Fatty Liver Syndrome in Puppies and KittensLast updated: August 02, 2016
Any 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 in dogs 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 Breeder's Edge®Puppy Lyte instead of water will give them a small amount of energy and correct their electrolyte balance. Works great in kittens, as well!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 800.786.4751.
- Dr. B
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.
The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your personal veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.