Feline Fatty Liver Syndrom (FLS)

Feline fatty liver syndrome, or feline heptatic lipidosis, is believed to result from the way cats metabolize fats and proteins. FLS occurs mostly in older cats, when fats, or lipids, accumulate in the liver tissue. Fortunately, if caught in time, FLS is reversible.

Progression and Symptoms of FLS

Feline fatty liver syndrome progresses like this:

  • An overweight cat stops eating; this can occur for a number of reasons.
  • The body begins sending fat cells to the liver to be processed for fuel.
  • The feline liver isn't efficient at processing fat cells, so the fat begins to accumulate in the liver.
  • Eventually, the liver fails, causing death.
  • The symptoms of cat fatty liver disease are easy to recognize. An overweight, usually geriatric, cat suddenly stops eating and displays extreme weight loss. The cat may begin vomiting and salivating excessively. The cat may also become lethargic, and display signs of jaundice (a yellowing of the whites of the eyes and the skin).

Because anorexia and jaundice may be symptoms of other diseases, such as liver cancer, your vet will need to perform tests to accurately diagnose FLS. A complete blood profile may show an increase in liver enzymes. A liver biopsy can confirm the diagnosis.

Treating Feline Fatty Liver Syndrome

Feline heptatic lipidosis is reversible if caught early. Treatment is dietary, and involves feeding the cat nutrients through a feeding tube inserted in the stomach or esophagus. At home, you'll need to mix a formula and insert it into the feeding tube via syringe several times a day. Normal feeding can usually be resumed after a few weeks, though some cats need as many as six to eight weeks to recover enough for normal feeding to resume.

Some owners may not feel comfortable with a feeding tube. It's possible to syringe feed the formula directly into your cat's mouth, though care must be taken to ensure your cat doesn't choke on the food. Cats who enjoy a calm disposition may be more suited to this type of feeding approach.

In advanced cases, cats may require hospitalization. Fluid therapy may be needed to combat dehydration. If your cat's liver has failed, toxins will need to be removed from his body. Your veterinarian will likely want to examine your cat for underlying medical conditions.

FLS as a Secondary Condition

In many cases, feline fatty liver syndrome occurs as a secondary condition in cats suffering from cancer, FIV, FeLV or other serious medical conditions. This is common because many sick cats lose their appetites, and it's the lack of food that causes your cat's body to begin sending fatty cells to the liver.

Encouraging Your Anorexic Cat to Eat

With aggressive treatment and early detection, most cats can recover fully from feline FLS. If your cat stops eating, especially if he's overweight, prevent FLS by keeping him well hydrated and tempting him with tasty food.

Dehydration can cause your cat to lose his appetite. Make his water seem more appealing by adding a little salt-free chicken broth. If your cat is older, his sense of smell may be deteriorating, and this will damage his appetite. Help him along by warming his canned food, so that it smells more strongly.