Hepatic lipidosis commonly is called fatty liver syndrome because the cat’s liver actually becomes filled with fat. A severe liver disease that can be fatal, hepatic lipidosis typically occurs when an obese cat suddenly stops eating, which causes a mobilization of its own fat stores and results in excessive fat accumulation in the cells of the liver. This excessive fat accumulation impairs the normal function of the liver cells, resulting in liver failure.
There are many reasons why obese cats stop eating. Often, stress will make an animal lose its appetite. Moving into a new home, having a new animal introduced into the household, or suffering an illness can cause a cat to lose interest in food. Because it is not always easy to predict what will make a cat feel stress, the best way to prevent hepatic lipidosis is to make sure the animal does not become obese in the first place. In addition, it is essential that a cat maintain a normal weight for good general health.
If your cat was just diagnosed with hepatic lipidosis, fear not! While it sounds scary, hepatic lipidosis simply means that there is inappropriate fat infiltration into the liver. Often known by the laymen’s term “fatty liver,” this disease occurs when cats —especially obese cats— go without food for a few days. Untreated, hepatic lipidosis can result in liver failure and death, so it must be aggressively treated by your veterinarian. Thankfully, the prognosis can be excellent with intravenous (IV) fluids, proper nutritional supplementation, and supportive care, but keep in mind that it can be extremely costly to treat.
Causes of fatty liver disease in cats
So, why do cats develop hepatic lipidosis? Unfortunately, as an emergency critical care specialist, the main reasons why I see it in the ER include the following:
Introduction of a new diet without appropriate slow weaning or acclimatization. You should never force your cat to go “cold turkey” and change your cat’s diet acutely. As we all know cats don’t tolerate sudden change well, and diet changes should always be transitioned slowly over several days to weeks. [Editor’s note: Always speak to your veterinarian before changing your cat’s diet]
Introduction of a new pet (e.g., dogs or cats) which causes environmental stress and may result in your cat’s sudden loss of appetite
Introduction of two-legged newborns (i.e., human babies) causing environmental stress
Stressful situations (e.g., visiting guests who live in your house for a few days, scaring your cat away) Read More…
The average cat with lipidosis is middle-aged, was at one time obese but has lost at least 25% of its original body weight, has a poor appetite, and may have an obvious upset stomach (38% will have vomiting, diarrhea or constipation). Cats that are especially weak may have concurrent electrolyte imbalances or vitamin deficiencies from their liver disease.
THE CAT IN LIVER FAILURE
The cat in liver failure is jaundiced, frequently nauseated, will not eat and generally is an obviously ill animal. The jaundice (more clinically termed “icterus”) is often not noted by the pet owner but can be seen by carefully examining the whites of the eyes for yellow coloration. Sometimes the yellow color is not evident to the naked eye but is picked up as a blood test elevation in “bilirubin,” a yellow pigment normally kept in check by the liver. Read More…
Hepatic lipidosis, known commonly as fatty liver, is one of the most common severe feline liver diseases in cats. The liver’s main functions include protein synthesis, the production of chemicals necessary for digestion, and the detoxification of the body. The liver also plays an important role in metabolism, the emulsification of fats, the production of coagulation factors (necessary for blood clotting), and in the decomposition of red blood cells. The liver is of such importance to the body, carrying out so many complex functions, that there is no way to compensate for the loss of the liver when it fails.
Normally, when a body is undernourished or starved, the body automatically moves fat from its reserves to the liver to be converted into lipoproteins for energy. Cat’s bodies are not designed to convert large stores of fat, so when a cat is in starvation mode, the fat that is released to the liver is not processed efficiently, resulting in a fatty and low functioning liver. As the fat accumulates in the liver it becomes swollen and turns yellow. Because it is not able to process red blood cells efficiently, the yellow pigment that makes up a portion of the red blood cell is released into the bloodstream, causing a yellowing of the eyes. If not treated promptly, hepatic lipidosis can lead to various complications and eventually death. Read More…
Preventing obesity is the best way to prevent hepatic lipidosis. Obesity can be avoided by feeding consistent meals; free choice feeding should be avoided. Consult with a veterinarian about the cat’s ideal weight and an appropriate diet. In households with multiple cats, it may be necessary to feed them separately if one cat is likely to eat another’s food. Rapid weight loss must be avoided. If a cat is obese, a veterinarian can help institute a controlled weight loss program, which may involve the use of a prescription reducing diet. Cats that are ill or have been placed in a stressful situation should have their food intake monitored closely. If a cat stops eating for more than a day or two, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately.