Fatty liver disease, or hepatic lipidosis, is one of the most common and severe liver diseases in cats. Cats with hepatic lipidosis have little to no appetite and rapidly lose a lot of weight. It’s important to understand what causes this deadly disease in order to prevent Kitty’s potential suffering.
A Period of Anorexia
Almost all cases of feline fatty liver disease begin with a period of starvation or undernourishment. When a cat stops eating, her body goes into starvation mode. It moves fat from her reserves into her liver to be processed and converted into energy; however, the feline body is not designed to process large amounts of fat, so the liver becomes saturated in it, swelling and beginning to lose functionality. The fatty liver cycle can be difficult to stop once it’s started, and your cat will need to be tube- or force-fed a nutrient-rich diet for three to six weeks until her body adequately recovers. Without treatment liver failure and death can occur.
Overweight cats are at elevated risk for many health problems, but you should never suddenly restrict your cat’s diet to spur weight loss—gradual dietary changes are key. Obesity is one of the main risk factors for hepatic lipidosis: cats with more fat on their bodies have more fat cells that can be pulled into their livers during a period of caloric restriction. Always consult with your veterinarian before starting Kitty on any weight-loss diet.
Stress can cause your cat to shun her food bowl. Moving, boarding, the death of other pets or owners and even a trip to the veterinarian’s office can stress Kitty out. Even a few days without eating can put her at risk for hepatic lipidosis. Take extra care with her if you know she is easily stressed. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication to treat her anxiety if you know a particular stressful event is looming.
Gastrointestinal and Metabolic Disease
Gastrointestinal disease or upset can also initiate a period of anorexia. If Kitty has a foreign object in her GI tract or comes down with pancreatitis, she may feel too nauseated to eat. She’ll begin vomiting even more frequently once her liver becomes overwhelmed with fat due to hepatic lipidosis. Metabolic diseases like diabetes can also have a negative affect on her appetite and nutritional levels, becoming a cause of fatty liver disease.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.