Diagnosing Cat Liver Disease

Cat liver disease is a common condition that affects many felines. Typically, the liver must be severely damaged before any symptoms of the disease are detected.

Symptoms of Cat Liver Disease

Cats with liver disorders can show a variety of symptoms, although very few are actually specific for liver disease. Most symptoms—except for jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin—can be signs of other problems that can go along with liver disorders. Symptoms of cat liver disease can include vomiting, behavioral changes, diarrhea, seizures, an increase in drinking and urination, weight loss, reduced appetite and gray-white feces. If your cat starts to display any of these symptoms, take her to a veterinarian immediately for an examination and lab work.

Diagnosing Cat Liver Disease

Providing your cat’s veterinarian with a good history about her is imperative in diagnosing cat liver disease. Since many of these symptoms won’t stand out alone upon a physical exam, the veterinarian will not know that any of these problems are occurring. Providing the doctor with this information will direct him as to which tests to run, which can help him to accurately diagnose what is bothering your cat.

The first step in diagnosing cat liver disease is to give your cat a good exam. The doctor should check the color of your cat’s mucous membranes. Pale mucous membranes are indicative of anemia, which is an increased breakdown of the red blood cells. By palpating your cat’s abdomen, the doctor can check for enlargement of the spleen and liver. If the veterinarian finds any abnormalities during the exam, they can help him to decide which diagnostics to perform.

The veterinarian will likely perform a chemistry panel on your cat’s blood. This test checks a myriad of different values that will indicate if your cat has liver disease. Alanine aminotransferase, or ALT, is a liver enzyme that leaks from damaged cells. If this level is elevated, it is indicative of damaged liver cells. The elevation is proportionate to how many liver cells are damaged. Your cat’s AST (aspartate aminotransferase) level may also be elevated if she has liver disease. An elevation is AST signifies more liver damage that a raised ALT level. Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase, also called GGT, will be raised if your cat has blocked bile ducts, which indicates liver disease.

The chemistry panel will also check your cat’s albumin levels. Albumin is a protein that is made in the liver. If the value is low, it could be a sign that the liver is not making this protein or it is being lost by an excess of urine output. An elevated bilirubin level is also an indicator of liver disease and is what creates the yellow appearance on cats who are jaundice. A complete blood count is helpful in checking for anemia and signs of infection.

Additionally, the veterinarian will also most likely run tests on your cat’s urine to check the bilirubin levels and overall health of the kidneys.

Typically, doctors can diagnose cat liver disease from chemistry panels and urine tests. However, it is possible he may also need to run additional diagnostics, including radiographs, ultrasounds, biopsies and bile acid tests.