You may never have heard of Feline Fatty Liver Disease -- but if you don't heed the tell-tale signs, it could cost you your cat's life!
What's Feline Fatty Liver Disease?
If your cat ever loses her appetite or stops eating altogether, you better take her to a vet fast! When a cat stops eating for an extended period of time – say, about 2 weeks – she may die from a condition called fatty liver disease. That’s when fat accumulates within the liver cells.
The medical term for this condition is feline hepatic lipidosis.
Signs of Fatty Liver Disease
You should suspect hepatic lipidosis if your cat refuses to eat, loses weight, acts lethargic, and vomits. You might also notice that the whites of the eyes look yellow from bile pigments.
Bile is a yellowish green digestive fluid secreted by the liver. If the liver isn’t functioning well, the bile won’t get broken down properly.
Causes of Fatty Liver Disease
In humans, fatty liver disease can be caused by excessive drinking. Needless to say, this is never the case with cats. (Don’t ever give your cat any alcoholic drink – you could kill her!)
Vets don’t really know what causes this condition, but cats that fail to eat for an extended period of time, for whatever reason, are at the highest risk.
Cats can stop eating for a lot of different reasons. She might be ill or too stressed out to eat. So it’s a good idea to pay attention whenever your cat loses her interest in food. You’ve got to make sure that the cat is eating.
I didn’t, and I’ve lived to regret it. When my late cat Saki stopped eating, I was so wrapped up in my work that I barely noticed. When I finally noticed, I wasn’t overly concerned.
Saki was a tad overweight (ah, but she had green eyes to die for!), and fat-phobic that I am, I figured she could stand to lose a little weight.
Little did I know that in cats, unlike humans, losing weight from partial – or even worse, total – fasting is dangerous even if it’s only for a relatively short period of time. Apparently, cats metabolize fats and proteins differently than humans.
When a human or cat stops eating, the body starts using its own fat cells for fuel. As you know, for humans, this is the whole point of dieting.
With cats, however, the liver isn’t terribly efficient at processing fat. Most of the fat is stored in the liver cells, and so eventually the liver fails and the cat dies. Not good.
So when Mittens wouldn't eat, I really feared for her life. Until I took over the care of Mittens, my friend's cat, I had never even heard about hepatic lipidosis.
Mittens had been wheezing for some six months. At the time, the vets had no idea what was wrong. They suspected nasal cancer.
When I took Mittens home with me, she was so scrawny she looked like a concentration camp inmate. The resemblance was even more striking because one of her forelegs had been shaved – that’s where the vet had inserted a catheter when they were testing her.
Coaxing Your Cat to Eat
In addition to getting prescription appetite stimulants for her, I tried everything in the books to coax her to eat:
Warmed up canned food (Since I don’t have a microwave, I heated up the can in hot water. Alternatively, I added some hot water to the food and stirred it into a form of gruel.)
Got some of the stinkiest, smelliest food on the market (Mittens was most likely not eating because she couldn’t smell anything.)
Tried dried bonito (tuna) flakes (Many cats love them. Saki used to go ga-ga over them. But it turns out that Mittens is rather indifferent to fish.)
Minced sardines (See above.)
Canned tuna (See above. Caution: Tuna isn’t generally recommended for cats, but when a cat isn’t eating, the most important thing is to get her to eat something, anything.)
Offered canned pumpkin (It’s loaded with vitamins and fiber. Most cats love the taste.)
Human baby food (Plain chicken, turkey, beef. Made sure it didn’t contain onions – they are poisonous to cats.)
Here are a few other things to try to resurrect your cat’s interest in food:
Watered-down chicken broth (with no sodium added)
Clam juice (Add it to the cat’s regular food as flavor enhancer.)
Tuna Dash (Dried powdered tuna)
To entice Mittens to eat, I’d put the food right under her nose – but I don’t think that she was able to smell it even then. I also smeared some food right on her nose and on her lips – sometimes on her paws – so that she would have to lick them. I spoon-fed her too, and she would eat a little then. But it wasn’t nearly enough to sustain her.
The strange thing was that Mittens acted as if she were hungry. She’d smack her lips, and go over to her food bowl – even stick her face in the bowl – and yet she wouldn’t eat.
Escaping the Jaws of Death
I consulted the vet. By this time the results of Mittens’ biopsy were in. She had fungal infection, not cancer!
The vet immediately took her off prednisone, which she suspected was giving Mittens ulcers. In addition to medication to treat her fungal infection, she was also given medicine to treat the ulcers.
In less than a week, Mittens was eating again! We didn’t have to resort to force feeding her or putting tubes in her stomach – that’s something we would’ve had to do as a last resort.
“Great job. I am so very pleased,” the vet beamed at her last check-up. “She’s twice the cat she was before.”
Indeed, we now have a pair of Mittens. Some cat she is.
And what about you? Have you ever brought a cat back from the brink of death? Or coaxed a reluctant cat to eat? Please share any stories you might have.