Liver Dysfunction in Cats

Several conditions and diseases contribute to liver dysfunction in cats. The liver is a complicated organ separated into sections (lobes.) Each section or lobe performs a specific function. 

The liver is responsible for the removal of various toxins and chemicals from the blood stream. It also converts various sugars, while also producing particular hormones and enzymes. The liver also contributes to proper coagulation of the blood and the absorption of vitamins. 

Disease, parasites and infection can create conditions that decrease functions of the liver. In some cases, the liver damage is a symptom of the primary disease. 

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

FIV is a disease transmitted through the saliva. It is usually contracted through a bite. Visible signs of infection may not be present for several years. The body eventually loses its ability to recover from minor infections. The result is liver damage caused by hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease.) 

Feline Infectious Peritonitis

Feline infectious peritonitis is an infection that spreads through contact with infected cat feces or saliva. The infection begins as a respiratory virus that slowly spreads throughout the body. Left untreated, the condition may result in liver failure. 

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)

FeLV spreads through nasal contact with infected saliva, urine and feces. This virus attacks the immune system, resulting in liver and kidney damage. Vaccines are available for the prevention of FeLV. 

Parasites and Bacteria

Parasite and bacterial infections are usually secondary to other diseases. Cats with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of decreased liver function or failure. 

Toxoplasmosis (T gondii)

This parasite can be transmitted to other felines or humans through contact with infected feces or meat. Healthy felines with strong immune systems are able to control the level of infection. 

Because of their developing immune systems, infected kittens are at greater risk of developing liver damage. Felines with compromised immune systems are at greater risk of infestation and liver damage. 

Pregnant women should wear gloves when changing litter boxes. Parasites transmitted to the unborn child increase the risk of birth defects. 


Cholangiohepatitis is a bacterial infection located in the intestines. In some instances, infection may spread to the bile duct. Chronic cholangiohepatitis may progress to cirrhosis, vitamin K deficiency or liver failure. This condition is often seen in patients suffering from pancreatitis. 

Feline Hepatic Lipidosis

The factors that contribute to this disease are varied. Obese felines are at higher risk. The condition is a triggered by feline anorexia. Stressful situations may trigger this condition. 

The cat’s system interprets this as starvation and begins to use the body’s own fat stores. Fat accumulates in the liver faster than the liver can process, which will lead to liver failure, if not treated. 

Portosystemic Shunts

Portosystemic shunts is a congenital disorder, in which blood is diverted away from the liver. The liver is not replenished with a sufficient supply of blood and begins to die (atrophy.) Symptoms of this condition generally develop between 6 to 12 months of age. 

Always consult with your veterinarian. Early diagnosis and treatment may prevent further liver damage.