What is feline fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver disease is a situation where the cat's liver begins storing excess fat, interfering with the liver's ability to function. This usually happens as a result of rapid weight loss in the cat, especially obese cats - if the weight loss is caused by the cat failing to eat. The reason is that in response to the lack of food, the cat's body will start to use its stored up fat as nutrients. It sends this fat to the liver to be processed - but in cats, the liver is not very good at this, and thus much of the fat just ends up stored in the liver.


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After awhile, the excess fat starts to interfere with the ability of the liver to function, and that just starts a downward cycle - the liver then can't process as much fat, but fat is still coming there, so more gets stored, so less gets processed, and on and on.

Fatty liver disease is unique to cats, and it doesn't happen in humans or dogs. The liver of cats is probably just not as efficient at processing fats as the livers of people, or it does it in a slightly different way that risks this situation.

What are the symptoms?

Generally it will happen to older cats. It usually happens after the cat has stopped eating for some reason - sometimes because of another illness, sometimes just because of a psychological problem. The cat will lose weight, and usually was obese before it stopped eating.

After this happens, the cat may vomit excessively. It may also have feline jaundice, a condition where its skin starts to look yellow. You will need to have the vet test specifically for it to make sure, because these are kind of generic symptoms.

What is the treatment?

There are two basic parts to it. First, you have to give the cat food so its body stops trying to survive on fat. This means either feeding the cat through an IV or force-feeding it. Your vet will select a method and will show you how, because usually it is done at home. You will basically be blending food to give to the cat through a tube into its stomach. The second part is treating the reason why the cat stopped eating, if there is one. Sometimes the appetite will just come back after time, but your vet will want to check to make sure the cat doesn't have another illness. It will usually take a couple of months of doing this, so be warned.

The prognosis, however, is pretty good. If you catch it before really severe symptoms set in, you cat is likely to recover. The liver is a pretty resilient organ, and once the pressure gets off of it most cats will gradually get back to normal. If the cat has severe jaundice or other symptoms, it may need to be hospitalized, however.  

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