Hepatic Lipidosis In Cats – Can They Recover?

Hepatic lipidosis in cats is a serious diagnosis that requires immediate and aggressive care.

The liver is often referred to as the ‘factory of the body’, so any decline in its function can be detrimental to a cat’s health.

Hepatic lipidosis can lead to liver failure when left untreated, so it’s important to be aware of the signs of this condition as it develops.

So what is hepatic lipidosis, and what does this diagnosis mean for your feline friend?

In this article we will discuss the many details of hepatic lipidosis in cats, and help you better understand how to offer your cat the best chance at a full recovery.

Hepatic Lipidosis In Cats

The Role Of The Feline Liver

Before we discuss the details of hepatic lipidosis in cats, it’s important to understand the role the liver plays in many vital body processes.

Hepatic lipidosis is a serious issue due to how impactful liver decline can be on the body, as the cat affected can decline quickly as the liver struggles to function.

The liver is responsible for waste detox, production of clotting factors, controlling metabolism of food, and producing bile.

With the organ having a role in so many different chemical processes, you can begin to understand why the health of the liver is so important.

Hepatic lipidosis puts a major strain on a cat’s liver, leading to a slew of serious health complications to follow.

What Is Hepatic Lipidosis In Cats?

Hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver syndrome, is a form of liver disease that impacts cats specifically.

Hepatic lipidosis most often occurs when the body undergoes a fasting period due to other factors, causing fat to be broken down at a rapid rate.

This quickly overwhelms the liver’s metabolic process, causing fat cells to deposit within the liver.

As this process occurs, the liver begins to experience a decline in normal function.

If hepatic lipidosis progresses without medical intervention, this can quickly lead to liver failure.

This is the most common form of liver disease in our feline friends, making it a realistic threat that all cat owners should be aware of.

What Causes Hepatic Lipidosis In Cats?

Hepatic lipidosis in cats is most often a complication that develops after a period of fasting or reduced food intake.

A decreased appetite is common when a cat is not feeling well due to any reason, leading many cats to shy away from their food for prolonged periods of time.

If a cat undergoes a fast for more than 24 hours, this can send their body into crisis mode.

When a cat is not taking in an adequate amount of nutrition, the body will begin to break down the fat that is already present within the body at a rapid rate.

This is the process that overwhelms the liver, leading to the development of hepatic lipidosis in our feline companions.

Though hepatic lipidosis can develop after any health complication that causes anorexia, there are a few common conditions that trigger fatty liver syndrome in cats.

Some of the most common conditions include:

  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis
  • Kidney disease
  • Toxicity
  • Cancer
  • Severe respiratory illness
  • Other liver disease

Making sure your cat is still eating is critical when diagnosed with any form of medical condition, as their body can quickly enter crisis mode if they are not taking in enough food.

Are Some Cats More At Risk Than Others?

Hepatic lipidosis can occur in any feline friend, but it is most common in obese cats.

This is likely due to the fact that the body already has so many fat cells present, making it easy for excessive amounts of fat to be deposited within the liver.

If you have an overweight feline friend that is not feeling well due to any underlying cause, it’s even more important to be aware of this potential risk.

Is Hepatic Lipidosis The Same As Liver Failure?

Hepatic lipidosis is not the same diagnosis as complete liver failure, but it can certainly lead to liver failure in severe cases.

Hepatic lipidosis is simply one of the liver diseases that can lead to ultimate organ failure, but it can be reversed with prompt and aggressive care.

Not all cats with hepatic lipidosis will progress to liver failure, but it certainly makes your cat more at risk of this possibility.

Symptoms Of Hepatic Lipidosis In Cats

Many of the symptoms of hepatic lipidosis in cats resemble the symptoms seen in other liver diseases.

These symptoms may also overlap with symptoms of their underlying illness, and may just appear as if their initial condition is worsening.

Some of the most common signs of hepatic lipidosis in cats include:

  • Continued anorexia
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Seizures
  • Behavioral changes

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your cat, we suggest contacting your vet for further guidance immediately.

Even if hepatic lipidosis is not the cause of your cat’s symptoms, these signs can point to other serious illnesses as well.

Diagnosing Hepatic Lipidosis In Cats

If your veterinarian fears hepatic lipidosis in your cat, there are a few diagnostics that can lead to an accurate diagnosis.

Some tools will be more invasive than others, so it will always vary based on your cat’s situation leading up to their presentation.

First, your vet will likely gather a detailed history of your cat’s symptoms and illness leading up their visit.

Once your vet is made aware of the serious symptoms that your cat is experiencing, they will likely suggest a full panel of blood tests to search for any evidence of metabolic complications.

If your cat is suffering with hepatic lipidosis, there will likely be evidence in their liver values.

Your vet or their radiologist can also perform an abdominal ultrasound to search for any signs of hepatic lipidosis on their liver.

These cats may show signs of fatty deposits within the organ, pointing to the possibility of fatty liver syndrome.

A fine needle aspirate of the liver can also be obtained, which can be submitted to a lab for more in depth testing.

A surgical biopsy of the liver can also be performed, but this can only be achieved if the cat is stable enough to be put under anesthesia.

Once the sample of the liver is obtained, your vet can send the tissue to a lab for in depth review.

With both the fine needle aspirate and the liver biopsy, the lab will search for evidence of fat present in the liver cells.

Some vets will even diagnose hepatic lipidosis in your cat if the history fits the disease and their blood work points to decreased liver function.

This is most common in situations involving financial limitations, or when a cat is too critical to move forward with invasive testing.

Treating Hepatic Lipidosis In Cats

Cats with hepatic lipidosis will require an aggressive and immediate treatment approach that focuses on nutritional support.

Most treatment plans will require an initial stay in the hospital to address the many complications that come along with hepatic lipidosis, as well as a plan to deliver nutritional support in the weeks to follow.

Most cats will present with some level of dehydration and nausea, so they will need to spend anywhere from 2 to 5 days in the hospital on IV fluids.

At this time your vet can deliver medication to eliminate their nausea and other GI upset, as well as monitoring their liver failures as the days pass.

Cats with hepatic lipidosis will need to receive controlled and continued nutritional support that can be monitored with each meal.

The best way to do this is with a feeding tube that delivers nutrition directly to their stomach.

The tube is placed by making a small incision in the cat’s esophagus under anesthesia, and directing the tube into the stomach.

Once it is in the proper position, the tube will be sutured into place and secured with a neck bandage.

The feeding process can be implemented when your cat is in the hospital, but will need to be continued by you at home.

Your vet will send you with a special diet and instructions on how to prepare the food, as well as a feeding guide that offers you directions for each meal going forward.

You will administer the prepared food into the port on your cat’s feeding tube, with most treatment plans including 3-5 small meals a day.

The feeding process is not complicated, and it is completely pain free for your feline friend. Once you get the hang of the process, it should be a breeze going forward.

It’s important to note that treatment of the underlying condition that led to their anorexia is essential as well.

The hepatic lipidosis will need to be addressed quickly, but the cat will not improve if their underlying illness persists as well.

How Long Will Cats Need To Have The Feeding Tube?

Most cats will need to be fed through the feeding tube for anywhere from 4-8 weeks.

This amount of time will vary based on the results of your cat’s blood work going forward, as well as how quickly their normal appetite returns.

Once your vet feels confident with their liver values and appetite, they can then remove the tube and instruct you on feeding going forward.

When your cat has a feeding tube placed, your vet will likely instruct you to offer your cat a small amount of their favorite food by hand or in their bowl.

If your cat is interested in the food and consumes it, this is a good sign that their appetite is beginning to return.

Your vet will likely suggest offering this food more and more, and beginning to decrease the amount of food that is given through the tube.

What Happens If You Don’t Treat Your Cat’s Hepatic Lipidosis?

Hepatic lipidosis in cats is a fatal condition when left untreated.

Cats with untreated fatty liver syndrome will quickly go into liver failure, ultimately leading to death if aggressive medical care is not offered.

If you are unable to treat your cat’s hepatic lipidosis for any reason, we suggest having a quality of life decision with your veterinarian.

Some cats will survive longer than others, but it can be an excruciating process to endure.

Can Cats Recover From Hepatic Lipidosis?

When offered prompt and aggressive treatment, cats can make a full recovery from hepatic lipidosis.

Not only will your cat require immediate treatment once their symptoms begin, but you will need to maintain a close relationship with your vet going forward as well.

Hepatic lipidosis has a long road to recovery.

Some cats will develop liver damage after an episode of hepatic lipidosis.

Blood tests to check their liver values every 6-12 months is essential in the years following their diagnosis, as this will alert you of any function decline as it begins.

If your vet fears liver damage in your feline friend, they can always prescribe liver support medications going forward.

Final Thoughts

Hepatic lipidosis is a medical condition that poses a major threat to a cat’s health.

Immediate action is essential in offering your cat the best chance at survival, so it’s important to seek urgent veterinary care as soon as symptoms develop.

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