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Fatty Liver Disease in Cats

AKA Feline Hepatic Lipidosis


Geriatric cats are prone to a number of diseases and conditions, and one of the more common ones is Fatty Liver Disease, which is an accumulation of fats (lipids) in the liver tissue. Although the disease is presently considered idiopathic (no known cause), it is thought that it might result from the way cats metabolize proteins and fats. The disease progresses this way:
  • A previously overweight cat stops eating for whatever reason
  • Lacking food, the body starts sending fat cells to the liver to process into lipoproteins for fuel.
  • Cats' livers are not terribly efficient at processing fat, and much of the fat is stored in the liver cells.
  • Left untreated, eventually the liver fails and the cat dies.

Whatever the cause, the symptoms are common: A previously overweight older cat suddenly becomes anorexic (quits eating), loses weight, and may salivate excessively or vomit. The cat may become very lethargic and may show jaundice (yellowing of skin) and icterus. However, anorexia and weight loss can also be symptoms of other diseases, such as liver cancer or pancreatic disease, and FLS (Fatty Liver Syndrome) can only be accurately diagnosed conclusively through tests. A complete blood profile may indicate increased liver enzymes, and the diagnosis can be confirmed with a liver biopsy done under light anesthesia, with a large needle through the skin.

FLS is Reversible if Caught in Time

The treatment for Fatty Liver Disease is dietary, and works quite well in reversing the condition if diagnosed early. The idea is to force feed the cat enough nutrients to reverse the metabolic malfunction that caused the condition in the first place. This is usually done with a feeding tube which is inserted into the esophogas or stomach by a veterinarian. The cat's caretaker then mixes a formula in a blender and using a syringe, feeds a small amount down the tube several times daily. After a few weeks of the forced diet, the cat can be offered food normally, to test his appetite, although the tubal feeding may need to be continued for up to six or eight weeks, until the cat's appetite has fully returned to normal.

Some caregivers who hesitate to encumber the cat with a tube have been successful with syringe feeding directly into their cat's mouth. Extreme care must be taken to feed slowly into the side of the mouth, to prevent aspiration of the food. A formula can be blended with a soft palatable food such as Hills A/D, mixed with low sodium broth or water. When I was syringe-feeding my Shannon, I added a small amount of canned pumpkin and a gel (in a tube) supplement. Your own veterinarian may prescribe a different formula for your cat.

FLS May be Secondary to Other Conditions

It is not unusual to see Fatty Liver Disease follow in a cat who is being treated for cancer, FIV, FeLV, or other serious conditions. This is likely to happen because a sick cat simply does not feel like eating, although there may be other factors involved.

Advanced Cases Need Additional Treatment

Cats presenting advanced symptoms (jaundice, seizures) will require hospitalization. Fluids may need to be injected to reverse dehydration, and if liver failure is present, the ensuing toxins will need to be dispersed. Other conditions which need veterinary intervention may also be present.

Timeliness is Essential

Although primary FLS can be readily treated if caught early, when left untreated, the disease moves rapidly, and is always fatal.

Next> Ways to Stimulate Appetite in an Anorexic Cat

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