic liver conditions, the jaundice may come and go as the disease waxes and wanes.

Regardless of cause, progress will need to be closely monitored by a veterinarian through repeat lab work and physical exams. Only once all symptoms have resolved and lab values have normalized can a cat be considered fully recovered.


There are several ways cat owners can help prevent jaundice in their feline companions:

Annual veterinary checkups allow early detection and treatment of conditions like liver disease, infections, and cancer that can lead to jaundice. Preventative care helps nip potential problems in the bud before they progress.

Limiting a cat’s exposure to infectious diseases through vaccination, parasite control, and safe outdoor access helps avoid infections that may cause jaundice. Proper hygiene like washing hands before handling cats, cleaning litter boxes, and washing food bowls also reduces spread of contagious illnesses.

Keeping potentially dangerous or toxic substances out of reach protects cats from ingesting household cleaners, plants, medications, or other toxins that could damage their livers. Childproofing cabinets, covering trash cans, and using pet-safe cleaners reduces risk.

While not every case is avoidable, focusing on preventative veterinary care, infection control, and home safety gives cats their best shot at a long, healthy life free of jaundice.

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