Bile Duct Obstruction and Related Diseases (Cholestasis) in Cats

Key Takeaways

Cholestasis is a reduction in bile flow or production from the liver.   • Bile functions to neutralize stomach acid as it enters the intestines, assists in digestion of fats, and excretion of other metabolites

• Cholestasis can be caused by a variety of conditions including inflammatory disease, gallstones, bile duct obstructions, cancer, infections, and bile system malformations

• Primary symptoms include; vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, dark urine, decreased appetite, fatigue, and weight loss

• Blood/urine/stool analysis and diagnostic imaging are used to diagnose the underlying cause

• Cholestasis is treated using surgery, diet management, and medications

• If treatment is prompt and the cause is not related to cancer, prognosis is good

• Cases related to cancer have a poor prognosis

A Closer Look: What is Cholestasis in Cats?

Cholestasis is one of many liver diseases which often overlap with other similar conditions and are common in cats. Interrupted production and/or secretion of bile into the GI tract is likely to become life threatening if left untreated.

Risk Factors

Prognosis for cases of cholestasis vary based on individual causes, but if treatment is sought promptly and cancer is not present, outcomes are usually favorable. If cancer is present, prognosis is poor.

Possible Causes

Cholestasis is a general term referring to interruption to the production and/or secretion of bile into the GI tract which can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions, including:

Inflammatory diseases such as:

• Cholangitis • Cholecystitis • Pancreatitis

Bile System Malformations such as

• Injury • Blockages (can be caused by gallstones, abscesses,injuries, tumors, malformations, etc.)

• Congenital defects, like portosystemic shunt

Cancer such as

• Liver cancer • Gallbladder cancer • Bile duct cancer

Infections including

• Parasitic • Bacterial • Viral • Fungal

Main Symptoms

The main symptoms of bile duct related illness include

VomitingDiarrheaJaundice • Lack of appetite • Excessive hunger • Weight lossLethargy

Testing and Diagnosis

If cholestasis is suspected, diagnosis starts with medical history and physical examination. Additional diagnostic tests include:

• Urinalysis • Stool analysis • Blood tests • Imaging (x ray, MRI, ultrasound) • Tissue biopsy

Steps to Recovery

Treatment varies depending on the diagnosis. Options may include:

• Antibiotics • Anti-inflammatories/steroids • Bile thinners • Liver support supplements • Surgery

• Nutritional therapy • IV fluids • Supplemental feeding • Blood transfusions • Anti-emetics

The  prognosis for cholestasis varies depending on the underlying condition. For the majority of conditions, if treatment is sought quickly and the treatment protocol is followed, the prognosis is very good. If the underlying cause is related to the presence of cancer, prognosis is very poor.


Most cholestatic conditions can not specifically be prevented. The risks for some conditions associated with cholestasis can be reduced through diet management and monitoring of liver health. As with many conditions, prognosis is improved when symptoms are detected early. Routine wellness exams and screening blood tests can facilitate early detection. Most cases of cholestasis are not caused by contagious conditions.

Is Cholestasis Common in Cats?

Liver conditions are common in cats.

Typical Treatment

• Surgery • Medications • Blood transfusions • Dietary alterations • Symptom management

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