Hepatic Lipidosis in Cattle and Camelids
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Hepatic Lipidosis in Cattle and Camelids

by Kallie Hobbs, DVM, MS, DACVIM (LAIM)
Dec 2, 2022

What is Hepatic Lipidosis?

Hepatic Lipidosis, which is commonly referred to as “fatty liver syndrome”, occurs when cattle and camelids are off feed or in negative energy balance (often during pregnancy, or in early lactation). Obese animals are at the greatest risk for Hepatic Lipidosis. In Hepatic Lipidosis mobilization of substantial amounts of body fat reserves in response to insufficient dietary energy supply results in a transfer of fatty acids to the liver. Excessive amounts of these fatty acids are deposited into the liver cells as triglycerides and can result in a disturbance of liver function and cause liver cell injury. In severe cases this can lead to liver failure.

What are the signs that your pet has Hepatic Lipidosis?

Characteristic signs of Hepatic Lipidosis are:

  • Inappetence
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Dull behavior
  • Drop in milk production
  • High ketones
  • Icterus (yellowing of the eyes and mucus membranes-gums/mouth)

Mild symptoms can quickly progress to severe life-threating signs.

How can we diagnose Hepatic Lipidosis?

If your cow or camelid shows signs any of these signs, you should contact your primary care veterinarian immediately to have them evaluated. The evaluation will allow your veterinarian to detect abnormalities such as, lethargy, weight loss, a drop in milk production or icterus. Your veterinarian may perform a blood chemistry to look for an elevation of liver enzymes. They also may perform an ultrasound of the liver or biopsy to look for enlargement and fat deposits in the liver.

What are the treatment options?

Therapy is focused on resolving the energy gap and supporting the liver. Treatment often involves hospitalization for administration of IV glucose, insulin, and vitamins. In some cases, rumen transfaunation (oral administration of rumen fluid from a healthy animal to a sick animal) is useful. In cases where the reason for the animal going into a negative energy balance is not clear further diagnostics may be necessary to confirm the cause of Hepatic Lipidosis.

What is the outcome after treatment?

Unfortunately, by time Hepatic Lipidosis is recognized most animals are in the late stage of the disease which carries a poor prognosis for survival with over 25% of cases resulting in death. Animals in the early stage of the disease can have a good prognosis if the cause of negative energy balance can be identified and corrected and if aggressive medical therapy is started promptly. Animals that survive should be carefully monitored during pregnancy or times of stress as they are at increased risk for reoccurrence of hepatic lipidosis. 

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