The liver: oblong, reddish-gray and often overlooked in the world of hearts and brains. However, your cat’s liver is one of her most important organs; it filters waste, metabolizes fat and keeps her blood healthy. When it becomes inflamed, illness is sure to follow.
The first type of liver inflammation, cholangitis, refers to the inflammation of your kitty's liver’s bile ducts. These ducts move toxins in and out of her liver. When these ducts become inflamed, they stop doing their job properly and may allow harmful toxins to seep out of the liver and into her bloodstream. Cholangitis often develops into inflammation of both the bile ducts and the liver itself.
The second more serious type, cholangiohepatitis, involves swelling and inflammation of the liver and the bile ducts. Bacteria from your kitty’s belly often causes the inflammation. This inflammation results in her liver and bile ducts becoming clogged and subsequently retaining toxic bile. If left untreated, this toxic buildup can cause significant liver tissue damage and even liver failure. Treatment for this liver disease almost always includes antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection. Though bacterial infection commonly causes the inflammation, sometimes her immune system attacks the liver, causing inflammation. These kitties with rogue immune systems are treated with drugs, like steroids, that suppress immunoresponse. This gives their liver cells a chance to calm down and return to their regularly scheduled activities.
Fatty Liver Disease
Hepatic lipidosis, commonly known as fatty liver, is a disease that causes your kitty’s liver to store excess fat. While that doesn’t sound inherently dangerous, fatty liver disease will cause loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, jaundice (yellowing of the skin, gums and inside of her ears) and liver failure if left untreated; it’s one of the most common causes of liver failure in cats, according to WebMD. Fatty liver disease generally begins with a period of starvation; your cat skips a few days of meals. This causes her liver to go into panic mode and begin storing fat instead of using it for energy. Once the cycle of fat storage has started, it can be difficult to stop; she feels sick so she doesn’t eat, but her anorexia is making her sick. Kitties with this disease often have to be tube-fed and recovery can take up to three months.
There are several underlying factors that can contribute to the onset of liver disease, including obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, heart disease, feline leukemia, cancer and aggressive weight loss plans. Consult your veterinarian if your kitty has any of the aforementioned risk factors. X-rays, ultrasound, bile acid testing and complete blood chemistry profiles are common methods of screening for liver disease.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.