Managing Feline Liver Disease Symptoms With Corticosteroids

Feline liver disease can be life threatening, but corticosteroids have been proven to help with the treatment of this condition. The liver is one of the most important organs in your cat's body as it helps clear out toxins and regulates certain chemicals in the blood.

Types of Liver Disease

The two most common types of liver disease in cats are fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis) and cholangitis.

Fatty liver disease is more serious than cholangitis, and occurs when an obese cat suffers from a buildup of fat in the liver. The buildup occurs when your cat stops eating suddenly, usually because of stress. This is the most common liver disease diagnosed in cats. It can be avoided by making sure your cat maintains a healthy weight and minimising the stress levels in the house.

Cholangitis is more sporadic than fatty liver disease. It involves an inflammation of the biliary ducts and is associated with a number of other conditions.

What Causes Liver Disease?

There are several underlying conditions which could cause a liver disease like cholangitis. These include:

  • Cysts
  • Tapeworms
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
  • Cushing's syndrome (excess production of a certain hormone)
  • Leukaemia
  • Toxoplasmosis

All of the above are treatable except Feline Infectious Peritonitis, which is fatal to cats, and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus which is incurable.

Symptoms of Liver Disease

It is very difficult to detect liver disease in the beginning stages of the condition. Normally, the liver is already damaged before symptoms start to show. These may include:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice in the ears, gums and eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss

Although all of these symptoms are associated with liver disease, they could also be a sign of another underlying health problem. Your vet will need to carry out blood tests, X-Rays and possibly a liver biopsy to confirm that your cat has liver disease.

How Corticosteroids Can Help Liver Disease

Corticosteroids are chemicals produced naturally by human and animal bodies. Anti-inflammatory corticosteroids are a common treatment for cholangitis. However, they should not be given to a cat suffering from fatty liver disease, so your vet may perform a liver biopsy before prescribing the drugs to determine which kind of liver disease your cat has.

Possible Side Effects of Corticosteroids

Cats generally react well to corticosteroids and experience very few side effects. However, the longer they take the drugs, the more they become predisposed to certain conditions.

Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's syndrome) can develop if cats are taking corticosteroids over a long period of time. Symptoms of this condition include hair loss, swelling of the abdomen and increased thirst and urination. Cats are also more likely to develop diabetes with long term use of corticosteroids. While these kinds of developments are rare, they are possible, so it's important to watch out for any new symptoms if your cat has been taking corticosteroids for a long period of time.

Corticosteroids are very useful for treating cholangitis and, although the disease might not disappear altogether, it can usually be controlled.