Signs A Cat Is Dying of Liver Failure

icon April 17, 2024

Liver failure is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that can affect cats of all ages and breeds. The liver plays a crucial role in metabolism, detoxification, and the production of essential proteins, making it vital for overall health and well-being. When the liver fails to function properly, it can lead to a cascade of systemic effects that significantly impact a cat's health. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the signs, causes, diagnosis, and management of liver failure in cats, empowering cat owners to recognize the warning signs and seek timely veterinary care for their feline companions.

Understanding Liver Function:

Before delving into the signs of liver failure, it's essential to understand the vital functions the liver performs in a cat's body. The liver is responsible for:

1. Metabolism: The liver metabolizes nutrients from food, converting them into energy and essential molecules needed for cellular function.

2. Detoxification: It filters toxins and waste products from the bloodstream, detoxifying harmful substances before they can cause harm to the body.

3. Synthesis of Proteins: The liver produces proteins necessary for blood clotting, immune function, and maintaining fluid balance in the body.

4. Storage of Nutrients: It stores essential vitamins, minerals, and glycogen for future use, ensuring a steady supply of nutrients during times of fasting or increased demand.

Signs of Liver Failure in Cats

Liver failure can manifest in a variety of signs and symptoms, many of which are nonspecific and may overlap with other medical conditions. However, recognizing the following signs can help cat owners identify potential liver-related issues and seek prompt veterinary attention:

1. Jaundice (Yellowing of the Skin and Eyes):
Jaundice, or icterus, occurs when bilirubin, a yellow pigment produced by the breakdown of red blood cells, accumulates in the bloodstream and tissues. Cats with liver failure may exhibit yellowing of the skin, whites of the eyes (sclera), gums, and earflaps.

2. Decreased Appetite and Weight Loss:
Cats with liver failure may experience a loss of appetite (anorexia) and subsequent weight loss. This is often due to nausea, abdominal discomfort, and metabolic imbalances associated with liver dysfunction.

3. Vomiting and Diarrhea:
Gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea are common in cats with liver disease. The vomit may contain bile, a greenish-yellow fluid produced by the liver, indicating bile duct obstruction or dysfunction.

4. Increased Thirst and Urination:
Liver failure can lead to fluid retention and electrolyte imbalances, causing cats to drink more water and urinate more frequently than usual. This is known as polydipsia (increased thirst) and polyuria (increased urination).

5. Abdominal Pain and Distension:
Cats with liver failure may experience abdominal discomfort or pain due to inflammation, swelling, or fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites). They may exhibit signs of discomfort such as restlessness, vocalization, and reluctance to be touched or picked up.

6. Neurological Signs:
Advanced liver disease can affect brain function and lead to neurological symptoms known as hepatic encephalopathy. Cats may display altered mentation, confusion, disorientation, head pressing, seizures, and behavioral changes such as aggression or lethargy.

7. Weakness and Lethargy:
Cats with liver failure may appear weak, lethargic, and reluctant to engage in normal activities. They may spend more time sleeping or resting and show reduced interest in play or social interaction.

8. Bleeding Disorders:
The liver produces clotting factors necessary for proper blood coagulation. Cats with liver failure may develop bleeding disorders, resulting in spontaneous bruising, nosebleeds (epistaxis), or blood in the stool or urine.

Signs A Cat Is Dying of Liver Failure

In severe cases of liver failure, cats may exhibit critical signs a cat is dying of liver failure indicating end-stage disease:

  • 1. Profound Jaundice: The cat's skin, gums, and whites of the eyes may appear intensely yellow due to elevated bilirubin levels.
  • 2. Severe Neurological Symptoms: Cats may experience severe hepatic encephalopathy, leading to profound disorientation, seizures, coma, or unresponsiveness.
  • 3. Significant Weight Loss: Rapid and severe weight loss despite adequate nutrition and supportive care may indicate end-stage liver disease.
  • 4. Intractable Vomiting and Diarrhea: Cats may experience uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, leading to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and metabolic derangements.
  • 5. Irreversible Decline in Condition: Despite aggressive treatment, cats may show no improvement or deteriorate rapidly, indicating a poor prognosis and end-of-life considerations. Prompt veterinary evaluation and compassionate end-of-life care may be necessary to alleviate suffering and ensure a peaceful passing.

What Causes Liver Failure in Cats?

Liver failure in cats can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions, including:

1. Hepatic Lipidosis (Fatty Liver Disease): Hepatic lipidosis is a common cause of liver failure in cats, particularly overweight or obese individuals. It occurs when excess fat accumulates in the liver, leading to impaired liver function and cell damage.

2. Infectious Diseases: Viral infections such as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) can cause liver inflammation and damage.

3. Toxins and Medications: Cats are susceptible to liver damage from ingesting certain toxins, including household chemicals, plants, medications (such as acetaminophen), and some topical flea and tick treatments.

4. Portosystemic Shunts: Portosystemic shunts are abnormal blood vessels that bypass the liver, leading to inadequate detoxification and metabolic abnormalities. They can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired.

5. Inflammatory Conditions: Chronic inflammatory diseases such as cholangitis (inflammation of the bile ducts) and hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) can cause progressive damage to liver tissue.

6. Neoplasia (Liver Cancer): Primary liver tumors or metastatic cancer from other organs can disrupt normal liver function and lead to liver failure.

Diagnosis and Management:

Diagnosing liver failure in cats requires a thorough veterinary evaluation, including a comprehensive physical examination, blood tests, imaging studies, and sometimes liver biopsy. Treatment and management strategies will depend on the underlying cause and severity of the liver disease but may include:

1. Supportive Care: Supportive care measures such as intravenous fluids, nutritional support, and electrolyte supplementation may be necessary to stabilize cats with severe liver disease.

2. Dietary Management: Prescription diets formulated for liver support may be recommended to provide essential nutrients and reduce the workload on the liver. These diets are typically low in protein, high in carbohydrates, and supplemented with antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.

3. Medications: Medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and medications to reduce ammonia levels (such as lactulose) may be prescribed to manage complications of liver disease and improve clinical signs.

4. Management of Complications: Treatment of complications such as hepatic encephalopathy, ascites, and bleeding disorders may require additional medications and interventions tailored to each cat's individual needs.

5. Monitoring and Follow-Up: Cats with liver disease require regular monitoring of clinical signs, bloodwork, and imaging studies to assess response to treatment and detect any progression of the disease. Adjustments to the treatment plan may be necessary based on ongoing evaluations.

6. Surgical Intervention: In some cases, surgical intervention may be recommended to address underlying causes of liver failure, such as portosystemic shunts or liver tumors. Surgical options may include shunt ligation, tumor removal, or liver biopsy for diagnostic purposes.

liver failure in cats

Prognosis and Quality of Life:

The prognosis for cats with liver failure depends on the underlying cause, severity of the disease, and response to treatment. Some cats may respond well to medical management and experience significant improvement in clinical signs and quality of life. However, advanced or rapidly progressive liver disease may have a guarded prognosis, and euthanasia may be considered in cases of poor response to treatment or poor quality of life.

It's important for cat owners to work closely with their veterinarian to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to their cat's individual needs. Early recognition of the signs of liver failure and prompt veterinary intervention can improve the chances of successful treatment and long-term management of this complex condition.

How to Prevent Liver Failure in Cats?

To help prevent liver failure in cats, it's essential to:

1. Provide a balanced diet with high-quality protein and essential nutrients.

2. Minimize exposure to toxins and medications harmful to the liver.

3. Maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise and portion control.

4. Schedule routine veterinary check-ups to monitor liver function and detect any early signs of liver disease.

5. Vaccinate against infectious diseases to reduce the risk of liver-related complications.

6. Avoid unnecessary stressors and provide a stable, enriching environment for your cat's mental and physical well-being.

When to Put A Cat Down with Liver Disease?

Deciding when to euthanize a cat with liver disease depends on factors such as the cat's quality of life, response to treatment, and prognosis. If the cat is suffering despite medical management, has a poor prognosis, or experiences severe complications, euthanasia may be considered to prevent further suffering and ensure a peaceful end. It's important to discuss the decision with a veterinarian to ensure it's made with the cat's best interests in mind.


Liver failure is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that can affect cats of all ages and breeds. Recognizing the signs of liver failure, understanding the underlying causes, and seeking prompt veterinary care are crucial for diagnosing and managing this complex condition. By working closely with their veterinarian and implementing appropriate treatment strategies, cat owners can help their feline companions maintain a good quality of life despite the challenges posed by liver disease. With timely intervention and supportive care, many cats with liver failure can experience significant improvement in clinical signs and enjoy a longer, healthier life.

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