Fatty Liver Disease in Cats

Fatty liver disease is a common feline health problem which occurs when large fat deposits build up in the liver. These fatty deposits inhibit the normal, healthy functioning of the liver. Fatty liver disease can be life-threatening if not treated right away. Here's what you should know about diagnosing, treating and preventing this feline liver disease.

Causes of Fatty Liver Disease in Cats

Fatty liver disease, or feline hepatic lipidosis, typically occurs as a result of obesity.

It's linked to a number of feline diseases, including:

Liver injury can contribute to this disease. Vets don't really understand, however, exactly what causes fatty tissue to accumulate in the liver and lead to fatty liver disease.

Vets do know that fatty liver disease usually develops in obese cats. If an obese or overweight cat experiences a significant decrease in appetite, whether due to stress or disease, fat can begin to build up in the liver, inhibiting its function.

Cats with fatty liver disease may even develop hepatic encephalopathy, a condition in which decreased liver function begins to affect your cat's brain.

Symptoms of Feline Hepatic Lipidosis

Cats with fatty liver disease often appear depressed and lethargic, especially if brain function is affected. Depression, lethargy and lowered appetite may continue for days or weeks, and weight loss can be severe. Cats may even begin to lose muscle mass. 

Cats with fatty liver disease often vomit sporadically. The whites of their eyes, their skin, and their mucus membranes may take on a yellowish tint, which is a sign of jaundice.

Diagnosing Feline Hepatic Lipidosis

If your cat has been overweight or obese, but has recently lost his appetite and begun to lose weight, your vet will suspect fatty liver disease. Your cat's liver may enlarge; your vet will be able to determine whether or not this is so by palpitating your cat's abdomen during a physical exam. Blood tests, X-rays and ultrasounds can help your vet evaluate your cat's liver function and determine the extent of the damage to your cat's liver. Your vet may choose to take a liver biopsy.

Treating Feline Fatty Liver Disease

Treating fatty liver disease largely involves nutritional support. You need to get your cat eating again to reverse the damage to his liver. High protein, calorie dense food is recommended for three to six weeks. You may need to feed your cat through a feeding tube.

Your cat may need fluid replacement therapy if fatty liver disease has left him dehydrated. He may need vitamin supplements, since the liver may be unable to store, produce and distribute the vitamins he needs.

If fatty liver disease has affected your cat's brain, medications like neomycin can help. Antibiotics may be necessary if your cat has developed a secondary infection. 

About 35% of cats with fatty liver disease die. The others recover in three to six weeks. Your cat may need continued nutritional support for weeks or months. Fortunately, most cats don't suffer lasting liver damage due to fatty liver disease.