Fatty Liver disease

Fatty liver disease, or Hepatic Lipidosis/Idiopathic Hepatic Lipidosis, is the most common cause of  liver disease in cats. It is caused when a cat stops eating, or severely reduces its food intake, leading to anorexia. With little or no nutrient intake, the body begins to use the animal’s fat stores as fuel. These fat stores are sent to the liver, to be broken down to supply nutrients.  Sometimes, the liver becomes overwhelmed and is unable to process this fat quickly enough, which allows a build up of fat in the liver, which in turn interferes with normal liver function.

Left untreated the condition can quickly lead to death. If your cat stops eating for more than a couple of days, call the hospital for advice.

Hepatic Lipidosis can strike a cat of any age and condition, although it is seen far more more often in obese cats. Obesity is considered a major causative factor for fatty liver disease.

Other causes of hepatic lipidosis may be medical conditions which predispose your cat to the disease, including renal failure, pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism, FLUTD,  owner induced diet (without veterinary supervision). Stress leading to a loss of appetite can also cause the disease.

Around half of cases are idiopathic hepatic lipidosis, which have no known cause, hence idiopathic.

Clinical signs:

In the early stages there may be no visible signs unless you are familiar with your cat’s eating habits. Hepatic lipidosis is always preceded by anorexia. If you see, or suspect, anorexia in your cat you should make an immediate appointment for us to examine the animal at the hospital. Other signs may include…

  • Weight loss
  • Muscle wasting
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Excess salivation
  • Jaundice (yellow colour to the skin and mucous membranes)

How is fatty liver disease diagnosed?

We will initially perform a physical examination and a biochemical profile to check serum levels of specific liver enzymes, which may be markedly elevated. We may also use an ultrasound or x-ray to check the appearance of the liver and eliminate other conditions. If necessary we will take a sample of liver cells to detect the presence of fat cells to confirm diagnosis.

Treatment protocols:

Appropriate treatment is dictated by the severity of disease and any underlying medical conditions the cat may have. Aggressive therapy is usually required to save the cat and may include:

Intensive nutritional support, which involves feeding a  calorie dense, high protein food via a feeding tube either directly into the stomach or esophageus.

Fluid and electrolyte therapy if the cat is dehydrated.

If caught in time approximately 70% of cases of fatty liver disease can be reversed. Untreated, hepatic lipidosis is fatal.


Probably the most effective prevention measure is to prevent obesity in your cat by feeding a complete balanced diet, eliminating treats and maintaining the cat’s nutrient intake at an optimal level.