When new acquaintances ask about Newt, I try to give them my “elevator speech” (the quick, 30-second overview), and not overwhelm them with too many of the details which are routine to us, but might be mind-boggling for others.
So, here’s my personal version of the quick and dirty on liver shunts in cats:
A liver shunt is a condition where the blood is not properly purified, because it bypasses the liver. As a result, toxins can accumulate and cause “Very Bad Things” to happen. Liver shunts are even more rare in cats than in dogs, affecting approximately 1 in every 10,000 cats. However, there is Hope – many cats with liver shunts are able to live normal, happy lives!
Okay, that was one floor; if they haven’t gotten out of the elevator yet, and want more info, the next part goes like this:
A liver shunt may also be known as a portosystemic shunt (PSS), and be intra-hepatic, extra-hepatic, or some combination of both. Treatment options include surgery and/or medical management, using a combination of diet and medicine. More studies and statistics are available on surgical options, but we are now seeing more anecdotal evidence regarding successful medical management, both pre-operative, and in lieu of, surgical correction, as with our Newt.
Is the listener still on the elevator with me, or are they planning to jump out whether or not the next floor is theirs?
The “Very Bad Things” that can happen are a result of Hepatic Encephalopathy (HE), where the toxins have accumulated and start causing problems. Depending on the severity of the HE episode, signs can include, but are not limited to, lethargy, circling, head-pressing, drooling, blindness, seizures, and neurological impairments. However, many owners are able to control/minimize these episodes in their liver shunt cats through a combination of diet, medication, and/or surgery.
Which takes us back to the first (and most important) part of the whole elevator speech, which is simply …
“Cats with liver shunts – there is Hope.”