Fatty Liver Disease in cats – what is it and how is it treated?

Fatty Liver Disease in cats – what is it and how is it treated?

Health & Safety

Animals can suffer from a variety of diseases of the liver, in cats Fatty Liver Disease or to give it its proper name Hepatic Lipidosis is one of the most common of the liver problems. In this Pets4Homes article, the condition is looked at further and the causes, symptoms, and treatment are all discussed.

So why does Fatty Liver Disease happen?

In cats, it normally occurs because the animal is normally overweight and then been put on a very strict diet, and lost weight far too rapidly. Although there is a problem with pets being obese, proper weight reduction which is monitored correctly is vital. There are other reasons for possible causes of the condition including:

  • Trauma – such as a broken jaw.
  • Underlying disease – such as kidney disease.

Whatever the reason it even means the cat cannot eat correctly or the illness means they don’t want to eat. The bottom line is the cat’s body all of a sudden does not have enough fuel to metabolise.

So, what happens?

Because there is not enough energy to keep the cat going, it’s body fat starts to get broken down. Fat deposits that are under the skin and stored in the abdomen are sent to the liver to be made into fuel to keep the cat going. This fuel is actually glucose. The issue is that a cat’s liver does not cope very well at all with changes that happen.

Although the liver can absorb all the fat that is entering it, it cannot work efficiently enough and is slower than the fat being sent towards it. If the cat was originally a healthy weight, the liver would eventually be able to process the fat and the cat should be able to cope. However, if the cat was overweight or obese, there would be extra fat and it is this that causes Fatty Liver Disease by swamping the liver.

Why can the liver not cope efficiently?

The liver in any mammal has hundreds, possibly thousands of tasks that it does to keep the animal healthy. If the liver cells become completely clogged with this extra fat, they quite understandably stop working as well. It is really a vicious circle, as liver cells that do not work properly are unable to break down fat which means that extra fat still being sent to it, makes matters so much worse.

Another side problem to this is that the bile ducts that run throughout the liver are also blocked by these extra fat cells, meaning even less of a correctly functioning liver.

So, what do I need to look out for?

In Fatty Liver Disease, there are several symptoms to be aware of. The symptoms can typically include:

Appetite loss – or complete anorexia

This is the most common symptom, and it’s easy to understand why. The cat has a liver that is getting clogged with fat, not working correctly, and often causes them pain. These factors alone, can stop a cat wanting to eat until they feel better. The biggest problem is the longer they don’t eat, the more the damage to the liver.

Vomiting and diarrhoea

Because the cat needs to rid itself of toxins as much as it can, and the fact that it feels pretty rotten, can cause these symptoms.


This is caused by a backlog of the bile in the bloodstream, that cannot travel through the bile ducts because of the condition.


Initially, the cat will be lethargic, and feel very weak, with no interest in doing anything. As the liver begins to fail, the cat may collapse completely.

Heart problems

Because all the major components, including electrolytes, are not in balance in the cat, problems such as abnormal heart rates and rhythms can occur.

If the symptoms are not addressed quickly, there is a real chance that the condition could prove fatal.

How can the vet diagnose the condition?

The first thing a vet will reach for is a syringe and needle – blood tests in this case of the best way to discover the disease. Unfortunately, there isn’t one blood test that stands alone in testing for Fatty Liver Disease, so the vet will run several tests looking specifically for results that can show liver damage along with a huge increase in blood lipid levels (fat in the blood).

How can the condition be treated?

The treatment of Fatty Liver Disease means the cat will need to be hospitalised whilst it is undergoing intensive care nursing. To help support the body they will also be given intravenous fluid therapy and according to the severity of the condition and the results from blood tests, may also be given vitamin supplements. Although these supplements may sound a soft option in the case of liver disease, they do have a very important function. When a liver ceases to work correctly it can mean that vitamin K becomes low in the body, and as a vitally important factor in blood clotting, the cat can start bleeding internally without it.

Other medications the cat may receive are:

  • Antiemetics – to reduce/stop nausea and vomiting.
  • Liver supplements – to help improve the liver function and support it.

The most vital part of the treatment is getting proper nutrition into the cat, so it’s body can begin to deal with the condition, and the liver can start to process all that extra fat. With a cat that does not want to eat because of the condition and how ill they feel, this nutrition is normally given to the cat using a stomach tube, and a highly specialist liquid feed.

This treatment can seem daunting, but research has shown that treating a cat that has been affected by the Fatty Liver Disease in this way, can save as many as 85% of cat lives. It is when there is a delay in contacting the vet, that the cat may die.


A Fatty Liver Disease can really be managed if treatment is provided swiftly, if you are worried about your cat's weight, appetite or any health problems, please seek veterinary advice. If your cat is showing signs of Fatty Liver Disease, please speak to them urgently.



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