Fatty Liver Syndrome in Puppies and KittensAny condition that is labeled a syndrome has multiple causes, and we usually do not know why it occurs in one kitten or puppy and not in another. However, this does not mean we do not know how to prevent fatty liver from happening.
CAUSESAlthough there are multiple causes, fatty liver syndrome is strongly related to anorexia, often occurring after a stressful event or illness. Anything that causes a lean puppy to go off food can cause mobilization of fat and the accumulation of fat inside the liver cells. Once the body mobilizes fat faster than the liver can process, the liver becomes stuffed with fat and can't function. At this point, the puppy or kitten goes downhill fast. Fatty liver syndrome is the result.
Hypoglycemia is very common in small lean muscle breeds where energy stores are limited. Yorkies and Maltese are overrepresented with fatty liver syndrome, but all lean small breeds can develop fatty liver syndrome if they go off food. Undersized kittens of any cat breed are at risk of fatty liver syndrome.
CLINICAL SIGNS AND DIAGNOSISPuppies and kittens are lethargic and slow to respond. As it progresses they may vomit, have mental dullness and drink lots of water. These babies are often weak and anemic.
Diagnosis is determined through liver biopsy or postmortem; neither is a good option. If your babies are off food, it's worth your time to take steps to prevent fatty liver syndrome.
TREATMENTAlthough there is no specific treatment for fatty liver, we can save them if we get the nutrition right!
- If the cause is known, treating or removing that cause is important for success.
- Fatty liver babies usually drink lots of water when recovering. Giving them "Puppy Gatorade" instead of water will give them a small amount of energy and correct their electrolyte balance. Works great in kittens, as well! To make "Puppy Gatorade" add one 2.26 oz. packet (both sides) of Re-Sorb® to one gallon of water.
- Modify nutrition to a high fat, protein rich diet. This will prevent fasting hypoglycemia and resulting lipidosis. Tube feeding is helpful but begin with smaller amounts of highly digestible food. All-meat baby food goes through an oral syringe and is easy to feed.
- Often the first feeding is 1 ml of "Puppy Gatorade" per pound (i.e. if the pet weighs two pounds, then the dose is 2 ml of "Puppy Gatorade").
- Feed no more than 1 ml of all-meat baby food per pound every 30 minutes at first; then double the dose after six feedings and feed every two hours, working them into eating again.
- Give 1 ml of Wean Help three times a day to improve utilization of food being given. Treatment is twice the labeled dose.
- By day three, they are usually developing an appetite. We want to get them eating and most are ready! High fat, high protein in your puppy or kitten is key to recovery. If they won't eat baby food, try canned cat food, which is high in fat and protein. Once eating, move them to dry kitten food. Puppies can be moved to dry puppy food when doing well.
PREVENTIONFatty liver syndrome kills puppies and kittens that are off food for any reason! Prevention in babies is to get them eating and keep them eating. If they go off food, correct the cause, supplement Wean Help and get them to eat high fat, high protein food.
If you need help, call us at 1-800-786-4751.
- Dr. B
Don Bramlage, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
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