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Cat Hepatic Lipidosis

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Overview

Hepatic lipidosis, or “fatty liver,” is a condition that can be brought about by other diseases, and is one of the most common reasons for cats to suffer liver failure. The tendency of hepatic lipidosis in cats is related to the natural physiology of a cat: in nature it is uncommon for wild cats to have much fat storage, and therefore their livers are not efficient at metabolizing fats; however, a domesticated cat can easily have plenty of stored fats in its body due to a steady source of food. When a cat stops eating because of other illnesses, the starved body naturally turns to the stored fats for energy, and the inability of the cat’s liver to metabolize large amounts of fat leads to accumulation of fats within liver cells, which will eventually cause the liver to fail. Overweight cats might be more at risk of hepatic lipidosis when their food intake decreases since they have more body fat. The condition is also more commonly seen in elderly cats since they are more likely to have other health problems that may influence their appetite. Generally speaking, whenever a cat’s appetite suddenly decreases it is possible for the cat to develop this serious medical condition, since it can take just two weeks of decreased food intake for hepatic lipidosis to occur.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Anorexia is a direct cause of hepatic lipidosis and must be treated before it results in serious damage. Decreased liver function as a result of hepatic lipidosis causes jaundice, nausea, and lethargy. There may also be weight loss, depresseion, and general signs of ill health. A positive diagnosis of hepatic lipidosis can be reach via a blood test for liver enzymes, bile acid tests, or a liver biopsy.

Hepatic lipidosis often appears as a secondary condition to other illnesses, since a sick animal is more likely to eat less than normal.

Treatment

Depending on the severity of the condition, liver support may be required. Medications are available to aid the liver’s function and help with fat transport. Nutritional support is necessary in all cases in order to stop the fat metabolism that is impairing the liver’s normal function. Usual tactics to entice a sick cat to eat may be ineffective in this case, especially since the animal has already developed hepatic lipidosis; therefore, more drastic measures might be required to provide the animal with proper nutrition. Force-feeding of either canned food or liquid formula is usually effective and not overly stressful for the animal. For weaker animals, a feeding tube can be inserted, either through the animal’s nose or through a small incision on the animal’s neck. The feeding tube is usually only required for a short period of time, and can be removed when the cat has recovered enough to be eating normally. Once the animal receives adequate nutrition, hepatic lipidosis is completely reversible. Close to 90% of cats affected by this condition will survive with proper treatment.

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