Feline Fatty Liver Disease

Stray cats in a sink
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Photo by Maia C

The technical term for Feline Fatty Liver Disease is “Hepatic Lipidosis“. The Cat Owner’s Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin calls it “Idiopathic Hepatic Lipidosis” (IHL)

Hepatic” means having to do with or related to the liver. “Lipidosis” means a disorder concerned with the metabolism of “lipids” that results in an accumulation of lipids. “Lipid” is another word for fat. “Idiopathic” means arising spontaneously from an unknown (or obscure) cause.

So, because of unknown reasons, we have fat accumulating in the liver cells causing the liver to become greasy, yellow and enlarged; hence the condition described as Feline Fatty Liver Disease. It is the most common liver disease.


Although the cause is unknown it is speculated that there may be a number of causes:

  1. sustained loss of appetite would seem to be the agreed cause (we then have to ask what has caused the sustained loss of appetite). This is a type of Anorexia Nevosa a condition that has received a lot of publicity as a human illness.
  2. there may be an underlying condition that set this illness off and/or causes the loss of appetite. There are many possible causes of depressed appetite: infection, URI, leukemia, FIV, cancer, anemia, FeLV, intestinal foreign body for example. It may well be that the cat is being treated for one or more of these diseases and contracts Hepatic Lipidosis as a consequence.
  3. it may though start on its own
  4. obesity may exacerbate the condition
  5. stress may play a role – in fact it may play a major role. A lot of households are stressful for cats perhaps because the people living there are stressed. Cats very quickly pick up on a stressful atmosphere and environment. Noise (arguments between people), disturbance and continual change can be very stressful for cats
  6. sometimes cats are starved or grossly underfeed by cat keepers – this may combine with stress.
  7. the HDW website says that a deficiency in an amino acid, Arginine may be a cause. Amino acids are organic compounds that play a part in the cat’s metabolism.
  8. drugs or toxins (poisons) – loss of appetite


What are the signs? I guess the first and most obvious sign will be that the cat stops eating. That to most people will be an outstanding problem. More advanced symptoms will be jaundice and vomiting. Jaundice is a sign of liver failure commonly seen in alcoholic people; the skin (may see it inside the ear flap – pinnae) and eyes turn yellow. In very advanced stages the cat might be bright yellow-orange all over the body (src: www.thensome.com/ – good source as the author had first hand experience). Other diseases that can cause yellow skin are: FIP, inflammatory disease, tumor, infection, Hemolytic Anemia, Peritonitis, Feline Pancreatitis.

It would go without saying perhaps that the cat will be lethargic, depressed, have diarrhoea perhaps and general ill health; rather unspecific symptoms hence the need for diagnostic tests for other diseases such as FIV, FELV, and FIP, cancer or feline pancreatitis (see cat health problems generally) These diseases as mentioned may also be an underlying cause. A liver biopsy will confirm the presence of feline fatty liver disease. This means taking a small sample of the liver and inspecting it microscopically.


I wouldn’t normally talk about treatment as that is something for the veterinarians. But there is a nice story of recovery from this illness written by Sandra (see source 6 below).

Despite veterinarian advice to the contrary, she decided to bring back 2 cats from very advanced stages of Feline Fatty Liver Disease and succeeded – well done indeed.

It seems that the essentials of treatment are to get the cat to feed normally again. That starts by feeding the cat artificially or forced feeding including fluid replacement administered “sub-q” (subcutaneous) meaning under the skin by injection. Sandra force feed 5 cc at a time of “AD” all day long (this was a commitment). She also administered homeopathic remedies, which although controversial she thinks helped to bring her patients around.

You can read the whole story by clicking on this link. The objective is to reverse the process of inability to feed. Appetite stimulants may be part of the range of treatments. Sandra found that an antihistamine stimulated the cats’ appetites. Sometimes it may be necessary to force feed through a tube into the stomach via the mouth or through the abdomen (gastrostomy). The process may take 2-3 months but Feline Fatty Liver Disease is reversible with a completely dedicated approach by the human carer.

If left untreated this disease kills.

Feline Fatty Liver Disease – Sources:

  1. Cat Owner’s Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin
  2. The Veterinarian’s Guide to Your Cat’s Symptoms by Drs Garvey, Hohenhaus, Houpt, Pinckney, Wallace and Elizabeth Randolph
  3. www.medterms.com (definition of lipid)
  4. Wikipedia (definitions)
  5. www.hdw-inc.com
  6. www.thensome.com
  7. http://cats.about.com

These two cats are not suffering from this disease. I like to illustrate each page with a picture of cat or cats for obvious reasons. These two were eating the food on a back porch (strays I presume) and eventually they were enticed (trapped) to come in and here they are looking a bit apprehensive. Published under a creative commons license = Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License.

Feline Fatty Liver Disease to cat health problems

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