Fatty liver, also known as hepatic lipidosis, is the most common liver disease in cats. When the body is in starvation mode, it quickly shifts fat cells to the liver. It does this so the liver can convert the fat into lipoproteins for energy. However, the cat’s liver is not very good at converting these fat cells. So, the fat accumulates in the liver. As the fat builds up, the liver starts to lose its ability to function.
The liver has many jobs in the body. These include: detoxification, protein synthesis, and the production of chemicals used in digestion. The liver also helps break down red blood cells and produces clotting factors to aid in blood clotting. Because of its many jobs, when the liver starts to fail, you will see several symptoms.
Hepatic lipidosis is usually caused by a cat’s loss of appetite. This can be caused by illness (such as diabetes or kidney disease), stress, extreme diet restrictions by owners, or being lost.
The most obvious symptom is yellowing of the eyes and mucous membranes. This is referred to as jaundice in people, but is referred to as icterus in animals. Other symptoms include: anorexia, vomiting, lethargy, neurologic symptoms, and depression.
Treatment will often require hospitalization and includes: fluid therapy, diet changes, and mineral supplements.
The most important treatment is prevention by paying close attention to your cat’s eating habits. If your cat loses its appetite, it is important to discover the underlying cause and get it treated before the liver starts to deteriorate. Hepatic lipidosis can be life-threatening, so the earlier treatment is started, the higher chance of your cat’s liver recovering.