What’s Wrong With Big Kitty?

By Teresa Garden, DVM

I first met Big Kitty in 2003. He showed up at my friend Shelley’s house looking down on his luck: dirty, old battle scars covering his face, and a torn and infected left eye lid. Shelley, being the kind-hearted person that she is, managed to trap him and brought him in to my clinic. She did not know if he was feral or just another stray cat roaming the city streets. He was friendly and calm as soon as we let him out of the trap so we knew he was a stray at that point. Shelley already had 2 dogs, 2 cats, a variety of reptiles, a husband and a son under her care and she ran her own business. She needed another pet like an extra hole in the head. Shelley decided if Big Kitty was healthy he could stay outside on her property. He tested negative for Feline Leukemia Virus and FIV. We neutered Big Kitty, tended to his injured eye, and notched his left ear as part of the city’s trap and release program. This will alert Animal Control officers that the cat is neutered and negative for viruses so they will leave the cat alone. Shelley took Big Kitty home and released him outside.

I called Shelley a few days later early in the morning to find out if Big Kitty was still hanging around and, if so, how was he doing. “Oh, he’s doing just fine. He’s cuddling next to me in bed right now”. I burst out laughing. So, Big Kitty had managed to worm his way into the big house in 3 days. And by big house I mean BIG house. Shelley’s home is the Magic Chef Mansion in the city. She has dedicated the last 30 years of her life to lovingly restoring the mansion to its original Victorian grandeur. And now scruffy, dirty, and beat up Big Kitty is spending his nights in her beautiful antique bed. And, I realize, I have needlessly notched his ear since he is now a house cat and true pet.
It is now 2012. Big Kitty has been living the good life for 9 years and he’s been a great cat. There has always been a myriad of activities at the Magic Chef Mansion. It is open for tours, corporate parties, fund-raisers, and weddings. It has been used to shoot TV commercials and to film a couple of movie scenes. Through it all, Big Kitty has remained unflappable, calm, sweet, social, and friendly. But now, for the last month, he has not been eating much, is depressed, and has lost significant weight. Blood tests suggest that Big Kitty has hepatic lipidosis which is also referred to as fatty liver syndrome.

Feline hepatic lipidosis is characterized by an accumulation of fat within the liver cells. It is a syndrome of cyclic anorexia or inappetence that exacerbates the lipidosis which in turn worsens the anorexia. Hepatic lipidosis is usually secondary to a stressful illness or event. There were no other illnesses detected in Big Kitty’s blood tests. Events that may trigger the disease are boarding, new pet or person in the house, owner absence, or recent diet change. In Big Kitty’s case it was a diet change. Shelley had innocently purchased a very similar food on sale. Unfortunately, Big Kitty did not want to eat it.

The treatment for hepatic lipidosis is to get the cat to eat again. This will allow the liver to repair and regenerate. Often, switching back to the cat’s favorite food in the past will do the trick. This worked for big Kitty. Shelley bought his original food brand and offered fresh chicken. Big Kitty ate well, gained weight and his liver enzymes were back to normal in 2 weeks.

However, some cats afflicted with hepatic lipidosis are not as fortunate. They may be so sick they have to be forced fed by their owners. This is not easy to do. Most cats resist it and often will not take in enough calories to meet their needs for recovery. These sick kitties often require placement of an esophagostomy feeding tube (E-tube). The feeding tube is inserted into the esophagus under anesthesia by a trained veterinarian. It is sutured in place and can be used for several weeks while the pet recovers at home. Pet owners can feed caloric-dense prescription foods such as Iam’s Max Cal, Hill’s AD, or Royal Canin Recovery Diet. These diets mix easily with a little water and can be instilled directly into the feeding tube. The tube will deliver the food into the esophagus and from there it will pass into the stomach. The cat gets its little belly full, feels better, and eventually will eat on its own. Anti-emetics can be given through the tube to help settle any nausea or vomiting. Once the cat’s body is receiving nourishment, the liver can start to repair. Feeding tubes are non-painful, easily tolerated by cats, and have saved many lives. At Animal Health & Healing we also prescribe liver supplements such as Feline Hepatic Support or Hepagen to give our kitty patients the best chance for optimal healing.

It is now 2014. Big Kitty is still alive and well and residing in the big house. Shelley is well known for her wonderful sense of humor. So for the past 11 years she has mercilessly teased me about “maiming” Big Kitty’s left ear. Over the course of the last year a truly feral cat with a notched left ear has (with great care and deliberation) decided to adopt me and my home. I have named her “Sweet Pea”. Is this an odd coincidence or kitty karma?

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/Richmond Heights area. AnimalHealthandHealing.com; phone: 314-781-1738.