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C2005-29

Dear Christopher Cat

My cat Sassy disappeared for a month – and reappeared looking like a skeleton. I took her to the vet, who diagnosed hepatic lipidosis. What can you tell me about this disease?

Christopher Responds

I had the same problem years ago, and for the same reason.

Hepatic lipidosis, also known as feline fatty liver syndrome, develops in overweight cats who stop eating.

When you humans fast, fat travels to the liver, where it is processed efficiently to make energy.

But we cats do not metabolize fat as well. The fat globules crowd the normal liver cells, preventing them from functioning normally.

Overweight cats are at greatest risk, because their extra fat overwhelms the liver.

The result is liver failure – and, without aggressive treatment, death.

While starvation can cause hepatic lipidosis, even eating 50 to 75 percent of the usual amount of food for two weeks can trigger the disease.

Treatment consists of eating, eating, eating.

If Sassy doesn’t feel like eating, you will have to force feed her. If she doesn’t get adequate nutrition that way, your veterinarian will place a feeding tube.

In addition, one or more supplements may be required to support Sassy’s liver while it heals.

In some cats, an underlying disease suppresses appetite and triggers hepatic lipidosis. When that’s the case, the inciting disease is treated as well.

Fortunately, in 80 to 90 percent of cats, including me, aggressive nutritional support is successful in reversing hepatic lipidosis.

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