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Hepatic Failure in Cats

By: Dr.Bari Spielman

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Hepatic (liver) failure is the loss of greater than 75 percent of the function of the liver, occurring secondary to severe, massive liver necrosis (death). This is a syndrome seen more commonly in dogs than in cats, and there are no age, breed, or sex predilections.

General Causes

  • Antimicrobials (antibiotics)
  • Chemotherapy agents
  • Anthelmintics (anti-parasite medication)
  • Analgesics (pain medication)
  • Anesthetics

    Biologic Toxins
  • Amanita phylloides mushrooms
  • Aflatoxins (toxin produced by a mold or fungus)

    Infectious Agents
  • Canine infectious hepatitis
  • Leptospirosis

  • Heat stroke
  • Post-whole body hyperthermia treatment for cancer
  • Thromboembolic (blood clot) disease
  • Shock
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)
  • Acute circulatory failure from any cause

    What to Watch For

  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice (yellow color to the skin and mucus membranes)
  • Diarrhea (with or without blood)
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Stupor
  • Coma
  • Bleeding
  • Abdominal enlargement
  • Ascities (fluid in the abdominal cavity)

    Diagnostic Tests

    Your veterinarian will recommend the following diagnostics:
  • A complete blood count (CBC)
  • Biochemical profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Serum bile acids
  • Ammonia levels
  • A coagulogram (clotting profile) to rule out a clotting disorder.
  • Abdominal radiographs (X-rays)
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Liver biopsy and culture/sensitivity
  • Ultrasound
  • Exploratory laparotomy (abdominal surgery)
  • Laparoscopy, which is a procedure that allows visualization and sampling of abdominal structures by an instrument introduced through a tiny incision


    Specific treatment is needed for any underlying or associated disorders. Hospitalization and support generally includes fluid and electrolyte therapy as well as dextrose (sugar) as needed for dehydration, metabolic imbalances and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Some more specific treatments include:

  • Nutritional support and dietary management

  • Colloids, such as plasma or hetastarch

  • Antibiotic therapy

  • Antiemetics, which are medications that stop or control excessive vomiting

  • Diuretics, which are drugs that help the body eliminate excess fluid

  • Lactulose, which is a drug that slows the absorption of ammonia from the GI tract

  • Mannitol, which is a drug that has several actions, including alleviation of cerebral edema or brain swelling

  • Enemas (saline, neomycin, lactulose)

  • Antiulcer therapy

  • Vitamin K

    Home Care and Prevention

    Administer all medication and recommended diet as directed by your veterinarian. Your pet will need to have follow up examinations and biochemical evaluations to monitor progress.

    The prognosis of the liver failure depends on the quantity of liver mass destroyed and the ability to control underlying disorder and complicating factors.

    Preventing liver failure can be difficult, if not impossible. To reduce the risk, try to avoid drugs and toxins associated with liver toxicity.

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