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Feline Jaundice: Understanding the Causes Symptoms & Treatments

Jaundice in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Have you noticed your cat’s skin, eyes, and gums taking on a yellowish hue? If so, they may be displaying symptoms of jaundice, a condition that should not be ignored.

While some breeds are predisposed to this condition, it can occur in any feline, and understanding its causes, symptoms, and treatment options is crucial to ensuring your furry friend receives proper care.

Jaundice Symptoms in Cats

The primary symptom of jaundice in cats is yellowing of the skin, eyes, ears, and gums. Your cat may also exhibit lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and frequent urination.

These symptoms may be indicative of an underlying liver disease, specifically one that involves the reduction of red blood cells. If the jaundice is left untreated, it can lead to more severe symptoms and even be fatal.

Breeds Predisposed to Jaundice

It is important to note that some cat breeds are more likely to develop jaundice. These breeds include Siamese, Oriental Shorthair, Abyssinians, and Somali cats.

However, jaundice can occur in any feline, regardless of breed.

Causes of Jaundice in Cats

Jaundice occurs when there is an excessive amount of bilirubin in the blood, which causes the yellowish discoloration of the skin and other tissues. This often occurs when there is a problem with the liver or gallbladder, preventing the proper processing and excretion of bilirubin from the bloodstream.

These underlying diseases can range from liver inflammation, trauma, and cancer, to gallstones and infections, that prohibit proper liver function.

Understanding Jaundice in Cats

Jaundice is also known as icterus, a condition that is rooted in the buildup of bilirubin in the liver. Bilirubin is created when the body breaks down red blood cells normally, the liver processes bilirubin and excretes it from the body.

However, if the liver is damaged or not functioning correctly, bilirubin can build up in the blood and skin, causing jaundice.

Symptoms of Jaundice in Cats

Aside from yellowing of the skin and eyes, cats with jaundice may show symptoms such as lethargy, anorexia, and hepatic lipidosis. A cat that has been affected by jaundice may suddenly become uninterested in eating or drinking.

Treatment Options for Jaundice in Cats

If you see the symptoms of jaundice in your cat, it is essential to take them to the vet for a proper diagnosis. The veterinarian will conduct various tests to determine the underlying cause of jaundice, such as blood tests that will determine liver enzyme levels or obtaining bile samples.

Once the cause has been identified, treatment options will be discussed. In most cases, the condition can be managed through medication, diet, and rest.

If the jaundice is caused by liver disease or gallstones, surgery may be necessary. In dire circumstances, if the underlying concern is determined too severe, they may require hospitalization and even oxygen treatment for severe dehydration from their diarrhea and vomiting.

Final Thoughts

Jaundice in cats should never be ignored, as it may lead to more severe symptoms if left untreated. As owners, we need to be vigilant in monitoring our cats’ behavior and seek medical attention as soon as possible if we notice anything out of the ordinary.

With proper care and attention from a veterinarian, your beloved feline can recover from jaundice and return to a healthy, happy life. In the first part of this series, we talked about the symptoms of jaundice in cats, as well as the breeds that are prone to it.

This time around, we’ll focus on the causes of jaundice and the different types of underlying illnesses that may bring about the condition.


Hepatic Causes of Jaundice in Cats

Pre-hepatic jaundice is caused by hyperbilirubinemia or an excessive amount of bilirubin in the bloodstream, resulting from the breakdown of red blood cells. This increased breakdown may be due to various reasons such as infections, blood parasites, certain medications, or toxins, or even autoimmune diseases.

Some toxins can cause acute hemolysis in cats which symptoms show within hours of exposure, whereas others can cause long-term damage like chronic hemolysis. Hemolysis happens when the cat’s body produces too many red blood cells or when the current red blood cells break down too quickly.

Hepatic Causes of Jaundice in Cats

Hepatic jaundice occurs when liver disease prevents the liver from processing and excreting bilirubin, leading to its buildup in the bloodstream. Hepatic lipidosis, or the excessive fat accumulation in the liver, may lead to jaundice in cats.

Besides hepatic lipidosis, other liver diseases that can cause jaundice in cats include cholangitis, Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), amyloidosis, calicivirus, liver infections, and medications or toxins that harm the liver. Some toxins that can cause hepatic jaundice include cyanobacteria, copper, and some medications prescribed for human use that can be deadly to cats.


Hepatic Causes of Jaundice in Cats

Post-hepatic jaundice happens when there is an obstruction in the bile flow between the liver and the small intestine. Bile is a fluid produced by the liver which helps digestion by breaking down fats.

Therefore, if bile is blocked from reaching the intestine, it will build up in the liver increasing the concentration of bilirubin in the blood and other organs. Post-hepatic causes of jaundice in cats could be due to gallbladder disease, biliary duct blockages, gallstones, inflammation, cancer, gallbladder rupture, and even a rare congenital condition in some breeds.

Diagnosis of Jaundice in Cats

Identifying the underlying cause of jaundice is crucial for effective treatment. When visiting a veterinarian in the case of jaundice symptoms, the vet will undertake a full physical examination alongside a medical history of the cat.

They might recommend blood tests, biochemistry screenings, x-rays, ultrasounds, fine needle aspirates, and biopsies to fully establish the underlying cause of the condition. Veterinarians would keep a keen eye for indications of other symptoms before ordering any tests.

Blood tests calculate the levels of bilirubin, liver enzymes, complete blood count, and more. Fine needle aspirates require the use of a small needle to obtain a cell sample of suspected abnormal tissue or fluids in cats.

Biopsy involves removing a piece of liver tissue to scrutinize the cells under a microscope.


Jaundice in cats is caused by a variety of factors that are classified into pre-hepatic, hepatic, or post-hepatic. Identifying the underlying cause is critical for proper treatment to commence.

Careful monitoring of symptoms coupled with fast medical attention can help prevent any further damage that this condition may cause. If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned in the first part of this article, take your cat to the veterinarian immediately for a diagnosis.

Early treatment can lead to a quicker and more successful recovery.

Part III – Treatment of Jaundice in Cats

In parts I and II of this series, we discussed the symptoms and causes of jaundice in cats. But what happens if your furry friend is diagnosed with jaundice, and what are the treatment options available?

Hospitalization and Supportive Care

Hospitalization is often necessary to monitor and treat a cat’s jaundice in the initial phases. Supportive care would typically involve IV fluids, antibiotics, vitamin K, anti-emetics, pain medication, and supplements, all aimed at nursing them back to health.

The use of IV fluid therapy is to correct fluid and electrolyte imbalances, increase urine output, lower bilirubin levels and reduce the potential of dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea. Proper nutrition is vital for a cat to recover from jaundice.

In some cases, assisted feeding may be needed to ensure that the cat gets sufficient nutrients to recover.

Surgery for Specific Cases

Surgery may be necessary in specific cases, such as when jaundice is caused by gallbladder disease, a mass, or a ruptured gallbladder.

Prognosis for Cats with Jaundice

The prognosis for cats with jaundice depends on the underlying cause. However, with the proper treatment and timely intervention, cats can recover from jaundice, particularly if the cause is pre-hepatic or post-hepatic.

If the cause is a fatal disease like cancer or Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), the prognosis would be bleak, and euthanasia may be the kindest option for merciful care and pain management.

Part IV – Prevention of Jaundice in Cats

Preventing jaundice in cats may not always be possible, but there are measures cat owners can take to minimize their feline’s risk.

Prevent Exposure to Risks

Cats living indoors, including kittens, need to be protected from any toxins such as household chemicals, medications, and poisonous plants. Keeping your cat correctly vaccinated and protected from common diseases such asFIV, FeLV, and FIP is essential.

Certain pests such as fleas or ticks can carry diseases that would weaken their immune system, leaving them more susceptible to jaundice or other related conditions. Your vet can recommend parasite prevention medication to limit your cat’s exposure to harmful pests.

Monitor Eating and Maintain a Normal Weight

Obesity is one of the primary causes of hepatic lipidosis, which can lead to jaundice. Therefore, it is vital to monitor your cat’s food intake and maintain a healthy weight to prevent this from happening.

If your cat is sick or recovering from a disease, pay close attention to their eating habits. If there is a decline, it is crucial to seek medical attention from your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Medical Prevention and Regular Screening

Finally, to prevent jaundice and maintain your cat’s good health, it is important to have them undergo a yearly health check-up. This check-up should include bloodwork to check the liver and gallbladder functions and catch any problems before they become more severe.

Your veterinarian may recommend supplements or special diets to help support your cat’s liver and gallbladder health. They may also suggest vaccination for feline diseases that could lead to fatal diseases that are associated with jaundice.


Jaundice in cats is a serious condition that can have fatal consequences if left untreated. If you think your cat is displaying any of the symptoms discussed or you’re worried about their general health, please consult a veterinarian immediately.

Treatment depends on the root cause of jaundice, and the vet will ensure your cat gets the proper medical treatment. With the appropriate preventive measures and regular check-ups, we can help prevent jaundice and keep our furry friends living their best lives.

Jaundice is a serious condition affecting cats that manifests through yellowing of the skin, eyes, ears, gums, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and frequent urination. It is caused by an excessive amount of bilirubin in the bloodstream, leading to the breakdown of red blood cells.

Some pre-hepatic, hepatic, and post-hepatic conditions may trigger jaundice, including infections, medications, and autoimmune diseases, among others. To treat jaundice, a cat may require hospitalization and supportive care, surgery in specific cases, and a change in diet or supplements.

Prevention involves avoiding exposure to toxins by keeping household chemicals or plants out of reach, monitoring weight gain, and regularly screening for any health issues with the vet. Taking early care of a cat with jaundice can lead to quicker recovery, and it is essential to schedule yearly check-ups to prevent potential health complications.

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