Hepatic Lipidosis

What is Hepatic Lipidosis?

Hepatic lipidosis is a common cause of potentially reversible liver failure in cats due to the excess accumulation of fat in the liver. The liver is responsible for a variety of important functions, including the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats; the synthesis of proteins and vitamins; the storage of vitamins and iron; the production of substances necessary for blood clotting; and the removal or breakdown of toxins.

Because the liver is involved in many crucial biologic functions, a cat with liver disease may show a wide variety of symptoms. These may include lethargy, anorexia, weight loss, weakness, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, and behavioral changes.

Hepatic lipidosis is just one of many liver diseases that can cause the clinical signs listed above and can be either the primary problem or secondary to another disease process. Possible primary disease processes include inflammatory bowel disease, another liver disease, cancer, pancreatitis or social interaction problems (i.e., introduction of a new pet or other stresses at home). Factors which may be associated with the onset of hepatic lipidosis include stress, obesity, anorexia, a change in diet, nutritional deficiencies, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism. The typical cat with hepatic lipidosis is middle-aged, overweight, has a poor appetite, and has recently lost a significant amount of body weight.

Cats are unique in their tendency to develop this disorder. Excessive amounts of fat are broken down from their peripheral fat storage during periods of fasting or decreased food intake. This fat is then transported to the liver, which should then process it and export it to the rest of the body in a new form. However, in cats that develop hepatic lipidosis, this process is impaired and the rate of fat export from the liver is much slower than the rate of fat intake, resulting in fat accumulation within the liver cells. Damage to the liver is caused as the liver cells swell with excessive fat. At minimum, the impairment of liver function occurs and, in cats with severe hepatic lipidosis, overt liver failure results.

Whenever your pet is showing signs of a health issue, your first step is to contact your primary care veterinarian. If it is indicated that your pet may suffer from hepatic lipidosis or other serious condition, a veterinary specialist is available at an ExpertVet certified or affiliated hospital.