Gallstones, Gallbladder and Bile Duct Inflammation in Cats

Recently my cat Simba suffered from severe gallstones, gallbladder and bile duct inflammation with many calculi in his gallbladder and one large gallstone obstructing his bile duct. There was no warning for us until it was too late and his case was too severe for medical treatment. So after much research, I want to share what I’ve learned through my vet, the ultrasound radiologist, and the best medical sources of information on the Internet about gallstones, gallbladder and bile duct inflammation in cats.

My cat Simba had apparently been making gallstones for some time without showing any apparent symptoms until they posed a medical problem and he stopped eating and was in severe pain. When the symptoms appeared, Simba had stopped eating and Mirtazipine (an appetite stimulant) was not jump-starting his appetite, he isolated himself and didn’t want any interaction, he was lethargic, vomiting, and I knew he was suffering and in pain. Our vet confirmed he had a fever and his abdomen was sensitive to the touch.  He proceeded to give Simba a senior blood panel and X-rays and while we waited for the blood test results, our vet kept Simba for gavage feeding (since he would no longer eat on his own) and gave him intraveneous fluids and pain therapy for 1-2 days.

Since we rescued Simba in 2004, he had had chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) for many years, which we treated both holistically with acupuncture and bicom bioresonance therapy, and traditionally with Tylan powder or metronidazole as needed, probiotics, Metamucil, a special diet, B12 injections monthly (he had a B12 deficiency), and weekly subcutaneous fluids. In addition to his chronic IBD (he was an x-feral cat for two years), he also had chronic liver disease and elevated liver values flaring up infrequently and an older mild case of pancreatitis. He was diagnosed with these in 2005, and treated with antibiotics and Denosyl (liver) supplements. We had continued to treat his IBD with probiotics, B12 injections, metronidazole and acupuncture, but nothing completely eliminated Simba’s symptoms of IBD, however together these worked to significantly improve his condition.

Simba’s Diagnosis of Gallstone Obstruction

In July 2014, we put Simba to sleep after a complete diagnosis of his condition that included X-rays, a senior blood panel and ultrasound imaging that showed he was suffering from a 5 mm calculus or gallstone obstructing his bile duct with many smaller calculi in his gallbladder. His bile duct was dilated and thickened and he had an enlarged and thickened gallbladder, with an enlarged right kidney and bladder likely the result of the complications noted above. With so many calculi in his gallbladder and a large stone blocking his bile duct at 12 years of age, surgery was the only solution and it would not solve all of these problems. It was also thought that surgery would not necessarily extend his life or quality of life, was considered too risky for a 12 year old cat, and would cause him even more suffering.

Diagnostic Tests for Gallbladder Disease

To diagnose Simba, he was first given a blood test and X-rays, which did show inflammation of the gallbladder and suspected gallstones, however, the ultrasound report was what really highlighted the specific problems and gave us the very detailed findings for my veterinarian to then make a sound and appropriate recommendation based on the data—like his 5 mm stone blocking his bile duct. With the ultrasound, we could make the right decision for Simba based on a much more detailed radiology report.

Treatments for Gallstones in Cats

In Simba’s case, my vet recommended against treatment as it would require extensive surgery that would not prevent new stones from developing and obstructing his intestines. However, depending on your cat’s condition and diagnosis, treatment can be recommended using medications, antibiotics, surgery, hospitalization and ongoing care.

Gallstones, Gallbladder and Bile Duct Inflammation in Cats

Available treatments involve either dissolving the gallstones with medications or removing them surgically. PetMD also says recommendations might include, “Vitamin K1 to be given intravenously if the patient is jaundiced; vitamin E will be prescribed if high liver enzymes or inflammation in the liver and bile duct are diagnosed; and S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) may be prescribed to improve liver function and bile production. Antibiotics may also be warranted for treating associated infections, bacterial complications, or for the prevention of an infection when outside intervention is necessary (e.g., IV, surgery, or any treatment that necessitates going into the body).” Then if your cat does have surgery to remove the gallstones, ongoing care would necessitate periodic ultrasounds to see how the liver and bile system are functioning, whether there’s any new infection, and whether there is inflammation or swelling indicated by fever, pain or weakness. And routine vet exams would be necessary every 2-4 weeks to monitor your cat’s health. Then a high protein diet may be prescribed for the long run.

Causes of Gallbladder Inflammation in Cats

With the suddeness of Simba’s acute condition, I needed to understand what caused all these problems for him? Was it something we could have done differently? Was it his food? Was it genetic? What was it? Why didn’t we see this coming? I observe all of my cats so carefully daily and I didn’t see this until it was too late.

Reading several different medical sources, there are several causes of inflammation of the bile duct and gallbladder in cats that can include malfunctioning muscles in the gallbladder; a restricted blood supply to the gallbladder wall; trauma to the abdomen; previous abdominal surgery that can lead to sensitivity; bacterial infections in the intestine or blood that get into the gallbladder; parasites in the gallbladder; or abnormal gallbladder development (

Causes of Gallstones in Cats

Gallstones in cats can be caused by several different reasons, including: an imbalance in the substances that make up bile including too much cholesterol; too much calcium, or bilirubin in the bile or not enough bile salts; bile that may be supersaturated with pigment, calcium, or cholesterol; failure of the bile to flow normally caused by inflammation; failure of the gallbladder to function properly; sludging bile that’s not moving properly; cysts in the ducts; a bacterial infection or tumor –- or the presence of stones that trigger inflammation and cause invasive bacteria to develop. Usually several different factors converge to create gallstones developing including genetics, body weight, decreased movement of the gallbladder and diet.

In Simba’s case, we’ll never really know what caused his gallstones, but likely it’s a combination of factors including his weight, that had been developing for some time. The good news, not for Simba but for cats in general, is that gallstones and gallbladder disease is apparently not that common in cats and in most cases is treatable.


1. PetMD – Gallbladder and Bile Duct Inflammation in Cats
2. PetMD – Gallstones in Cats
3. The Merck Manual for Pet Health – Disorders of the Liver and Gallbladder in Cats
4. WebMD – Causes of Gallstones in Humans
5. WebMD – Understanding Gallstones, Diagnosis and Treatment

16 thoughts on “Gallstones, Gallbladder and Bile Duct Inflammation in Cats”

  1. I just read your posting regarding gall bladder/gallstones and the loss of your kitty. despite all the wonderful efforts by our vet at Bollinger Animal Hospital and then SAGE, Centers for Vet specialty and Emergency Care, Dublin we had to make the difficult but right decision to our beautiful Ms Snuggles to sleep at 5 am, July 23, 2015. They had her on multiple antibiotics, pain meds, and then protein infusions.. But she wasn’t strong enough for surgery. We rescued her almost 9 1/2 years ago from East Bay SPCA, Dublin after our first kitty had to be put to rest. We received the call from SAGE and I am so fortunate to be able to spend time with our Snuggle girl before she went. She also had IBD and we gave her flaggel, probiotics and Fromms food. reading your personal story is helping my husband and I know we did all we could and unfortunately the gall stones that caused her gall bladder to rupture.. and sepsis into bloodstream. Thank you for sharing your story. We will be rescuing another female black kitty in time, since her little feline sister is lonely.


    1. Hi Susan, I’m so sorry for your losing your kitty Snuggles last week. They become such a part of our lives for so long, and it’s never an easy decision to have to let them go. I hope you find much solace in trying everything to diagnose and treat Snuggles, before letting him go. For us, Simba’s gall stones diagnosis snuck up on us very quietly, we didn’t know the extent of his serious debilitating illness until it was too late—it presented itself very suddenly. Thanks for sharing your story of Snuggles, you have my deepest condolences.

  2. Reading this makes me really sad. My cat Chili is having surgery today. She has gall bladders stones that are obstructing and causing sludge. She is 11 years old and a big part of our family. I have 3 children that are completely devastated. Although her surgery is very costly, our other option was to euthanize Her. I can’t make that desision and feel like I’ve given up on her. We are deciding to go with the surgery and praying she makes it out. She is a big part of our family and the thought of losing her breaks us. Please keep her in your prayers.

    1. Thanks Claudia for sharing about your cat Chili. I hope the surgery was successful and Chili recovers well. My thoughts and prayers are with you. It sounds like you are doing everything you can for Chili. Good luck for a really positive outcome for your kitty.

      1. Thank you! Still haven’t heard anything. When I called at 4:30pm she was still in surgery. It’s now 6:30pm and I am waiting sick to my stomach for a call. I really hope my little girl makes it out ok. We just want her home safe and sound. Thank you for your kind words. This is extremely painful, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

        1. I hope you have received good news Claudia, and your kitty is back home safe and sound with your family. But if not, have peace that you did everything you could for her. I’m Saying my prayers for you and your kitty.

  3. Thank you for your kind words. They discharged her today, clean bill of health. Recovering nicely. Picked her up, driving home she passed away in the car. I’m shocked, and in disbelief. I don’t understand. Dr. Said could of been a clot. I feel she was robbed of her second chance. We are all heart broken. Don’t know how to cope.

    1. I’m so very sorry to hear the news. You must be devastated and your children too. Our pets are members of our family and losing one, is heartbreaking, and leaves us with a big void for that special unique being that we shared everyday of our lives with for as long as we have them, then they are lost forever. I’m glad you shared such a deep love for your kitty Chili for all those years. And again, I’m terribly sorry for your loss. My best wishes.

      1. We are completely devastated. My children have not stopped crying, myself, my husband. This is the first pet we have lost, and we are completely mortified. There is now an empty void. She was a spicy character, loved us unconditionally. She only needed us no one else. She was not a fan of people. We loved her dearly and she is missed dearly. We are learning how to cope with this. It’s not easy, she was our 4th baby. I hope she is at peace now. My sweet angel 🙁

        1. Claudia, here’s a poem that I have read at the graveside of our three cats who have died and were buried in our backyard. This is for you and your family – to honor your beautiful, sweet Chili.

          When Tomorrow Starts Without Me

          When tomorrow starts without me,
          And I’m not there to see;
          The sun will rise and find your eyes
          All filled with tears for me.
          I wish so much you wouldn’t cry
          The way you did today,
          Remembering how I’d lay my head
          In your lap that special way.
          I know how much you love me,
          As much as I love you,
          And each time that you think of me,
          I know you’ll miss me too.

          But when tomorrow starts without me.
          Please try to understand,
          That an angel came and called my name
          And petted me with her hand.
          She said my place was ready,
          In Heaven far above,
          And that I’d have to leave behind
          All those I dearly love.

          But, as I turned to heel away,
          A tear fell from my eye,
          For all my life I never thought
          That I would have to die.
          I had so much to live for,
          So many runs up and down to do,
          It seemed almost impossible,
          That I was leaving you.

          I thought about our lives together,
          I know you must be sad,
          I thought of all the love we shared,
          And all the fun we had.
          Remember how I’d nudge your hand,
          And poke you with my nose?
          The ball that I would gladly chase,
          The special way that I would pose?

          If I could relive yesterday,
          Just even for awhile,
          I’d wag my tail and kiss you,
          Just so I could see you smile.

          But, then I fully realized,
          That this could never be;
          For emptiness and memories
          Will take the place of me.
          And when I thought of treats and toys,
          I might miss come tomorrow,
          I thought of you and when I did,
          My cat-heart filled with sorrow.

          But then I walked through Heaven’s Gate,
          And felt so much at home;
          As God looked down and smiled at me,
          From His beautiful golden throne.
          He said, “This is eternity,
          And now we welcome you,
          Today your life on earth is past,
          But here it starts anew.

          I promise no tomorrow,
          But today will always last;
          For you see, each day’s the same day,
          There’s no longing for the past.
          Now you have been so faithful,
          So trusting, loyal and true;
          Though there were times you did things,
          You knew you shouldn’t do.

          But good cats are forgiven,
          And now at last you’re free;
          So won’t you sit here by my side,
          And wait right here with me?”
          So when tomorrow starts without me,
          Don’t think we’re far apart.
          For every time you think of me,
          I’m right here, in your heart.

          ~~Author unknown

          1. Wow! Thank you Jennie, that was truly beautiful. Makes me sad but I know it will be clear soon, why she left us. I do cherish all the happy memories she gave us. Thank you 😊

  4. Jennie –
    Last Friday I searched the web for any information I could find regarding feline Gallstones and came across your story of Simba. It was then that I knew I had to act quickly. You see, we too have a cat named Simba who is ten years old and was having some of the same symptoms you mentioned in your story. That previous Tuesday we had taken him to our normal vet which found the gallstones on his x-ray but never really suggested what could be done as they had never run across feline gallstones. We tried to get him to eat for the next couple of days, but nothing was working. After reading your story I drove over to our vet demanding some more answers and they admitted that they were not experienced with this type of condition. I then drove to the next vet who said that they could not do anything that night and recommended another vet who I then called and left a message with regarding Simba’s condition and they called back within a half hour and suggested yet another animal hospital with very experienced surgeons. Thank goodness this was a 24 hour hospital, so my husband and I took Simba there and were soon amazed at how competent and nice everyone was and due to his condition, Simba was admitted that night and would be scheduled for surgery the next morning. His surgery went very well and the doctor was cautiously optimistic about it. He said that he had about 50 stones and they completely removed his gallbladder, he also had one stuck in his bile duct which they had to flush out. We picked him up on Monday and were so happy to see he was doing okay. It is now Wednesday and he is finally eating on his own and seems to be getting back to his regular self. Words cannot express how thankful I am to you for putting your story out there because it’s what prompted me to take action and probably saved our Simba’s life. We our empty nesters, our kids are all grown and he is absolutely like a fourth child to us. To put him down was not even an option and I knew we had to do all we could for him……we’re hoping to have many more wonderful years with him, and that’s all we can ask for. Thank you so very much ! !

    1. Hi Kathy, thanks for sharing about your Simba. I hope he is continuing to heal and recover well, and he feels much better. I’m glad my article about our Simba could help you, that’s really my whole purpose with this website. I’m so glad you could find a good veterinary hospital with trained surgeons near you that you could entrust Simba to, and they could treat and help him. My very best wishes for Simba’s rapid recovery and healing!

  5. Just found your story…so sorry for everyone’s loss. It’s so hard losing a fur-baby; I’ve been there several times. Just had my cat Jaylee Tea at the vet’s office today and was told that he has an inflamed gallbladder with stones and it may even be cancer. He has been like your kitty Simba and we have treated him for years and taken him to many vets. He is now almost 14 years old. The only chance is for him to have gallbladder surgery and it be removed. He is eating good and acts okay but is getting weaker. What do you think about doing the surgery on an almost 14 year old cat? All advise and opinions are appreciated.

    1. Hi Angela, I feel I’m not in a position to give advice, other than get a second veterinary opinion possibly, or third. Then you will have the best professional advice. For me, my Simba was in extreme pain, not eating or drinking, nauseated, and the vet felt there was nothing they could do to improve his health or gallstone disease. Best of luck with your cat Jaylee Tea, I hope it all works out.

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