How Can I Treat My Cat Who Has Hepatic Lipidosis?

CatChannel and CAT FANCY veterinary expert Arnold Plotnick, DVM, shares information on how to help a cat with fatty liver disease.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM | Posted: November 25, 2011, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: My 12-year-old cat has hepatic lipidosis. My vet said it was curable. He gave me an IV of fluid to give my cat once a day, a vitamin supplement, pills and a capsule to sprinkle on food. My cat is not eating. Is it time to put my cat down, or how much time should I give my cat to respond to medication? I love her very much but I don’t want her to suffer. She has not eaten in more than 5 days.
A: Hepatic lipidosis (also called “fatty liver disease”) is a liver disorder in which excessive amounts of fat accumulate within the cells of the liver, and the excess fat impairs liver function. Adult cats of either sex can be affected; middle aged to older cats are most commonly affected. Clinical signs of hepatic lipidosis may include vomiting, weight loss, drooling, jaundice (yellow discoloration to the gums, skin and whites of the eyes) and mental dullness. The most consistent sign, however, is poor appetite. Cats with fatty liver disease simply will not eat.

Although the exact cause of hepatic lipidosis is unknown, obesity is thought to be a risk factor. Typically, a stressful event such as a move to a new household or the addition of a new pet or person to the family leads to a period of decreased appetite and weight loss, and can then trigger the onset of hepatic lipidosis. Hepatic lipidosis can also occur secondary to other illnesses, such as diabetes.

Hepatic lipidosis is treatable, although not every cat will recover from the disease. The treatment is food: Food, food, food. Getting food into a cat who doesn’t want to eat can be a challenge. The best way to ensure that cats with hepatic lipidosis receive adequate, consistent nutrition is to have your vet place a feeding tube in your cat. The most commonly used feeding tube is an esophagostomy tube – a tube that goes into the esophagus through a small incision in the side of the neck. Although this sounds dramatic, it really is not too bad. Once placed, owners can feed a high calorie diet, as well as administer various other necessary medications, until the condition resolves.  
In my opinion, your cat is not being treated aggressively enough. You cannot just offer food and see if your cat will eat it. Medications may help with some symptoms, but they do not take the place of aggressive nutritional support. If you cannot afford to have a feeding tube placed, you can attempt to force feed using a syringe and commercially prepared high-calorie prescription diets. Most cats will not cooperate, however. This is why a feeding tube is imperative.  

The prognosis for this illness used to be poor, however, the increasing ease and popularity of esophageal feeding tubes has made force feeding much easier, and the prognosis is now considered to be good. Good luck with your cat.
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Reader Comments

Jeff    Enid, OK

11/26/2014 1:48:23 PM

My cat has the Hepatic lipidosis too. The cause is unknown. Have been feeding her thru a tube for almost 5 weeks now. She sits still and gladly accepts the food and water but acts mostly very depressed like. At least once a day she comes out when I feed the wet food to the other cats and tries to eat some but usually only takes about a spoonful before she stops and goes back to her bed under a futon. She used to have trouble walking because she was so weak, but she is better at that now. It's still hard to know whether I should keep this up for months like some articles say or put her to sleep. Anyone have any advice.

Tracy    Toronto, ON

3/10/2012 7:12:47 AM

My cat after a battle of 6 weeks has survived lipidosis which was secondary to him developing pancreatitis. He spent a week as an outpatient at the vets where they force fed him , hydrated him daily and administered antibiotic. Within a week of that treatment at the vets and continually force feeding every few hours at home he began to lick at some canned food, he relapsed 3 days later and became very jaundiced, we were heartbroken,but determined to try to give him one more shot, so we began force feeding again every few hours and within another week of that he began eating his canned food and nibble some dry. I offered him canned food during the force feeding and finally found the only canned food he would take any interest in was the minced science diet fish formula, slowly we noticed him beginning to have more energy and now is coming to the kitchen for feeding time. Force feeding was not to bad once you and kitty get the hang of it, found some very helpful youtube videos and went from there. I bought a couple of 15 cc syringes from Petsmart, fed Hills A/D formula through the syringe, placed him on a towel, sat on my knees with him wedged between my legs and slowly squeezed a small amount in the side of his mouth , never in the front, always the side towards the roof of his mouth, fed him only about 15cc every 2-3 hrs , as I had to work he was fed 2 syringes before I left and than 3 -4 more from the time I got home until bedtime and always left the dry out and offered the canned. I know this is late but we were very worried about our kitty as it seemed like he would never get better but one day he just started to lick at the food, I usually feed a healthy all natural diet but at the moment needed to get anything into him even if it was not the best food, tried every canned food I could find until I found one that he took interest in, hope this helps others with the same problem.

Cathy    Hubbard, OH

12/15/2011 6:06:11 AM

This was a very interesting article. Thank you. I hope this person was able to save their kitty!

0-    o, MD

12/14/2011 12:07:42 AM


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