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Interview With A Cat Person: Living With a Cat With a Liver Shunt

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hector 2 fb 257x300 Interview With A Cat Person: Living With a Cat With a Liver Shunt

Good day, anipals and anipal Moms.  As you all know, I have a special place in my heart for cats with special needs and handicaps; whenever I can, I like to educate people about living with these very special pets.
Recently, I had a chance to interview Beverly Barker, Mom to Hector, @livershuntcat on Twitter.
Hector has a liver shunt, a condition that occurs in some cats.  I know nothing about living with a cat with a liver shunt, so, when the opportunity arose to talk to someone who did, I naturally asked to be able to interview her for this blog, in order to raise awareness within the anipal community.
Here goes!
Hello, Beverly.  It’s wonderful to ‘meet’ you and Hector, and promote awareness of liver shunts in cats.  Thank you for being willing to talk to me today.
Nice to meet you Sass.  I am happy to answer your questions and raise awareness for liver shunt cats.
What is a liver shunt?
A liver shunt is when the vessel that normally carries blood to the liver bypasses or “shunts” around the liver to the intestines.  This means the blood does not get cleaned properly and the toxins get absorbed into the body.
How does one discover that one’s cat has a liver shunt? What are the signs and symptoms to look out for?
Usually to discover the liver shunt, they symptoms present first.  Drooling, copper coloured irises,   pacing, wall staring, head pressing, not eating, failure to grow, ruffley unkempt coat, seizures and urinary issues are symptoms of a shunt.
The vet does several tests. Full blood work up, urinalysis, tests to rule out feline leukemia and FIV.
The most telling blood work is a bile acid test and blood ammonia levels. A bile acid test measures how the liver is functioning and performing. The cat is fasted for 12 hours and blood is taken and then fed and blood is drawn after eating. If the bile acid is high, it indicates the liver shunt. 
Here are more symptoms of a shunt:
lack of appetite
lethargy
weakness
disorientation
uncoordination
intermittent blindness
aggression
vomitting
diarrhea
weight loss
How are liver shunts practically managed on a day to day basis, and beyond? What special things/products are used to make the life of a liver shunt cat, better?
Liver shunt cats can be medically managed or have corrective surgery. I  (Hector) am medically managed, that means I eat a special low protein diet and take lactulose everyday.
Lactulose helps my body move the food through quicker for elimination. It also helps in reducing the amount of ammonia in the gut. Too much ammonia causes hepatic encephalopathy.
This is when the ammonia builds up in the system and causes the symptoms listed above. Some cats also take an antibiotic. This helps to reduce the amount of ammonia producing bacteria in the gut. The goal is to keep the ammonia levels down to reduce the symptoms.
Protein produces ammonia that is why liver shunt cats need low protein diets. There are special veterinary diets for liver shunt cats.
There are also some pet food store wet food that is low protein. There are even some good treats that are low protein.
Most liver shunt kitty slaves are good label readers. If the kitty can handle milk protein, cheese, cream, yougurt and cottage cheese make nice snacks.
Keeping hydrated is important too. My drinking fountain makes me drink more water. I try to catch the bubbles!
Daily medicine, low protein food and some special well thought out treats make us happy kitties!
What is the life expectancy for a liver shunt cat?
That is a good question and one I don’t really have an answer for.
I was diagnosed at 10 years old and the vet said I could live another 5-6 years medically managed.  I will be 13 in March. I know some kitties  who have gone OTRB at less than a year and 2,3,4 years and up.
I know of one other kitty who is older than me. She will be 14 and is doing well. There is not a lot of info out there on the life expectancy.
Is there anything else you would like folks to know about liver shunt cats or thier care and feeding?
Liver shunt cats are easy to look after. It is scarey to hear that your kitty has this defect but once you learn that it can be managed quite easily with food and meds, it is easy.
The medication is easy to give, mixed in food. And lactulose can be bought in big bottles- 1L for around $25.oo and that will last 6 months at least.
We are funny little cats and have our quirks and attitudes.
We are extra loving, all owners of liver shunt cats agree on this.
Any special needs pet will always be grateful for its loving owners who provide TLC and help with their medical problems.
We all know our owners are helping us.
Special needs pets are some of the best pets you can have and you will get lots of loving in return for all your care.
Thank you, Beverly and Hector, for all this wonderful information!
Follow this author, Sassenach MacConney on twitter @livelovemeow

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