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Feline Icterus


When the liver breaks down old blood cells, it produces bilirubin. The bilirubin typically leaves the body in the feces.

Icterus is when there is an excess of bilirubin in the body. It enters the tissues and causes yellow coloring in the white of the eyes, gums, and skin.

Jaundice is not a disease in itself but a symptom of other diseases that cause an excess of bilirubin. Some of these diseases are fatal.


There are 3 leading causes for excess bilirubin in the body:

  1. Too many red blood cells are being broken down
  2. Liver disease: the liver can not process the bilirubin
  3. Blocked bile ducts: the bilirubin cannot be excreted


The main signs are yellow eyes, gums, and skin.

Other signs you may notice include:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Orange urine, black stool
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Difficulty breathing


Tests done by your veterinarian to find the cause of jaundice may include:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Chest x-rays
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Abdominal exploratory surgery
  • Liver biopsies


Most veterinarians agree that treatment of icterus is to treat the underlying disease. The jaundice will resolve when the disease is cured.

Most pets will require:

  • Hospitalization: IV fluid therapy and nutritional support
  • Medication: for nausea and vomiting
  • Blood transfusions


Keep your cat away from medications, chemicals, and toxic plants that cause jaundice.


Prognosis depends on the severity of the underlying cause. Some diseases causing icterus have a great prognosis, while others are fatal.

Medically Reviewed by Sara Ochoa, DVM

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