Gallstones in Cats: A Quick Guide What Are Gallstones and How To Treat Them in Your Cat?

Gallstones in Cats: A Quick Guide

Gallstones, commonly known as choleliths, are a prevalent issue with cats. Severe cases can lead to infection, inflammation, and other fatal complications. This article looks at the types, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of gallstones in cats.

Gallstones, also known as choleliths, are a common problem in cats. They are small, hard masses that form in the gallbladder and can have various symptoms, from mild discomfort to severe pain and inflammation. While gallstones can affect cats of any age or breed, certain risk factors, such as obesity and a diet high in fat, can increase the likelihood of developing the condition. 

In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for gallstones in cats, as well as ways to prevent the condition from developing in the first place.

Types of Gallstones in Cats

There are two main types of gallstones in cats: pigment stones and cholesterol stones.

Pigment stones are composed of bilirubin, which is a waste product that is produced when red blood cells are broken down. They are typically small, dark-colored stones that are found in the gallbladder.

Cholesterol stones are composed of cholesterol and other substances, such as bile salts. They are typically larger and lighter in color than pigment stones. These types of stones can be found in both the gallbladder and bile ducts.

In some cases, cats may develop mixed stones, which are a combination of both pigment and cholesterol stones.



There are several causes of gallstones in cats. Some of the most common include:

  • Nutritional imbalances: A diet that is high in fat and low in fiber can contribute to the formation of gallstones.

  • Obesity: Overweight cats are at a higher risk of developing gallstones because the excess fat in their diets can increase the levels of cholesterol in their bile.

  • Metabolic disease: Certain metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, can increase the risk of developing gallstones.

  • Genetics: Some cat breeds, such as the Siamese, are predisposed to developing gallstones.

  • Age: Cats over the age of six have a greater risk of developing gallstones.

  • Hormone imbalances: hormonal imbalances or diseases such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism that affect the bile flow can cause the formation of stones.

It's important to note that not all cases of gallstones have a specific cause, and in some cases, it may be idiopathic, meaning that the underlying cause is unknown.



Symptoms of gallstones in cats can vary depending on the size and location of the stones, as well as the overall health of the cat. Some common symptoms of gallstones include:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

  • Dark urine and loss of bladder control

  • Light-colored stools

  • Lethargy and Weakness

In severe cases, gallstones can cause blockages in the biliary tract, leading to infection, inflammation, and even sepsis, which can be life-threatening.

It's important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so a proper diagnosis from a veterinarian is needed to confirm the presence of gallstones.



There are several methods that veterinarians can use to diagnose gallstones in cats. These methods include:

  • Physical examination: A veterinarian will perform a physical examination to look for signs of gallstones, such as tenderness in the abdomen, jaundice, and dark urine.

  • Blood tests: Blood tests can be used to detect changes in liver and pancreas enzymes, as well as check for anemia, which can indicate the presence of gallstones.

  • Ultrasonography: ultrasound imaging is an effective tool for detecting gallstones and determining their size and location, as well as looking for any other complications like blockage or inflammation of the biliary tract.

  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): This method involves the insertion of a thin tube with a camera through the cat's mouth and into the bile duct to visualize and remove the gallstones.

  • Exploratory surgery: in some cases, surgery is needed to remove the gallstones or to determine the underlying cause of the problem.

Based on the symptoms and examination, the veterinarian may use one or a combination of these methods to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions.


Treatment and Management

Treatment and management of gallstones in cats will depend on the size, location, and number of stones, as well as the overall health of the cat. Some possible treatment options include:

  1. Medical management: In cases where the stones are small and not causing any symptoms, a veterinarian may recommend medical management, which can include dietary changes, weight management, application of urinary infection removal gels, and supplementation of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), a bile acid that can help to dissolve cholesterol stones.

  2. Surgery: In cases where the stones are causing symptoms or complications, surgery may be necessary to remove the gallstones. Surgery can be done either by laparotomy (an open surgery) or laparoscopy (minimally invasive surgery).

  3. Endoscopic therapy: If the stones are small and located in the bile duct, they can be removed using a specialized endoscope, which is passed through the cat's mouth and into the bile duct.

  4. Antibiotics: In case of infection, antibiotics will be administered. Metronidazole is also a good pick.

It's important to note that in addition to treatment, preventing recurrence is important, and this can be achieved through weight management, dietary changes, and regular monitoring by a veterinarian.

Recovery time varies depending on the cat, the nature and extent of surgery, and any complications that may arise, but with proper care, most cats can make a full recovery.

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