Sunday, September 1, 2019

Hepatic Lipidosis In Cats: How Long Can A Cat Go Without Eating?

fat cat with hepatic lipidosis

While a fat cat might appear to be a happy cat, there is actually a deadly condition that your cat can develop from being obese. Cats are highly dependent on protein in their diet, the protein is needed for fat metabolism which is then used for energy. "Feline Fatty liver" can develop when cats go for days without food (can be as little as 36 hours). 

Hepatic Lipidosis in cats (feline fatty liver) is when the liver stops functioning properly and stores fat, instead of metabolizing it. The cells swell and become "fatty". This build up of fat inside the liver cells can be associated with diseases that cause decreased appetite, or metabolic disorders such as diabetes or in some case there is no identifiable cause. 

It is important to seek veterinary help as soon as possible for the best prognosis.  Your veterinarian will use ultrasound and  blood tests (to evaluate liver enzyme levels) to help make a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made it will be critical to find the underlying cause of why your cat was not eating as this will help determine the best course of treatment.  

Why Are Cats At Risk For Hepatic Lipidosis?

This unique combination of cats' physiology, dietary requirements, and metabolic adaptations makes hepatic lipidosis a significant concern for cat owners and veterinarians. Prompt recognition and treatment are essential for a successful outcome in affected cats.

Obligate Carnivores: Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they have a biological requirement for meat in their diet. Their livers are adapted to metabolize high amounts of protein and fat. However, if a cat suddenly stops eating, their liver can become overwhelmed with fat, leading to hepatic lipidosis.

Rapid Mobilization of Fat: When cats stop eating, their bodies quickly start breaking down fat stores to meet energy needs. Unlike other animals, cats have a limited ability to convert fat into glucose, which is essential for energy. As a result, excessive fat mobilization overwhelms the liver, leading to the accumulation of fat within liver cells.

Metabolic Adaptations: Cats' livers are not as efficient as those of other animals in handling large amounts of fat. Their metabolic pathways are adapted to deal with the high protein content of their natural diet. Sudden changes, such as fasting or a drastic shift to a high-carbohydrate diet, can disrupt these metabolic processes and lead to hepatic lipidosis.

Risk Factors: Cats are prone to stress-induced anorexia, which can trigger hepatic lipidosis. Additionally, obese cats or those with certain medical conditions are at higher risk. Female cats, especially those who have recently given birth, are also more susceptible.

Hepatic lipidosis can progress rapidly in cats, leading to severe liver dysfunction and even death if not treated promptly. The condition requires intensive veterinary care, including nutritional support and sometimes hospitalization.  Diet changes and supplements like liver support, probiotics and enzymes can also help.  Natural treatments for hepatic lipidosis can be lifechanging for cats. 

Author:   Susan Blake Davis
Revised and Updated:  3/20/2024
Originally Published 9/1/2019