Hepatic Lipidosis otherwise known as Fatty Liver Syndrome (FLS) is a disease that affects our feline patients. This disease occurs more frequently in cats that are overweight who have suddenly stopped eating for any number of reasons. When the cat stops eating, the body begins to mobilize the fat stores to use as energy. The fats are carried to the liver by the bloodstream where they must be processed into more readily usable energy sources. The sudden influx of fat into the liver causes the liver cells to swell, which reduces the effectiveness of the liver in doing its normal functions. The liver is responsible for eliminating many waste products in the body. When it is not functioning properly, the toxins it usually excretes build up in the blood. As a result, the cats begin to feel nauseous and oftentimes may vomit. They lose what is left of their already poor appetite and continue to deteriorate until eventually they die.

What are the symptoms of Hepatic Lipidosis?

The early symptoms of hepatic lipidosis can mimic many different illnesses in the cat. In fact, many times, a cat may have another primary illness that causes them to stop eating and the lipidosis occurs as a secondary problem. The following are typical symptoms that are seen with Lipidosis and other liver diseases:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Sudden Weight Loss in a heavy cat
  • Yellowing of the mucous membranes
  • Yellowing of the whites of the eyes
  • “Spacy” behavior

How does our veterinary clinic diagnose Hepatic Lipidosis?

In order to diagnose Hepatic Lipidosis, our veterinarians first perform blood tests, which may indicate some dysfunction of the liver. We would then follow with x-rays and ultrasound of the liver to check for signs of cancer. Unfortunately, there are many different types of liver disease and the only way to get an accurate diagnosis is by taking a biopsy (usually using ultrasound to guide our biopsy effort) of the liver and sending it to the lab for analysis.

How does our veterinary clinic treat Hepatic Lipidosis?

Treatment of Hepatic Lipidosis depends a lot on how sick your pet is when we first make the diagnosis. Usually a few days of intravenous fluids and drugs in the hospital are required to stabilize the patient. If there is a primary reason why the cat stopped eating, our veterinarians must try to correct it (example, a broken jaw which prevented eating). Since starvation plays such a big role in the cause of this disease, we usually will implant a feeding tube into the esophagus or stomach so that we can supply the appropriate calories to reverse the starvation trend. This is usually done at the same time as the liver biopsy in order to reduce the risks of multiple anesthetics.

Our veterinary clinic then administer antibiotics (because there is often bacterial invasion of the sick liver), anti-nausea drugs and drugs to reduce the amount of ammonia formed in the intestines. Frequently, we will add appetite stimulants to the regimen in order to help get the cat back to eating as soon as possible.

What can our veterinarians expect from treating this disease?

Hepatic Lipidosis is a serious disease and has a guarded prognosis. If treated aggressively, approximately 70% of the cats treated will respond to therapy and survive the incident. Usually, the cats will start to eat again on their own within 1 to 4 weeks. Our veterinary clinic continue our supportive care and tube feeding at home until the liver enzymes are back to normal and the cat is eating on its own. Special diets are used during therapy and afterwards to help prevent future recurrence of the problem. Once this condition resolves, we must avoid obesity in the pet for the rest of its life.