By Sari Reis
Feline hepatic lipidosis, also known as feline fatty liver disease, is one of the most common and life-threatening liver conditions a cat can develop. It begins when a cat stops eating and, if left untreated, can result in complete liver failure and death. Although any cat can develop this syndrome, it is more frequently diagnosed in obese cats.
Reasons a cat may stop eating include: 1) a change in their diet; 2) environmental stress such as moving or being boarded; 3) a new pet or baby introduced; 4) house guests; 5) separation anxiety and other types of emotional stress.
As a cat owner, it is essential to observe the eating habits of your cat, monitoring both intake and output on a daily basis. It only takes 48 hours of not eating for the disease process to begin.
In multi-cat households, where cats share bowls or a feeder, it becomes a challenge determining if all the kitties are eating sufficiently.
Familiarizing yourself with the signs of fatty liver disease is one way to catch it and begin treatment before it advances and becomes dangerous. Symptoms include diminished appetite; hiding in unusual places; lethargy; jaundice (yellowing in the eyes and ears); dehydration, vomiting, rapid weight loss, constipation; insufficient fecal material in the litter box; and drooling.
Diagnosing fatty liver disease involves getting a complete medical history, observing clinical indications, extensive blood work and an abdominal ultrasound. X-rays and an aspirate might also be included to rule out other possible causes for the symptoms.
Because the liver is such a complex organ with numerous functions, there is no way to compensate for it when it fails. Cats’ bodies are not intended to convert large storages of fat, so when it goes into starvation mode, the fat released into the liver is ineffectively processed causing a fatty and poorly functioning liver. The accumulated fat in the liver causes it to swell and turn yellow. Through various changes in the bloodstream, the yellow pigment in the blood cells can cause the eyes and ears to turn yellow, giving the jaundiced appearance.
Once diagnosed, treatment needs to be aggressive and involves IV fluids, anti-vomiting medication, appetite stimulants, antibiotics, vitamin supplements, and the possibility of a feeding tube and/or forced feeding.
Following the instructions of the veterinarian religiously and ensuring the cat is eating and drinking is absolutely essential to the kitty’s recovery.
The good news is, with the rapid introduction of aggressive veterinary care and supportive assistance by the pet guardian, the prognosis is excellent. It can, however, take up to 12 weeks for a kitty to fully recover depending on the severity of the symptoms and how well it responds to treatment. Close observation of your cat’s eating habits and a quick response if they change, is the key to avoiding this dangerous condition.
—Sari Reis is a Certified Humane Education Specialist and the owner of Mission Valley Pet Sitting services. For more information you can contact her at 760-644-0289 or www.missionvalleypetsitting.com.