Fatty Liver Disease in Cats

Everything You Need to Know About Fatty Liver Disease in Cats

Fatty liver disease is also known as Hepatic Lipidosis, and it’s also one of the most common liver diseases that our feline friends can suffer from.

Caused by a buildup of fat in the liver, it initially displays itself as a yellowing of the whites of the eyes and/or skin. If not treated quickly, the disease can be fatal. 

Read on to find out more about the causes of fatty liver syndrome in cats and the symptoms that a Hepatic Lipidosis cat may suffer from.  

Causes of Hepatic Lipidosis

Cats that have just been through a period of anorexia when they eat little or nothing for 3 or 4 days are typically prone to fatty liver disease. The risk of Hepatic Lipidosis is higher in cats that were obese or overweight before the anorexia set in. 

These cats tend to be middle-aged and will have lost around a quarter of their body weight. In most affected cats, there will be an underlying cause for the sudden weight loss. It could be due to any of the following:

  • Cancer or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Kidney disease, pancreatitis, or Hyperthyroidism
  • Other types of liver disease or diabetes mellitus

Some cats that are otherwise physically well can also suddenly stop eating as a response to anxiety or changes in their routine. Possible triggers include:

  • Moving home
  • Sudden dietary changes 
  • The introduction of a new family member or pet into the household
  • The sudden loss of a pet or family member
  • A cat that’s used to only living inside suddenly becomes lost outside

The difficulty is that fat gets broken down too quickly to supply nutrients and energy to a cat with anorexia. This can overpower the liver’s capacity to process it. The fat then gets stored in and around the liver and that has a detrimental impact on the organ’s ability to function properly. 

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The Symptoms of Hepatic Lipidosis in Cats

The longer a cat doesn’t eat, the higher the chance that they will develop fatty liver disease. Typical symptoms of Hepatic Lipidosis in cats include:

  • Vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, and dehydration
  • A lethargic or depressed mood
  • A yellowing of the skin and eyes, also known as jaundice

If your cat displays any of these symptoms, you should contact a vet straight away. Jaundice is a sign that the liver isn’t working properly and that your cat needs urgent medical care.

Should you notice that your cat is eating less than usual or has stopped eating altogether, it’s also vital to contact a vet. They’ll help you come up with an intervention plan to stop your cat from developing Hepatic Lipidosis.

Diagnosis of Hepatic Lipidosis in Cats

Your vet will diagnose Hepatic Lipidosis through a series of blood tests that show poor liver function. They may also carry out a liver biopsy during exploratory surgery or by inserting a needle into the liver through the skin using ultrasound. 

The liver sample would then get sent to a veterinary pathologist for analysis. Your vet may carry out other diagnostic tests in an effort to find out why the cat stopped eating. If the cause of anorexia is treatable, the prognosis is typically quite good.

In certain cases, your vet may have to presume a diagnosis without a liver biopsy. A cat’s history, clinical signs, and bloodwork, for example, may leave little doubt that they have the condition. 

Sometimes, a cat may also be too unstable to undergo a liver biopsy. Cats may though sometimes need to undergo further tests if they develop other clinical symptoms or do not follow the expected course of the disease.

Treatment for Fatty Liver Disease in Cats

A vet can treat Hepatic Lipidosis through aggressive nutritional support. This will happen until the cat’s usual appetite returns. A cat may need a consistently high level of nutritional support for their liver to start functioning again. 

This process typically takes around 6-7 weeks. Your vet may recommend using a feeding tube at home so that you can monitor exactly how much food and nutrients your cat is getting.

When a cat is using the feeding tube, you should give them some regular food at least once a week. This helps to work out when the cat is ready to eat normally again. Once the cat starts eating again on its own, you’ll be able to reduce the quantity of food delivered through the feeding tube until you can eventually take it out altogether.

When your cat’s been eating well for 3 or 4 days, without any supplemental tube feeding, your vet will be able to remove the feeding tube. Although its removal is usually a straightforward procedure, you should not attempt it yourself.

Mitigate the Risk of Fatty Liver Syndrome in Your Cat

Should your cat have an underlying health condition or if they’ve been suffering from unavoidable stress, it may not be possible to stop them from losing their appetite. 

However, you should watch your cat’s food intake and behavior carefully. By doing this you may be able to help them get treatment before the issues caused by fatty liver disease set in.

As well as watching your cat’s food intake and behavior, there are a few other actions you may be able to take:

  • If your cat is obese or overweight, talk to your vet about a dietary plan
  • Make changes to your cat’s diet gradually
  • Keep your cat as unstressed as possible 
  • Ensure your cat is up to date with veterinary checkups

Work With Your Vet

As is often the case with cats, prevention of disease is the best course of action. So, if you notice your cat is behaving in an unexpected way or has experienced sudden weight loss, contact a vet straight away. We have a team of highly qualified vets who can talk you through any questions you might have about Hepatic Lipidosis or fatty liver syndrome in cats. If you have concerns about your cat’s health, get in touch with one of them today.

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