The liver undertakes a variety of important tasks in the body, including the absorption of foodstuffs into the body from the digestive tract and the breakdown of certain drugs. It is also an important store for the so-called fat soluble group of vitamins, and it plays a significant part in blood-clotting. Diseases of the liver can therefore have widespread effects through the body, and may not always be easily recognised as a result, particularly in the early stages.
A clinical examination may show any change in the size of the liver. However, blood tests for liver function are likely to provide the clearest insight into the cause of your cat’s ill-health.
When an infection strikes the liver, it usually results in the condition called acute hepatitis, which is likely to cause the liver to swell up. Some toxins can also have this effect, but usually the liver is able to regenerate successfully. More serious is longstanding inflammation of the liver, known as chronic hepatitis. This can affect the entire liver, turning healthy liver tissue into scar tissue, a process known as cirrhosis. Once more than three-quarters of the liver is affected in this way, signs of liver failure become obvious.
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF LIVER PROBLEMS IN CATS
The clearest indicator of this problem may be a build-up of fluid in the abdominal cavity, known as ascites. This is caused by the increase in blood pressure which is necessary to force the blood through the failing liver and also results in fluid building up outside the circulatory system. The liver cannot function effectively in this state and produce the proteins found in blood plasma, so that this too causes fluid to accumulate in the body outside the circulation.
The best-known symptom of liver disease is jaundice which is a yellowish coloration of the mucous membranes lining the mouth and other parts of the body. This comes about because of the release of the bile pigment, bilirubin, from the gall bladder which accumulates in the blood. It is a very serious sign, since by this stage, the cat will be critically ill.
Particular care has to be taken when prescribing drugs to cats suffering from liver failure. These may not be broken down normally, and so end up accumulating in the circulation, which can be deadly. Giving injectable anaesthetics to such cats is potentially more risky for the same reason.
Poor blood clotting is a feature seen in cases of liver disease, and also serves to make surgery more hazardous.
Q. My cat has a swollen abdomen. Does she have a liver problem?
Not necessarily. It is actually very difficult to diagnose a primary liver problem from symptoms alone. Other conditions such as heart disease and feline infectious peritonitis, can cause such swelling due to fluid in the peritoneal cavity.
Q. What are the causes of a ruptured liver?
The liver may rupture as the result of tumours. But, more often, it is the result of the cat being run over by a vehicle. Sadly, the outlook in such cases is poor.