Fatty Liver Disease in Cats - Symptoms & Treatment

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. June 24, 2021
Fatty Liver Disease in Cats - Symptoms & Treatment

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A lack of appetite is a sign of illness in cats. Unfortunately, the range of illnesses are vast and cover both physiological and psychological problems. Some are milder than others. Fatty liver disease is one such pathology which can cause a reduced appetite in cats. It is also one which poses a serious threat to the cat's health and well-being. In fact, if treatment is not implemented in time, the cat has a 90% fatality rate.

At AnimalWised, we explain everything you need to know about fatty liver disease in cats, also known as hepatic lipidosis. Specifically, we look at the causes, symptoms and treatment required for the cat to be given the best chance at survival.

You may also be interested in: Symptoms of Liver Failure in Cats

What is fatty liver disease in cats?

Scientifically known as hepatic lipidosis, fatty liver disease is a condition which can affect cats of any breed, regardless if they are male or female. As the name suggests, the disease causes the accumulation of fat in the liver. This fat prevents the organ from functioning properly, something which can cause their entire organism to fail. For this reason, fatty liver disease in cats has a high mortality rate.

Hepatic lipidosis can affect cats of any age. However, it is most common in domestic cats over 5 years of age. Weight is a contributing factor, so cats affected by obesity are at particular risk. Diet and nutrition are also important. It can often occur when the cat's feeding cycle is changed.

When the cat has insufficient food, the body will begin to transport food to the liver in order to process their fat reserves. This can be fine in small amounts, but if it occurs over a prolonged period of time, the liver will be overloaded and unable to properly synthesize the fat. This leads to fat accumulation which can cause the liver to fail completely.

A sudden change in diet or reduction in food often instigates fatty liver disease. This could be for various reasons. For example, some obese cats are put onto strict diets to lose weight quickly, but the shock can cause the liver to malfunction. Certain health conditions can make the cat lose their appetite, meaning the fatty liver occurs as a secondary disease.

Many cats have short illnesses during which they lose their appetite for a day or two. In these cases, fatty liver disease is unlikely since it requires time for the organ to store up the fat. However, if a cat is not eating after 24 hours, you should take them to a veterinarian for diagnosis.

Causes of fatty liver in cats

The reason obesity is a factor in fatty liver disease is because they have more fat to enter the liver. If they are overweight to begin with, it will put strain on the hepatic system and cause fat accumulation. However, many people try to quickly reduce an obese cat's weight by drastically reducing their food intake. In this case, the liver can build up fat very quickly and cause serious problems.

Any factor which causes the cat to stop eating very suddenly can lead to fatty liver disease. This can be the result of various pathologies which cause the cat to lose their appetite. Stress and anxiety can also cause the cat to stop eating. There are various reasons a cat is stressed, but it is often related to a change in routine. Sudden trauma can also make a cat stop eating.

Disease related to hepatic lipidosis include polycystic kidney disease, pancreatitis, gastroenteritis, cancer and all types of diabetes in cats. If a cat has oral problems, such as periodontal disease or even trauma to this area, it can make eating difficult. When a cat cannot eat, the liver will start to use up fat deposits.

In a similar way, an inconsistent meal schedule can generate stress in a cat. While this won't be a significant problem in the short-term, long-term liver disease can occur.

Symptoms of fatty liver disease in cats

As loss of appetite is the most obvious symptom of feline hepatic lipidosis. We can see this in the fact the cat's food bowl remains full and in the cat starting to lose weight. Your cat may also experience vomiting and/or diarrhea. Constipation, dehydration, fatigue and general listlessness will likely develop. This is because the cats are not getting the nutrition they need and will not have the energy to function optimally.

When liver failure occurs, bilirubin levels increase and jaundice becomes noticeable. This causes a yellowing of the skin, gums and eyeballs. Tremors may also occur, and the cat will adopt an indolent attitude towards itself, causing them to stop grooming themselves.

For more information, take a look at our article on the symptoms of liver failure in cats.

Fatty liver disease in cats diagnosis

When fatty liver disease is suspected, the initial examination by a veterinarian will involve palpitating the cat's abdomen. They may first suspect a liver problem if the cat's skin is turning yellow or they are showing other signs of jaundice. To confirm feline hepatic lipidosis, the veterinarian will have to carry our the following tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen
  • Liver biopsy
  • X-ray of the abdomen

The ultrasound will be used to detect any swelling or changes in the liver. A biopsy consists of taking a sample of the liver wall with a needle. In some cats, surgery may be necessary to take a larger sample.

In addition, according to the physical examination, you will need to provide the medical history and behavioral changes of the cat leading up to the examination. This will help the veterinarian know what tests are required since the symptoms are shared with other pathologies.

Fatty Liver Disease in Cats - Symptoms & Treatment - Fatty liver disease in cats diagnosis

Treating fatty liver disease in cats

When a cat is first diagnosed with hepatic lipidosis, they will most likely require hospitalization for a few days. During this time, the cat will be administered fluid therapy. This is necessary to combat dehydration, restore strength and provide essential nutrients for the body.

This initial hospitalization is emergency care. The most important thing is that the cat is able to eat again. This can be complicated in many cases. It will not be sufficient to simply offer then food, even if it is their favorite. Even though treatment has begun, it is likely they will not have regained their appetite.

Assisted feeding is required in many cases of fatty liver disease in cats. We can try making a slurry of appropriate food and introducing it into the cat's mouth using a syringe. If this is not successful, the cat may need to be tube-fed by the veterinarian. This is very uncomfortable as it puts the tube directly into the cat's stomach. This treatment could be necessary for weeks or even months. The cost and discomfort will be factors in how the cat's treatment will proceed.

he disease that has produced the liver failure must be treated. Medications that stimulate appetite are often recommended, since the final objective is not only to control the condition, but also that the cat can have a normal life. Eventually, they should return to eating normally on their own. The veterinarian will also detail the changes in diet which need to be made to protect the liver and any other lifestyle changes required to help manage the symptoms.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Fatty Liver Disease in Cats - Symptoms & Treatment, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

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