Jaundice in Cats: What You Need To Know

Hearing the word “jaundice” can be a bit terrifying for anyone. The first thought most likely being liver failure. Before jumping to conclusions and expecting the worse for your cat, take a deep breath. The best thing to do is educating yourself about jaundice in cats, and here is what you need to know.

What is jaundice?

Jaundice is not a disease, it describes an appearance in the pigment of your cat’s skin and mucous membranes. When jaundice occurs, the gums, whites of the eyEs, and pinna of a cat’s ears appear yellow. It also affects other internal tissues and blood.

jaundice in cats

How can my cat get jaundice?

Because jaundice is not a disease itself, it means there is an underlying cause as to why you feel your cat is turning yellow. It can come from diseases such as feline leukemia (FeLv) and feline infections peritonitis (FIP), fleas and ticks, liver flukes, long term anorexia, or toxin ingestion.

Other serious underlying causes for jaundice can include hemolysis, bile duct obstruction, and liver disease.

Hemolysis is a term describing the destruction of red blood cells. It can occur in the liver, spleen, and vessels. Without as many red blood cells, a cat becomes anemic.

Bile duct obstruction can also cause jaundice in your cat. This happens when the duct that moves bile from the gall bladder to the small intestine becomes obstructed by something like gall stones. Because the bile has nowhere to go, the liver swells.

Liver disease is the most serious cause of jaundice in cats. This disease destroys liver cells. Liver disease can be caused by FeLv, FIP, cancer, and other diseases and factors listed above.

jaundice in cats

What do I do if I notice my cat exhibiting jaundice?

First things first, call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment sooner rather than later, especially because jaundice is a sign of an underlying disease, it should be taken very seriously and your cat should be seen right away.

Once at your veterinarian’s office, be prepared to give information such as your cat’s environmental history, diet, and if they like to eat things they shouldn’t. Be prepared for your veterinarian to want to run bloodwork including a complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel. The CBC will give valued information such as red and white blood cell count and platelets. This is important because hemolytic anemia can be a cause of jaundice.

The chemistry panel will give liver enzyme values which can help your veterinarian find the cause of jaundice. If they are elevated, something is going on with your cat’s liver.  If this is the case, they may also want to run additional testing such as an abdominal ultrasound and even a liver biopsy to find the root cause of elevated liver enzymes. Hospitalization is required for most biopsies.

If you feel your cat has a yellow tint to their skin, gums, or whites of their eyes, they should be seen by a veterinarian. Remember, jaundice isn’t a disease itself, but it is a sign that there is something serious going on in your cat’s body.

Our cats are stoic beings, and while jaundice can be obvious for us to spot, there are a few diseases/conditions which can easily go undetected. Find out what they are here on cattitudedaily.com.

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