Feline Hepatic Lipidosis: Fatty Liver Disease in Cats
Feline Hepatic Lipidosis, or Feline Fatty Liver Disease, is most often caused by a cat going long periods without eating for one reason or another. As a result, the cat's liver begins to digest the stored fat, using the fat to make its fuel. Unfortunately, since a cat's liver is not as efficient as most other mammals, some of the fat gets trapped in the liver, which causes this disease. If the pink portions of a cat, such as the ears and gums, begin to have a yellow tint, it is important to take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible to make sure they do not have this horrible disease.
Once the disease is discovered in the cat, it is imperative that the reason they were not eating is found. Was it a lack of appetite? Did the brand of cat food change, and they didn't like the texture, taste, smell, etc.? Did their owner go on vacation and they did not eat because they were upset? Is there something else ailing the cat that caused him not to have his normal appetite that needs to be treated?
Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease in Cats
- Sudden weight loss
- Low appetite
- Excessive salivating
- Increased lethargy
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin)
The first symptom you will see is the sudden weight loss. You may also notice that your cat does not have its typical eating habits. For our cat, he refused to eat our new cat food and began trying to scavenge for food on our counters. We began hiding our own food, and that's when we realized he was beginning to lose weight. We decided to switch food, and at first, he was eating his new food, so we thought everything was okay.
Unfortunately, his liver had already been affected, and this made him not feel very well, so he slowly ate less and less. Because jaundice is often delayed, it took a couple of days for us to notice the yellowing, after he had already lost a significant amount of weight. We first noticed this in his ears, where you could see the skin had a slight yellow hue. The first time I saw it, I thought it was the lighting, but then it was very evident. The whites of his eyes were yellow, his skin was yellow, even the inside of his mouth was yellow.
We never really noticed any excessive salivating, but he did throw up occasionally. This was not unusual for this cat. We did nickname him pukey, after all. (He would often puke up hairballs, or his food, due to excessive gorging.) Unfortunately, our cat is also a very laid back cat. So to see him sleep all day and cuddle was not unusual. But in retrospect, we realized, he stopped jumping on top of the cupboards where he liked to go when he wanted to be alone. He also stopped attacking the other cat. This was one of his favorite pastimes and our other cats least favorite pastime, but it was amusing. We felt bad we didn't notice this, but his personality didn't seem to change since he was already a very mellow cat.
A Healthy Cat Ear
How to Test For Fatty Liver Disease
This a very serious disease and should be checked out immediately if you suspect your cat has fatty liver disease. Your veterinarian will have a very good idea when he sees your cat. For instance, the moment I brought my cat in, all I said was, "We switched food, and he wouldn't eat it, by the time we finally went back to his old food, he started losing weight. Today when I woke up, I noticed that his ears are very yellow." He instantly knew, but he did a blood panel anyway. In some cases, they would do a liver biopsy under light anesthesia, but in our case the blood panel was sufficient.
There are other reasons why a cat might begin to lose weight and become jaundice. In our case, we could see that it was not caused by an infection or cancer. The only enzymes that were out of whack were the liver enzymes. He knew that most likely our cat had essentially starved himself and caused himself to have Fatty Liver Disease. Cats are unique in that after only two to three days of not eating, their fat will begin to store in their liver causing some liver damage. So if a cat doesn't like his food for whatever reason, or he feels emotional over his owner's vacation trip, they can bring this upon themselves. In the case of Mr. Nibbles, he did just that.
Force Feeding Your Cat
Treatment Options for Your Cat
The truth is, this illness can be fatal. In fact, if not caught earlier enough, it is almost always fatal. Fortunately, if you catch it soon enough, there are treatments. The main thing is to get them to start storing fat again. So your primary objective is to get them to eat.
In Mr. Nibbles' case, we had to force-feed him with a syringe and give him a medication called Denosyl (90 mg) once a day. In some cases, the doctor will suggest inserting a feeding tube into their esophagus. Fortunately, and partly due to my cat's mellow behavior, we were able to force-feed him through a syringe. You must do this from anywhere between three and six weeks because they have to flush that fat out of their liver and build fat up again.
This disease kind of works in a circular fashion. The reason I say this is because it all begins with the cat choosing not to eat for whatever reason. Unfortunately, the worse they feel the less likely they will eat, which only exacerbates the problem. By force-feeding them, you are not only giving them nutrients so their liver begins to function again, but also causing them to feel better so they will want to eat again.
If the cat's disease is found soon enough, they have a 90 percent chance of survival. Unfortunately in some cases, like that of our cat Mr. Nibbles, they will begin to progress and get healthier. Then die of a related cause. Our cat ended up dying of a stroke, which is common among cats with fatty liver disease. Even though he started to fight the disease, his body was causing blood clots and one eventually traveled to his brain. He went from beginning to walk normally, to not even being able to jump up on our lap. We knew instantly, things had turned for the worse. He died within a few short hours after his walking became impaired.
A Healthy Cat Mouth
What to Feed Your Cat
Honestly, feed them whatever they are willing to eat. With Mr. Nibbles, we force-fed him special high nutrient canned cat food, but offered him tuna and other things in hopes that he would want to eat. One cat lover actually syringe fed their cat canned pumpkin, because it is high in nutrients. Often this is a food that cats really like as well, so it might be a good choice. But feel free to offer your cat whatever you want. It may not be the ideal cat food, but the point is to get your cat to eat on its own, You have to get it to feel good enough to want to eat—so by offering some of your cat's guilty pleasures that he'll sneak when your back is turned is probably the best bet.
Along with food, it's important to make sure your cat is drinking enough. Fortunately canned cat food has plenty of liquid, but still, you want to make sure they are not becoming dehydrated since this is a common problem in cats with feline hepatic lipidosis. We were fortunate in that our cat never stopped drinking. But you may want to make your food for the cat extra watery to make sure he is getting the appropriate amount of liquid.
Generally, stinkier foods will interest your cat the most: eggs, canned cat food, tuna, baby food, and canned pumpkin are good choices. Feel free to try anything in hopes one of them will be the winner.
Good luck with your cat. I hope your cat has good success. Remember if you catch this early enough they have a 90 percent success rate!
- What Is Feline Hepatic Lipidosis or Fatty Liver Disease?
Fatty liver disease in cats can be cured by dietary means when diagnosed in time, but left untreated it can be fatal.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
My 10-year-old female cat was diagnosed with fatty liver disease she stopped eating and I had to force feed her for a few days. She started eating on her own for about 1 1/2 days and then she stopped eating again. I noticed her ears looked yellow, and her lip line of her mouth also. What do I do to help my cat's fatty liver disease until I can get her to the vet?
Unfortunately, force feeding her is all you can do, and get her in as soon as possible. This is a very serious condition. Make sure you explain what is going on to your vet, so they will get her in quickly.Helpful 4
My 11-year-old cat has become jaundice. We have been to the vet, and they have given me some urgent care canned food to force-feed. But I didn’t think to ask them how often should I be syringe feeding. I’ve been feeding 60cc every 4 hours. Is that enough, or is that too often. Just wondering if anyone had any ideas because my vet is closed until Monday, so I won’t be able to call and ask them over the weekend?
© 2011 Angela Michelle Schultz