Jaundice in Cats

Jaundice in cats is a condition where the skin has a yellow tinge, rather than the normal pinkish hue. While it can be difficult to actually see the appearance of jaundice on the skin of a cat because of its coat, it can often be seen in the whites of the eyes, the gums, the pads of the feet, and insides of the ears. Although jaundice may be labeled as a medical condition, it is more commonly the most noticeable symptom of some very serious illnesses.

Etiology of Jaundice

At the root of jaundice is a strong relation to the red blood cells. They are the cells responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body to various different organs and structures. With out a sufficient amount of red blood cells in the body, the organs become oxygen deprived. When a loss of oxygenation occurs over a long period of time, the symptoms of jaundice soon become apparent. There are several different circumstances that could cause a decrease in red blood cells, but they all stem from conditions related to the blood.


Here is a breakdown of the conditions that could ultimately cause symptoms of jaundice:

  • Blood parasites
  • Reactions to medication
  • Heartworms
  • Anemia
  • Bacterial and viral infections
  • Enlargement of the liver
  • Liver disease
  • Chemical exposure
  • Cancer of the pancreas or gallbladder

What all of these causes have in common are blood and their effect on it. Each of these conditions has a profound affect on the ability of a cat’s body to produce red blood cells, causing a decreased amount of viable red blood cells and a significant lack of oxygenation to the body’s organs.

Signs and Symptoms

Although jaundice is predominantly a symptom on its own, there are many changes that become noticeable in a cat with jaundice, and being able to notice and identify these changes can make the difference between life and death for a cat. Here are some of the signs that should always warrant immediate medical attention:

  • Yellowing of skin or noticeable areas of a cat’s body
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Poor coat condition or lack of desire to care for it
  • Vomiting/diarrhea
  • Rounded abdomen and appearance of abdominal discomfort

Diagnosing Jaundice

Jaundice can usually be easily identified from its symptoms alone. However, diagnosing the underlying cause of the cause of jaundice can be a little more difficult. The overall condition and medical history of the cat needs to be taken into consideration before any form of testing can begin.

For example, if a cat has not been on regular heartworm medication and spends a lot of hours outdoors, then there may be reason to suspect a heartworm infestation. If, however, some of the key symptoms of jaundice are displayed in addition to excessive drinking and urination, then there may be reason to investigate the conditions of the liver and kidneys.