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Cat Liver Disease

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Cat Liver Disease (Feline Liver Disease)

Signs and Symptoms

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A cat's liver is a large and vital organ that plays a role in countless different biochemical and physiological pathways. Digestion, immune regulation, and the elimination of toxins are just a few of the many functions that the liver takes part in. Since this organ is involved in so many different physiological tasks, it's not surprising that there are a variety of negative consequences when liver disease develops. However, it takes time for these negative effects to become apparent, as the liver has a great reserve capacity. As a result of this characteristic, liver disease generally does not begin to show itself until two-thirds or more of the organ is affected.

When cat liver disease progresses to the stage where it begins to become outwardly apparent, the afflicted animal will typically display a number of different warning signs. Many of the symptoms are quite vague, but some are more specific. Some of the more general warning signs that a cat may exhibit when suffering from liver disease include weight loss and a loss of appetite. In some cases, a cat may even completely refuse to eat. Listlessness and lethargy are also common when a cat is sick with this disease. Other warning signs may include vomiting and diarrhea, as well as increased water intake (polydipsia) and increased urination (polyuria).

Some cats with liver disease may experience fluid buildup in the abdomen, leading to a potbellied appearance. In addition, certain behavioral changes may be exhibited. For example, a cat may circle or tilt its head or even experience a seizure, especially after meals. While many of these symptoms are very vague and variable and can also be indicators of several medical conditions other than liver disease, there is one symptom in particular that more specifically points to liver disease. This symptom is jaundice, the yellowing of the eyes, gums, and skin. Jaundice is caused by unusually high levels of bilirubin, a bile pigment, in the bloodstream and often arises in the more advanced stages of liver disease.

If you observe your cat displaying any of the above warning signs, it's important to contact your veterinarian immediately. One or more of these symptoms could indicate that your pet is suffering from a serious medical condition such as feline liver disease.

Diagnosis

There are a number of steps that a veterinarian will take in order to arrive at a diagnosis of cat liver disease. To begin with, the practitioner will conduct a thorough physical exam. Generally, this will be followed by blood and urine tests. There is a multitude of different test that can be performed on a single blood sample when a case of feline liver disease is suspected. For instance, liver enzymes can be tested, and their levels can indicate whether or not any liver damage has occurred. Some enzymes that may be checked include alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, and serum alkaline phosphatase. However, since liver enzyme levels can be elevated as result of a variety of other illnesses, such tests are not enough on their own to confirm the presence of liver disease.

Bilirubin levels can also be measured through the use of a blood sample. If this bile pigment is present in unusually large amounts, this may indicate that liver disease is hampering the normal flow of bile. Albumin is another substance that may also be measured when checking for liver disease. Albumin is a protein manufactured by the liver, and low levels in the bloodstream can suggest the presence of either liver disease or kidney disease. Similar to blood tests, urine tests can also measure the levels of a number of different substances. Once again, unusually high or low levels may point toward liver disease.

If the blood and urine tests do indeed suggest the presence of liver disease, other tools such as x-ray and ultrasound may then be employed. These imaging technologies can be used to view the structure of the liver, revealing any abnormalities with regards to the organ's shape or opacity, as well as revealing the presence of stones in the gallbladder. In some cases, a biopsy may be necessary in order to reach a definitive diagnosis. In such circumstances, a sample of the cat's liver will be obtained so that it can be directly studied and tested.

Pathophysiology

The liver is one of the largest organs in a cat's body, located near the diaphragm. It consists of six distinct lobes, which are divided into three regions, and it is supplied with nutrients through the portal vein and hepatic artery. The liver is also an extremely vital organ, playing a significant role in numerous physiological pathways and functions. Since a cat's liver is involved in so many different tasks and functions, only a few will be discussed below.

Metabolism is one of the important physiological functions that require input from the liver. This organ works with the circulatory system, lymphatic system, and endocrine system to manage metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Nutrients are absorbed in the intestines and transported into the liver by way of the portal vein. Once in the liver, nutrients are broken down further so they can be utilized by the rest of the body. Furthermore, most proteins are assembled in the liver from amino acids. These proteins are then transported to other parts of the body where they carry out numerous vital functions. With respect to carbohydrate metabolism, the liver synthesizes glucose and glycogen through the processes of gluconeogenesis, glycogenolysis, and glycogenolysis. In the case of fats or lipids, this organ regulates levels of fatty acids and produces triglycerides. Also, the liver is responsible for manufacturing approximately half of the body's cholesterol. Much of this cholesterol is used to make bile, which is then stored in the gallbladder.

In addition to the many metabolic processes that take place in this organ, several different vitamins are also stored in the liver. Many of these vitamins require activation by this organ before they will perform their functions. Some such vitamins include vitamins C, D, and E. Yet another important function performed by the liver is detoxification. This is a complex process with many different facets and phases, and it serves to remove toxins, bacteria, and damaged red blood cells.

One of the most interesting aspects of the liver is its great reserve capacity. This means that the organ's functions can be carried out quite well even when much of it is not functioning properly. This also means that signs and symptoms of liver disease often do not become apparent until at least two-thirds of the liver is no longer operating normally. However, the liver also has great regenerative abilities, allowing for healing and the restoration of normal function in many cases.

Causes

There are a number of different factors and causes that can trigger feline liver disease. In some case, damage to this organ may result from trauma, such as being hit by a car. Heatstroke and a diaphragmatic hernia are other possible forms of trauma that can trigger this disease. Drugs or toxins can also cause feline liver disease. Such drugs include some medications that are perfectly safe for other species but are very harmful for cats. For example, acetaminophen (Tylenol), phenobarbital (an epilepsy medication), and glucocorticoids (cortisone) can all have a toxic effect on a cat's liver.

Tumors are also capable of causing liver disease in cats. Cancer that triggers this condition can be primary (arising within the liver) or secondary (arriving through the process of metastasis). Other medical conditions can also lead to liver disease. Heartworms, for example, can cause blockages, preventing blood from flowing into the liver. Pancreatitis and numerous bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can also give rise to this disease in cats. Thus, feline liver disease can be caused and triggered by a multitude of different factors and conditions.

Treatment

The type of treatment required in a case of cat liver disease will depend upon the underlying cause of the condition. For instance, if heartworms are causing the problems with the liver, the feline patient will need to be taken to a veterinarian and treated for heartworm. If a bacterial infection is the underlying cause, antibiotics may be required in order to fight the infection. Once the cause or condition is effectively treated, the liver will often regenerate itself, restoring proper function.

No matter what the underlying cause, however, treatment of liver disease often includes dietary adjustments and the use of supplements. Dietary adjustments can include changes to the amounts of vitamins, proteins, and fats that a cat eats. By ensuring that your pet is receiving proper nutrition, its overall health will improve and the amount of stress placed on the liver will be reduced. In addition to changes to a cat's diet, homeopathic remedies can also be helpful with regards to treating feline liver disease. Natural substances such as milk thistle can have a very beneficial effect on a diseased liver. For example, this natural ingredient helps to reinforce and protect the liver, while promoting its regenerative abilities. As a result, using such homeopathic remedies, in addition to dietary adjustments and treatments for the underlying condition or trigger, can be very beneficial for a cat suffering from liver disease.

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