Liver Inflammation in Cats
Cholangitis-Cholangiohepatitis Syndrome in Cats
Cholangitis is the medical term given for inflammation of the bile ducts and intrahepatic ducts -- the ducts that carry bile out of the liver. Bile, an essential component in the digestive process, begins in the liver and is then stored in the gallbladder until a meal is taken. The bitter fluid is then released into the cat's small intestine, where it emulsifies fats in the food to be used as energy by the rest of the body.
Cholangiohepatitis, meanwhile, describes inflammation of the bile ducts and liver. Together, these diseases are referred to as Cholangitis-Cholangiohepatitis Syndrome (CCHS), a disease that most commonly occurs in cats (though it does occur in dogs).
Symptoms and Types
Certain conditions often occur prior to or simultaneous to CCHS: inflammation or clogging of the liver ducts running outside the liver (EHBDO), inflammation of the pancreas, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), fatty liver disease, or long-term inflammation of kidney tissue. Symptoms may be sudden, intermittent, or long-term.
However, there are currently only three types of CCHS are recognized: suppurative, which has a discharge of fluid within the biliary canal and is often sudden onset, but generally has a good outcome; nonsuppurative, which is reoccurring and has a guarded to poor prognosis; and lymphocytic/lymphoplasmacytic, where lymphocytes and plasma cells invade and surround the liver's portal vein or portal triad (the portal vein, bile duct and artery of the liver), and which has a poor outcome due to its longer lasting chronic nature and tendency to progress to cirrhosis of the liver.
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your cat, taking into account the background history of health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents or illnesses that might have led to this condition. Some of the factors that place a cat at risk for developing CCHS are inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, or obstruction of the bile ducts outside of the liver.
A chemical blood profile, complete blood count and urinalysis will be taken. These may reflect anemia, high liver enzymes, bilirubinuria (bilirubin in the urine), and/or lymphocytosis. They might also reflect cancer if it is causing the swelling of the liver and/or gallbladder. Often, sludged bile is found, which may be the cause of blocked bile ducts.
If your veterinarian suspects swelling of the pancreas, a TLI blood test (trypsin-like immunoreactivity – a pancreatic digestive enzyme) can be taken to test for pancreatic sufficiency. Vitamin B12 levels will be tested; low values indicate absorption problems in the small intestine, or pancreatic problems. Coagulation tests will also be performed to verify whether the blood is clotting normally. And thyroxine, a thyroid gland, may be tested to rule out a thyroid tumor.
If your cat is a Himalayan or Persian your veterinarian may perform genotyping to check for hereditary kidney disease.
Chest X-rays, abdominal X-rays and an abdominal ultrasound can be used to check for cancer and to visualize the liver, pancreas and kidneys. For a closer visual exam, a laparotomy may also be performed. This method uses a diagnostic tool called a laparoscope, a small, flexible instrument that is passed into the body through a small incision. The laparoscope is equipped with a small camera and biopsy forceps, so that you doctor can visually inspect the walls and ducts of the liver and pancreas, and take a sample for biopsy. For further laboratory analysis, abdominal fluid and cell samples may sometimes be taken.
If your cat has suppurative CCHS, antibiotics will be given. For nonsuppurative CCHS, immune-modulating drugs and antibiotics may be given. If your pet has lymphoma (cancer of the lymphocyte white blood cells), chemotherapy may be considered. Antioxidants may be prescribed along with other drugs to protect the liver. Vitamin B and E supplements are recommended, as well as vitamin K, which may be used if blood clotting times are not normal.
In some cases, surgery may be indicated, such as when an obstruction in the bile ducts is preventing bile from flowing normally. For milder cases, your cat may be treated on an outpatient basis, but if dehydration or malnutrition is found to be affecting your cat, or if your cat is unable to eat or drink, it will need to be placed on a feeding tube and intravenous line until its condition stabilizes.
Treatment will take about three to four months, with liver enzymes checked every two weeks. If the treatment does not appear to be working after four weeks, your veterinarian will need to repeat a bile culture and take a biopsy of liver tissue and fluid for analysis.
Living and Management
You will need to return for regular check-ups with your veterinarian, especially if signs suddenly occur again or if signs worsen.
For nonsuppurative CCHS, lifelong immunomodulatory, antioxidan,t and hepatoprotective therapy is often recommended. You should restrict your cat's activity during the recovery period, and your veterinarian will help you to create an easily digestible, high protein meal plan for the cat. Your veterinarian may also suggest that you supplement your cat's diet with water-soluble vitamins.
If your cat has inflammatory bowel disease as well, it may need to be fed a more specialized diet. If your cat is found to have a massive lack of liver ducts (severe ductopenia), problems with small intestinal absorption, or a long-term or cyclical swelling of the pancreas, a special low-fat diet may be tailored to fit your cat's needs.
A condition of poor health that results from poor feeding or no feeding at all
A term for a type of neoplasm that is made up of lymphoid tissue; these masses are usually malignant in nature
A type of leukocyte in the body
A gland that aids in both digestive and insulin functions
A heightened number of lymphocytic leukocytes in the blood of an animal
The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance
An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness
A gland found in the neck of humans and animals that secretes glands responsible for metabolic rate, calcitonin, and others.
Something in which pus is discharged or formed
An enlargement of the liver to an abnormal size
A medical condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed
Referring to the liver
A certain pigment that is produced when hemoglobin is destroyed.
The fluid created by the liver that helps food in the stomach to be digested.
The collection of fluid in the peritoneal cavity.
A large blood vessel that transports blood out of the heart.
The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.
A medical condition in which the body has lost fluid or water in excessive amounts
The removal and destruction of red blood cells
A substance that causes chemical change to another
A passage in the body with walls
A condition of the blood in which normal red blood cell counts or hemoglobin are lacking.
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