Pet Care 

Feline Hepatic Lipidosis

Feline Hepatic Lipidosis is a condition affecting cats, and which involves the accumulation of fat in the liver. Left untreated the disorder can result in liver failure and blockage of the bile ducts. It’s considered to be the most common liver disease in cats, and usually develops after an extended period of inappetence or anorexia.


When animals fail to consume their energy requirements (which often occurs when they don’t eat for a while), the body has to resort to other forms of energy to meet the demands of the body. This energy is sourced from fat stores in the body, and as the fat is mobilised it accumulates in the liver.


Causes of Feline Hepatic Lipidosis in cats

Any underlying disease or event that causes anorexia can potentially pre-dispose cats to developing Feline Hepatic Lipidosis. The most common reasons why cats stop eating include:


  • Stressful events such as boarding, moving, new cat in the house


  • Diabetes mellitus


  • Pancreatitis


  • Underlying cholangiohepatitis


  • Intestinal blockage from a foreign body


Although the disease can occur in any cat, obese and overweight cats have a much higher pre-disposition to developing Feline Hepatic Lipidosis.



Symptoms of Hepatic Lipidosis in cats


Clinical symptoms observed with hepatic lipidosis are consistent to symptoms associated with most liver disorders. Generally speaking, most cats will experience signs of:


  • Jaundice


  • Vomiting


  • Weight loss



Occasionally neurological signs consistent with hepatic encephalopathy are also seen. In hepatic encephalopathy, the liver damage prevents it from filtering and eliminating various metabolites, causing a buildup of toxins in the blood. These toxins cross the blood/brain barrier and enter into the cerebral (brain) circulation, leading to various neurological symptoms. Mild symptoms of feline hepatic lipidosis include:



  • Anorexia or Inappetence (can act as both an underlying cause and a clinical symptom associated with the disease)


  • Vomiting


  • Diarrhoea


  • Weight loss


  • Jaundice


  • Lethargy



Severe symptoms include:


  • Neurological Symptoms



How vets diagnose Hepatic Lipidosis in cats

The tests a vet will perform to diagnose Feline Hepatic Lipidosis are very similar to the diagnostics used to identify all liver diseases and pathologies. In addition to a full clinical examination and history taking, your vet may choose to do any of the following tests:


  • Full blood profile and biochemistry


  • Addition blood tests, including bile acids and coagulation profiles


  • Imaging including ultrasound and radiographs


  • Biopsies and fine needle aspirates of liver tissue for histopathology


Treatment for Feline Hepatic Lipidosis

When treating Feline Hepatic Lipidosis, vets will keep the following therapeutic goals in mind:


  • Treat the underlying anorexia that caused the problem in the first place


  • Provide symptomatic treatment where necessary



The primary treatment aim is to commence feeding as soon as possible. This is necessary to return your cat to their normal energy balance as soon as possible and to halt sourcing energy from internal fat supplies.  To avoid the continual mobilisation and accumulation of fat in the liver, dietary supplementation is implemented (often with the use of feeding tubes). Energy in the form of food must be supplied regularly from the commencement of treatment.



Supportive therapy is also required in order to get cats eating again as soon as possible. Treatment typically involves the following:


  • Fluids and electrolyte therapy


  • Appetite stimulants i.e. cyprohepitidine or diazepam


  • Supplementary feeding via a feeding tube placed in either the nose, oesophagus or stomach


  • Dietary management, usually in association with a feeding tube




If Feline Hepatic Lipidosis is treated early and aggressively, and any underlying issues are resolved, most cats will make a full recovery.


Final thoughts

Feline Hepatic Lipidosis generally occurs when overweight cats go through a period of inappetence and anorexia. Liver disease develops due to an accumulation of fat in the liver, which occurs as a direct result of your cat attempting to source their energy requirements from their fat stores rather than their diet. The condition is treated by commencing feeding (whether voluntarily or via a feeding tube) immediately, and providing symptomatic therapy.

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