Cleo's Progress

One Cat's Struggle with Feline Hepatic Lipidosis

Monday, November 21, 2005

Week 1 with feline hepatic lipidosis

Cleo was always a pretty hefty cat, so I knew when she stopped eating and started hiding that something was very wrong. My boyfriend and his dog had moved in with me about two months earlier, when I started noticing the changes in Cleo. She hadn’t warmed up to the dog yet, but despite the hisses and snubs, she seemed to be going about her daily business at first. It seemed like it all happened quite suddenly: Cleo hiding all the time, not eating, gagging and dry-heaving, losing weight... Cleo as a skinny cat for the first time since she was a kitten.

I took Cleo to the vet almost right away. At first they didn’t know what it was, but I felt sure that the gagging and dry heaving indicated she had something ‐ a hairball, a foreign object — stuck somewhere. When I took Cleo in for X-rays, the vet noticed that Cleo’s skin had developed a yellowish tint that he hadn’t noticed the previous day, indicating liver failure. I okayed the blood tests, and in the meantime started doing some research of my own. After lab work and an ultrasound, the vet confirmed what I’d already come to suspect: Cleo has hepatic lipidosis, or a "fatty liver."

Basically, what this means is that Cleo stopped eating as much when the dog joined the family, and her body started to metabolize her considerable fat stores as energy. The cat’s liver is not equipped to handle this, and becomes backed up with fat. It's a condition that has a very high recovery rate when treated correctly; essentially, this means that for the next 4-6 weeks (or longer), I will be force-feeding Cleo. Once her liver starts functioning normally again, she should start eating on her own, but until then she won’t want to.

It's been about a week since Cleo's diagnosis. She won't drink on her own, so once a day I give her an injection of IV fluid. I also have to feed her special food that I buy at the vet. The food is of a very fine consistency, which is easily passed through the tip of a syringe, especially when mixed with a little water.

Hepatic lipidosis cat food soup

When I first started force-feeding Cleo, she had gone so long without eating that I could only get about 48 CCs of food into her without her vomiting. Lately, she’s been doing a little better — I’ve been able to get almost 3/4 of a can into her each day. (The normal amount would be a little over a can of this food each day.) She's starting to move around a little more, instead of just crouching in one place all the time (she's in the study with a baby gate across the doorway, so that she may feel safe from the dog). However, even though the food is helping her, she still hates feeding times — with a passion.

Grumpy cat with fatty liver disease

When I feed Cleo, I wrap her up in a towel so that she can’t struggle too much. However, so far she’s been pretty good. Once she’s wrapped up in the towel, she will just sit there on the floor. She even held still to have her photograph taken.

Cute Cleo

Once she’s all wrapped up, I hold Cleo in my arms like a baby and feed her with a 12 CC plastic syringe. I have to go pretty slow — 1/2 to 1 CC at a time to allow her to swallow and keep it down. She hates this part, and I often have to use one hand to keep her head turned toward me. To get her to open her mouth, I stick the syringe into the corner of her mouth. She growls and complains the entire time, even when she’s licking her chops, so it ends up sounding like myah-myah-myah-myah. Emma, the dog, seems pretty concerned; every time I feed Cleo, Emma comes and lays on the other side of the gate with her chin on her paws.

Worried Emma dog

Cleo will no doubt come through this all right, but it will probably take some time. For the time being, she is sporting a bad haircut on her belly, a necessary evil to allow for the ultrasound and a certain diagnosis. You can see in the picture the yellowish cast to her skin.

Yellow skin caused by feline hepatic lipidosis

This will no doubt be a rough couple of months for me, but I would rather nurse her myself than have to hospitalize her. I'm not too keen on her have a surgically implanted feeding tube to her stomach, either, so I'll do my best to get her all the food she needs via syringe feeding. Thank goodness I am now home freelancing; if I were working full time or — God forbid — traveling, it would be virtually impossible for me to give Cleo the care she needs without hospitalizing her.

The author with her cat

I will update this page periodically with news of Cleo's progress, so be sure to check back!



  • At May 27, 2008 at 2:58 PM , Blogger Curfette said...

    My cat has lipidosis so I can empathize with you. I do have one question, do you use a flea or tick medicine on your dog or cat?

  • At May 27, 2008 at 3:05 PM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...


    How is your cat doing? I hope you'll find my blog useful for information on force feeding, recovery time, etc.

    I don't use flea or tick treatments on my cats. My cats are indoor cats, and in any case we don't really have problems with either in this area.

  • At January 26, 2010 at 10:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi there,

    So I'm just fishing for some encouragement. My Binky looks a lot like your Cleo. He's in really bad shape. I came back from a vacation to find him emaciated and lethargic. (My catsitter assumed "that was his personality.")

    He was hospitalized for three days and has been with me for about six days. My vet said to try to get 3/4 of a can in him, but that seems like too much. I feed him 2 syringes of food (similar to the type you've shown) about 4 times a day. More like 1/2 a can. Today, I tried to feed him a 5th time and he threw up.

    So, seems like you slowly worked up your feeding volume? I'm not sure whether I should be more aggressive or avoid stressing the poor guy out.

    Also, I'm feeling a bit discouraged in that I'm not seeing many signs of improvement. Binky was happy the first few days he came home, but is a bit lethargic and reclusive again. He ate a few snacks when he first came home, not so much lately. And he's still very yellow.

    You? I gather your recovery was slow, but when did you notice the yellow receding? And when did you stop feeding Cleo? Did she ever nibble on her own?

    And what about pooping and peeing? I haven't seen much of that lately. Though its hard to tell because Binky has a healthy twin who does all the eating, pooping and peeing lately.


  • At January 26, 2010 at 10:42 PM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...


    Nine days isn't enough to see lessened yellow color, so don't worry. :o) I force fed Cleo for 4 weeks before she started eating on her own, and it was a little while after that before the yellow completely faded.

    How much does Binky weight? Cleo weighed a little under 9 pounds, and she was supposed to get a can of Hills A/D a day. I rarely got all of that into her, admittedly -- it was more like 3/4 can most days -- but if I were you I would still try as much as possible. Also, Cleo threw up at least every other day and still recovered -- the liver failure causes nausea, so it DOESN'T mean you're feeding too much if Binky throws up. You can minimize it as much as possible by spreading out the feedings by 2-3 hours between each feeding, and feeding small "bites" with time to swallow in between (to minimize the gag reflex). His slight relapse makes me think he may not be getting enough food, so be sure to keep pushing it!

    Don't forget, though, that this IS a very curable disease. Be persistent and keep your hopes up!

  • At March 16, 2010 at 12:53 AM , Blogger kathy gibson said...

    I have a rather odd situation with my cat who has been diagnosed with fatty liver....I drive an 18 wheeler and the cat rides with me. He has been in the truck with me for 2 years. I am giving him Denosyl, Famotidine, and Milk Thistle as well as Sub-Qs (100ml). The food I am giving him is Royal canin because all he had to do was smell the Hills and he barfed. The funny thing that happened was the past couple of weeks he has been eating some on his own but this week he all of a sudden decided that nope, not gonna eat a thing so I am back to feeding him. The way I do it is I put a towel on the bed for him to sit on, put a baby bib on him and put a small amount of food on my pinky and five it to him as though I were "pilling" him. This seems to be working for us. Any ideas as to why he stopped eating on his own after he was making progress? Thanks for all your good info.

  • At March 16, 2010 at 2:00 PM , Blogger Katharine Swan said...

    Kathy, I'm guessing he went back to not eating because he wasn't eating enough on his own. Once they start recovering, it's pretty important to make sure they continue getting enough food, or they'll get worse again. If he starts eating on his own again, closely monitoring how much he is eating, and continue feeding him whatever he's not getting of his daily quota.

  • At May 31, 2010 at 8:58 AM , Blogger Mary said...

    I too have a cat with this liver feeding him but he is not drinking water (I mix it in with the food) but he won't drink on his you think he is getting enough water just from the food..Hills A/D..Thank you and may be all be able to nurse our best friends back to health..Thanks..Mary

  • At June 10, 2010 at 2:30 PM , Blogger Gretchen said...

    My cat has been sick for at least 3 weeks now, exactly the same symptoms, extremely high liver enzymes and bilirubin, sgot etc..we've spent over $1000 already, haven't done an x-ray yet, vet said mri should be done and it is $500 which we just don't have. I'm feeding her with a 6 ml syringe, supposed to feed her 12 ml three times a day, is that enough? Also ringers lactate 150 cc every other day sub Q. Meds are Denamaril (liver support) Clavamox and Bentril antibiotics. She did have a fever which is why the antibiotics. She will move around and go outside, even eats grass, but won't touch food or water. Gags I am the evil force feeder, every time I get near her she gags, LOL, it breaks my heart. Is there anything else I can do that I can afford, or does anyone have any suggestions?? ALSO IMPORTANT I gave her and our other animals revolution just before she got sick...anyone heard anything about it causing disease? Any help and advice appreciated, what about that 'transfer factor' stuff the homeopathics rave about...? anyone used it? PLEASE help, I'm scared it's something fatal, so why keep putting her thru this and spending a fortune to do it? She also seems to be in pain sometimes...belly area, and front of chest/throat area...Thanks so much for this blog and the helpful people here. :)


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