Gallstones don't occur often in cats, but when they do, keep an eye out for liver problems as well. There's little you can do to prevent gallstones, but there's also only a small chance your cat will ever be affected. If affected only with gallstones, most cats respond to treatment.
Gallstone disease is formally called cholelithiasis, with the stones known as choleliths. They really are little stones, looking like pebbles you might find in your driveway. Generally, they're formed of calcium carbonate. Numbers can range from one to literally hundreds. These choleliths can pass from the gallbladder into the bile ducts, blocking the flow of bile from the liver. Bile is created in the liver and then heads into the gallbladder for storage until needed in the small intestine, where it aids in food digestion.
Sometimes cats with gallstones display no symptoms at all. If that's the case, his gallstones aren't bothering him and you could remain unaware of their existence. That's also true with people -- you could have some stones in your gallbladder and not realize it until a problem occurs. Cats with an infection because of the gallstones might throw up, stop eating and appear in pain. Because the gallstones affect the bile ducts and liver, your cat might suffer from jaundice, meaning the whites of his eyes and mucous membranes develop a yellow hue.
Several factors cause gallstone formation. Your cat could be suffering from a bacterial infection or a tumor, or the gallbladder could be malfunctioning. Stones could result from too much calcium or cholesterol in the bile. Inflammation can cause stone formation. According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, the rarity of these stones in cats is probably because kitties have less cholesterol in their bile than you do.
Your vet performs an X-ray or ultrasound to determine if your cat has gallstones. She'll take blood for testing and order a complete blood count to see if your cat has an infection. Since other liver and gastrointestinal tract diseases produce similar symptoms, she'll have to rule out those illnesses before treatment begins.
In some cases, your vet can prescribe medication to dissolve the stones. Otherwise, she performs surgery to get rid of the gallstones. That might be a cholecystectomy, in which the gallbladder is removed, or a cholecystotomy, in which the stones are removed and the gallbladder remains. If your cat suffers from gallstone-related disorders, such as cholangiohepatitis, in which a gallstone obstructs the tracts between the gallbladder and the liver, surgical removal of the stones restores normal function. Most cats recover quite well from gallbladder surgery, but overall recovery and prognosis depends on the cause of the stones.
- PetMD: Gallstones in Cats
- Broadway Veterinary Hospital: Liver Disease in Cats
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Surgical Treatment of Cholelithiasis in Cats: A Study of Nine Cases.
- American College of Veterinary Surgeons: Extrahepatic Biliary Tract Obstruction
- PetMD: Gallbladder and Bile Duct Inflammation in Cats
- PetMD: Bile Duct Obstruction in Cats
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.