Hepatic lipidosis or ‘fatty liver disease’ in cats

Hepatic lipidosis, or “fatty liver disease”, is the most common, potentially lethal liver disease in cats. Hepatic lipidosis is preceded by anorexia or weight loss and the body’s starvation response mobilises fat to the liver.

Obese cats are more prone to hepatic lipidosis. More than 90% of cats with fatty liver disease have an underlying condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease, cholangiohepatitis, pancreatitis, environmental stressors, diabetes, respiratory infections, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, or cancer.  


What are common hepatic lipidosis signs in cats?

Early signs include:

  • Reclusive behaviour
  • Unkempt haircoat
  • Inappetance
  • Weight loss

Intermediate or advanced signs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Yellow gums and skin
  • Drooling
  • Weakness
  • Collapse


How is hepatic lipidosis managed in cats? 

Hepatic lipidosis management in cats depends on identifying and treating the underlying condition. Treatment includes aggressive nutritional support and intravenous fluids to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. 

If caught early, appetite stimulants may help, but hepatic lipidosis usually requires surgical feeding tube placement to provide adequate nutrition and reverse the starvation process. The feeding tube is left in place for at least two weeks, or until the cat starts to eat voluntarily. 

Medications to cleanse the liver, supplements to protect cells from damage, vitamins, anti-nausea medication, or antibiotics are often recommended. An estimated 25% of cats require a blood transfusion. 

Cats with hepatic lipidosis need regular veterinary visits and diagnostic tests to monitor their status and prognosis. Discussing a personalised management plan with your veterinarian is important for the best outcome for your cat. 


An unkempt haircoat can be a sign of fatty liver disease, or hepatic lipidosis, in cats


What is the prognosis for cats?

The prognosis for cats with hepatic lipidosis depends on the underlying condition and disease severity. Without aggressive nutritional support, the mortality rate for cats with the condition can be more than 90%. Early intervention and tube feeding reduce the mortality rate to less than 40%. 

Cats with concurrent pancreatitis have a poorer prognosis.


Management tips for a cat with hepatic lipidosis

At-home needs include:

  • Easily accessible food, water, and litter box, and a comfortable location
  • A palatable prescription diet 
  • Consistency with prescribed medications and supplements
  • Feeding small amounts of warmed food and water multiple times per day
  • Maintaining feeding tube cleanliness and patency 
  • Monitoring appetite, drinking, urination, vomiting and diarrhoea

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately seek help from your veterinarian if your cat has uncontrollable vomiting or diarrhoea, is weak or lethargic, collapses, or vocalises in pain.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your cat’s condition becomes unmanageable, or they begin losing their quality of life. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this difficult time by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services, and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website goodbyegoodboy.com.au.


This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.