Can poor appetite hurt your cat? Learn about hepatic lipidosis

Treatment of feline hepatic lipidosis
Treatment of hepatic lipidosis usually include force feeding a cat using a syringe or tube.

Hepatic lipidosis, also known by the name, fatty liver disease, is among the most common diseases in cats. In recent history, before the cause of fatty liver disease was identified, it resulted in a high mortality rate, which is still a concern if the hepatic lipidosis is left untreated.

In this article, you are going to learn what hepatic lipidosis in cats is, what causes it, and most important, how to treat and avoid feline hepatic lipidosis in the future.

Causes of hepatic lipidosis in cats

Hepatic lipidosis is a fat accumulation in the liver that makes it function improperly. While there may still be debates over details about the causes of hepatic lipidosis, there are several things that veterinary medicine agrees upon:

  1. Partial or complete anorexia usually precedes hepatic lipidosis in cats. Most commonly, prolonged anorexia for at least a week can be blamed; however, complete anorexia of just two days’ length may also induce hepatic lipidosis. This is why we state that in cases where a cat does not eat, it’s extremely crucial to restore food consumption. As you will see, compulsory feeding is the key to treating fatty liver disease.
  2. Obesity is also a key risk factor for the development of hepatic lipidosis in cats. Not all, but almost all cats with hepatic lipidosis are either obese or have a recent history of overweight. So yes, extra weight is not just a cosmetic disorder; it creates high health concerns. Find out more information about harms from obesity in cats.
  3. Stress is also a common predecessor of fatty liver disease in cats. Prolonged stress or a fearful event may result in a cat refusing food, which may go unnoticed by the owner, especially if the cat is fed on a free-choice schedule in a multi-cat household. Most common causes of stress are listed here.
  4. Low quality cat food. This refers to a cat food that contains too little protein. A wild cat’s diet consists mainly of protein, while most commercial cat foods contain very little. Therefore, even though the cat eats a lot and his tummy is full, low protein creates damage similar to partial anorexia. You can learn more about the properties of quality cat food here.
  5. Other medical disorders may induce hepatic lipidosis as well. The most common disorders are diabetes, hepatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, renal failure, obstruction in the hepatic system, and others. In such cases, the real struggle is to treat the primary disease, because without that, hepatic lipidosis will resist treatment.

Signs of feline hepatic lipidosis

Below is a list of signs you should be aware of. Remember, all of them can point to a large number of medical conditions; therefore, if you notice any of them, an immediate vet visit is mandatory.

  • Anorexia is both a cause and symptom of feline hepatic lipidosis. It is initiated by inadequate nutrition and also accelerates further loss of appetite. This is usually the first thing noticed by cat owners.
  • Rapid weight loss due to anorexia, commonly with a history of obesity. A similar pattern may also be present in diabetes.
  • Loss of muscle mass. Since the liver is not functioning properly, the body’s ability to receive energy from fat is extremely impaired; therefore it starts to convert protein (that is, muscles) to create energy.
  • Yellowish skin, mucous membrane and eyeballs (the white part) is also a common sign of most liver disorders.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea may or may not be present.

How to treat and prevent hepatic lipidosis

The prognosis for cats with hepatic lipidosis ranges from average to very good. It primarily depends on how early the diagnosis is made and how much effort the owner puts in.

1. Visit a veterinarian

Treating feline hepatic lipidosis is not something you should do on your own. Similar signs can be present in other diseases, and your cat’s hepatic lipidosis can be caused by an underlying medical condition.

To confirm hepatic lipidosis, your veterinarian will have to run blood and urine tests. In other cases, an additional abdominal x-ray and USG as well as a liver biopsy may be required.

IMPORTANT: A significant part of successful treatment is early diagnosis. If your cat develops any of the symptoms mentioned above, visit a veterinarian ASAP. This and other websites give good information about hepatic lipidosis in cats, but they are not a replacement for a vet visit.

2. At all costs, get your cat eating again

Hepatic lipidosis, unless caused by an underlying disease, comes from partial or complete starvation. In such cases, at all costs, you must get your cat eating again.

  • Get your cat’s original food back. If your cat does not eat because you recently switched his food, get the previous one back. Even if you think the old one is a junk. Not eating is more dangerous than eating junk. After that, make gradual introduction of the new food. Here’s how to do it.
  • Provide something delicious. Canned food, treats, human foods. You can lightly heat the food to increase its scent. If your cat is avoiding food completely, there is not even time to argue good or bad cat diets; just give your cat anything she will eat.
  • Force feed your cat using a syringe (or spoon). Mix a significant amount of water with your cat’s food to make it liquid and use a syringe (or spoon) to force feed your cat the food.
  • Ask your veterinarian for tube feeding equipment and to show you how to tube feed a cat.

3. Monitor your cat’s weight and hydration

During the treatment of hepatic lipidosis and well after your cat gets better, it is advised to monitor your cat’s weight, body condition and hydration. To know how much weight is okay for your cat find out here how to assess your cat’s body condition.

If your cat is obese, you should do something about it. Initially, do not reduce the amount of food your cat eats, because that reduction alone may bring back the hepatic lipidosis. The best approach for now is to increase the activity of your cat as soon as he gets better. If you put your cat on a diet, it should not lose more than 4% of its body weight per week. You can find more about controlling obesity in cats here.

After treatment, you should weigh your cat on a regular basis. There is no point in doing so every day, but doing it once a month or every other week and logging the results will be beneficial. If your cat’s weight starts to change, pay attention to what’s going on. The change may result from too much or too little food consumption, but there may also be a medical condition causing it.

Proper hydration is also a significant factor in maintaining your cat’s health. You can assume that if your cat is on dry food, her body will contain too few fluids. Luckily, you can assess your cat’s hydration levels at home.

4. Pay attention to how much food your cat eats

Your cat must consume an adequate amount of food. Try to meet the required amount of food listed on the package.  You will find more information about the amount of food cats need here.

Keep monitoring your cat’s food consumption even after he gets better. If you have more than one cat, feed them separately and on a schedule; this will let you notice early when your cat’s feeding habits change. In most cases, hepatic lipidosis develops when the owner is not even aware that the cat is not eating.

If your cat is going through a stressful event (such as changing homes, the addition of new pets, or new people arriving or moving out), you should pay extra attention to whether your cat’s food and water intake is adequate. You can learn more about stress in cats here. Also, do anything you can to reduce your cat’s stress in the future.

The prognoss for hepatic lipidosis is highly dependent on your commitment to feeding your cat. It’s not easy to tube or spoon feed a cat, but without your getting your cat to eat, hepatic lipidosis will kill her faster than starvation. If hepatic lipidosis is caused by an underlying disease, curing it is the key to the successful treatment of hepatic lipidosis.