As we discussed in our previous blog about feeding tubes, one of the most common conditions requiring the placement of a feeding tube is hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. Hepatic lipidosis causes liver failure when an overweight cat loses weight too quickly or goes several days without eating. Owners of overweight cats are often thrilled that their chubby kitties seem to be shedding weight, not realizing that potentially life-threatening changes to the liver could be occurring.

Dog parents, perk up your ears – hepatic lipidosis does occasionally occur in dogs, but it’s usually seen incidentally secondary to metabolic and endocrine diseases such as diabetes and hypothyroid disease. This one tends to occur mainly in feline friends.

The domino effect

Cats are built to eat multiple small meals throughout the day, and they work for their meals. Think of how a feral cat would eat – chasing a chipmunk here, trapping a mouse there, and so on. This keeps them slim and healthy. But house cats of today are often overweight or obese due to an overabundance of food and a lack of exercise.

When cats fall ill, many of them stop eating, causing their bodies to go into starvation mode. In an effort to stay nourished, the body will mobilize stored fat and send it to the liver for processing. Unfortunately, the liver isn’t meant to handle large amounts of fat, so it builds up and leads to liver failure.

As we discussed in the feeding tubes blog, it doesn’t take long for a cat who stops eating to become ill. Just 48 hours of anorexia can start the domino effect that leads to hospitalization and severe illness. Even if your cat is still eating half to three-quarters of his normal diet, he could be at risk.

Signs and symptoms 

The cardinal signs of hepatic lipidosis are poor appetite and weight loss, of course, but also include gastrointestinal signs like vomiting and diarrhea or constipation, as well as signs of liver disease, such as yellowing of the skin, gums, and whites of the eyes.


The mainstay of treatment is aggressive nutritional support. This is where a feeding tube helps. Placement of a feeding tube allows a cat who is refusing to eat to maintain his weight and nutritional status. Cats with hepatic lipidosis often require hospitalization for some period of time, and cats with severe signs may require quite a lengthy stay while they recover, so having cat insurance that helps with the hospital bills like Petplan can be a great benefit.

Treatment of hepatic lipidosis must also address the underlying cause that made the affected kitty stop eating in the first place. In addition to fluids and nutritional support, general liver support will be needed. One in four patients will also need a blood transfusion due to red blood cell rupture and vitamin K deficiencies that lead to clotting disorders.

Aggressive treatment is expensive, but the good news is, it’s effective. A full 90% of patients with hepatic lipidosis survive with aggressive support. So if you notice your kitty leaving more food in her bowl than usual, get her to the vet!

Dec 17, 2012
Pet Health

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