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Telltale signs of fatty liver disease in cats and how to treat them

 by jennifer on 12 Mar 2021 |
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Fatty liver disease is a serious condition that can be fatal for felines. Here are signs of the disease and ways to treat it.

Telltale signs of fatty liver disease in cats and how to treat them


Cats have a reputation for being picky eaters, but if your companion is avoiding food altogether, it can lead to a common but serious condition known as fatty liver disease. Formally known as hepatic lipidosis, this disease can be fatal if left untreated. Fortunately for pet parents, recognizing and treating signs of this deadly disease can lead to a positive prognosis for the majority of pets.

Fatty liver disease occurs when a cat does not get enough nourishment, causing his body to move fat from its reserves to the liver to be converted into energy. Because cats’ bodies are not designed to convert large amounts of fat in this way, this can cause a build-up of lipids in the liver, leading to swelling and impaired function. The liver serves many roles in your pet’s body from synthesizing proteins and fats to storing vitamins, creating fluids needed for digestion, reducing toxins in chemical compounds and producing hormones. With so many roles to fill, it is no wonder a failing liver can be a life-threatening condition for our pets.

In most cases, hepatic lipidosis is a secondary symptom of another condition such as inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, pancreatitis, or some other inflammatory disease. Other reasons cats may stop eating include stress due to separation anxiety, moving, or other significantly life-altering events. Pets of any age can suffer from the disease, though it is most likely to affect middle-aged and senior cats, especially if they are overweight. The condition results in life-threatening complications if left unchecked, so it is important to recognize and treat the symptoms of fatty liver disease as early as possible. In addition to weight loss, watch for increasingly reclusive behavior, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, loss of muscle, drooling and physical collapse as signs your cat’s liver may be impaired. If you recognize these signs in your pet, seek veterinary care immediately.

Your vet can diagnose fatty liver disease with a physical exam, bloodwork, tissue sample or ultrasound. While prognosis can be good for pets treated for the condition, your companion may need weeks or even months of assisted feeding and treatment of other underlying conditions to recover. Cats are sometimes hospitalized and receive medicine multiple times daily, and typically a feeding tube is required to help Kitty make a full recovery. Once home, cats should be in a quiet, low-stress location in the home.

Though you cannot protect your pet entirely from fatty liver disease entirely, you can reduce his risk of developing the condition by helping him maintain a healthy weight and diet and reducing stressors in his environment. If you pet needs to lose weight, be sure to gradually reduce his portions to avoid any sudden, extreme weight loss that can trigger the condition. If he has recovered from fatty liver disease, maintaining a consistent weight can help keep your pet healthy, too.

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