Hepatic lipidosis is most commonly diagnosed in overweight cats that stop eating adequate amounts. The body responds to the lack of caloric intake by mobilizing fat reserves, which are deposited in the liver and can overwhelm the organ and prevent its normal function. Cats suffering from hepatic lipidosis are sometimes said to have a "fatty liver."
A cat with hepatic lipidosis will often have abnormally yellow or pale mucous membranes and skin, lose weight, become weak, vomit and have diarrhea. After the disease has become established, cats feel bad enough that they usually won't eat even when they are offered foods that they normally couldn't resist. When a veterinarian suspects hepatic lipidosis, he or she will order some or all of the following tests to definitively diagnose the condition: routine blood work, a bile acid test, an abdominal ultrasound, and liver aspirates or biopsies.
Treatment for hepatic lipidosis centers on providing nutritional support to prevent additional fat from being sent to the liver and giving the organ time to repair itself. Force-feeding can be successful in some cases, but most animals do best with placement of a long-lasting feeding tube. Fluid therapy, vitamins and medications that protect the liver and promote its healing are also frequently prescribed. A blood transfusion may also be necessary in severe cases. Unless irreversible liver damage has occurred or an underlying medical problem cannot be adequately treated, most cats with hepatic lipidosis can be expected to return to full health as long as they are treated aggressively. Owners need to be aware, however, that some cats need to be fed through a tube for months until they begin to eat adequately on their own.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008