Hyperlipidemia in Cats

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Hyperlipidemia is a general term for conditions in which there is too much fat in the bloodstream. Hyperlipidemia in cats is not as common as it is in dogs and humans.

What Is Hyperlipidemia in Cats?

The term hyperlipidemia is used to describe disorders in which an animal has excess fat in the blood. Hyper- means "over" and lipid refers to fat. The main lipids normally found in the blood are triglycerides and cholesterol. When one or both of these levels are elevated in the blood, the cat is considered to have hyperlipidemia.

It's normal for blood lipid levels to temporarily increase after a meal and return to normal later. This is called lipemia and it can distort blood work results. This explains why your vet recommends that your cat fasts before doing blood tests.

There are two types of hyperlipidemia in cats: primary and secondary.

  • Primary hyperlipidemia is an uncommon hereditary disorder that affects lipids.
  • Secondary hyperlipidemia occurs when another disease process has caused an increase in blood lipid levels. Some cats have conditions that prevent excess lipids from leaving the blood, leading to other problems in the body.

You may not notice any signs of illness in the early stages of hyperlipidemia. This is why it's so important for cats to see the vet for annual or biannual check-ups. As cats age, vets recommend routine blood work to look for abnormalities. Problematic hyperlipidemia may be detected on routine blood tests.

  • Cats that exhibit signs of hyperlipidemia may exhibit a variety of signs. This is because there is usually another disease that has caused the hyperlipidemia. If there is an associated disease process occurring, the cat may show signs of that disease as well. This is why it's important to contact your veterinarian if your cat is showing any signs of illness.

Signs of Hyperlipidemia in Cats

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weight changes
  • Skin lesions
  • Seizures and other nervous system issues
  • Eye abnormalities
  • Changes in behavior
  • Increased thirst and/or urination

Causes of Hyperlipidemia in Cats

Primary hyperlipidemia in cats is rare. This is an inherited disease that can occur in any cat but is seen more often in Himalayan cats.

Secondary hyperlipidemia in cats is caused by another disease process or external factor.

  • Obesity
  • High-fat diet
  • Medications (especially corticosteroids)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Liver disease
  • Protein-losing nephropathy
  • Cushing's disease (very rare in cats; usually linked to diabetes mellitus)

Treatment for Hyperlipidemia in Cats

When blood work results reveal hyperlipidemia, veterinarians work to look for an underlying cause. Further lab tests are often needed to determine if the cat has primary or secondary hyperlipidemia.

If no underlying cause is found, the cat will be diagnosed with primary hyperlipidemia. Treatment involves dietary modifications. Most cats will need to be on a low-fat diet for the rest of their lives and can remain quite healthy. Medications are not usually necessary.

If the vet can find an underlying cause, the cat will be diagnosed with secondary hyperlipidemia. Treatment is dictated by the specific cause of hyperlipidemia. If medications and/or diet are believed to be the culprit, the changes will be made to medication doses and/or dietary intake.

Secondary hyperlipidemia is often caused by another disease process, so the treatment will be specific to the disease. For example, cats with pancreatitis will likely need hospitalization and supportive care to treat pancreatitis. Cats with diabetes mellitus may need to begin insulin and have their diets changed. If obesity is determined to be the underlying cause, then weight loss will be necessary. This typically means a change in diet and lifestyle for the cat.

How to Prevent Hyperlipidemia in Cats

The only way to prevent primary hyperlipidemia in cats is to make sure cats with the disease are not used for breeding (because the disease is inherited).

The best way to prevent secondary hyperlipidemia in cats is to prevent underlying diseases or keep them from getting out of control. Feeding a healthy, complete, and balanced cat food is also important. Be sure you are bringing your cat to the vet once or twice a year for wellness examinations. Your vet may be able to detect a disease in the early stages before it has caused any signs of illness.