Your veterinarian has just informed you that your cat has liver disease. You want to do what’s best for your feline friend so that he can live comfortably for as long as possible. Your vet may have recommended medications to treat the underlying cause of the problem, if it has been identified. Proper nutrition is also vital.
It is important to understand the role the liver plays in health and what happens when it is not functioning properly. The liver has many functions, including:
Many disorders of the liver can ultimately damage the organ and reduce its function, including:
Most liver disorders are progressive. Liver dysfunction and eventual failure will lead to the accumulation of toxins (causing nervous system and digestive tract abnormalities), the reduction of protein synthesis (resulting in leaky blood vessels and fluid accumulation and clotting problems), and low blood sugar levels.
Dietary therapy can help the liver to function as well as possible and reduce further damage to the liver. The goals of nutritional intervention are to:
The first step is to change your cat’s diet to a formula that meets these characteristics. There are several types of brands to choose from depending on a cat’s specific needs. A home prepared diet made from a recipe put together by a veterinary nutritionist familiar with your cat’s case is another option for owners willing to cook for their cats. Your veterinarian can help you determine which diet is best. In general, diets for cats with liver disease should have:
It is always important to make dietary changes slowly to increase the chances of the cat accepting the new food. If the cat is unwilling to eat anything, a feeding tube should be placed to avoid a negative energy state and the development or worsening of hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver syndrome).
If hepatic encephalopathy is present, a diet with low protein levels can help reduce the production of ammonia (a by-product of protein digestion). When ascites (fluid retention in the abdomen) is a problem, a very low sodium diet will help prevent worsening of the condition. Owners need to work closely with their veterinarians not only when cats are first diagnosed with liver disease, but at regular intervals to continue to provide the nutrition necessary for the longest, healthiest life possible.
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