What is Yellow Fat Disease?
Vitamin E is responsible for forming cell membranes and metabolizing fat tissue. A deficiency of vitamin E will cause damage to the cells throughout the body, most importantly the skeletal muscle, heart, and nerves. This disease is life-threatening, and warrants immediate veterinary attention.
Yellow fat disease, also known as steatitis or pansteatitis, is a serious condition in cats caused by an overabundance of unsaturated fatty acids in the diet that leads to a vitamin E deficiency. Diets high in oily tuna and liver – usually those made for human consumption – are typically causative for yellow fat disease.
Symptoms of Yellow Fat Disease in Cats
Symptoms of yellow fat disease are generally severe and manifest rapidly. As the condition progresses, your cat may be reluctant to let you touch it. Seek immediate veterinary attention as soon as you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Signs of depression
- Greasy, dull coat
- Extremely sensitive skin
- Signs of pain
- Masses on or just under the skin
- Unwillingness to move
Causes of Yellow Fat Disease in Cats
The main cause of yellow fat disease in cats is an inappropriate diet, primarily tuna and liver made for human consumption. This is not the same as a diet of tuna or liver flavored cat foods. Cats can become addicted to the taste of tuna, and may refuse other foods. Providing a commercial diet of tuna flavored cat food may help solve this problem. Tuna flavored cat food is typically a mix of several types of meat, providing a balanced and nutrient-rich diet.
While there are other disorders in cats connected with vitamin E deficiency, yellow fat disease is the most common. In cats suffering from yellow fat disease, fat tissue does not metabolize normally. Young cats and overweight cats have a higher predisposition for developing the condition. However, any cat that is being fed an improper diet is at risk.
Diagnosis of Yellow Fat Disease in Cats
Your vet will be able to make a tentative diagnosis based on a thorough physical examination and presentation of symptoms. Be sure to inform your vet of the extent and duration of your cat’s symptoms, as well as its complete medical history and diet.
Your vet will make a definitive diagnosis by taking a biopsy. Your vet may also take radiographs to confirm the presence of masses under the skin.
Treatment of Yellow Fat Disease in Cats
Treatment will consist of dietary changes, drug therapy, and nutritional support in some cases. Your vet will advise you on a treatment plan based on your cat’s specific needs.
Your vet will typically prescribe vitamin E supplements to be administered until the condition has cleared up. Corticosteroids are typically also prescribed to manage pain, inflammation, and fever. These are usually administered for a period of up to three weeks.
The primary component of treatment is diet change. Vets will typically recommend that owners switch to a commercial, safe diet for cats. Specific dietary changes will be recommended based on the cat’s individual needs.
Recovery of Yellow Fat Disease in Cats
Recovery and prognosis will depend on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of treatment. Always follow your vet’s post-treatment instructions carefully. Always administer any prescribed medications exactly as directed for the full duration of the treatment period.
In most cases, your cat will recover from yellow fat disease within a month following treatment, though recovery may also be as quick as one week. Your vet may advise that you administer the vitamin E supplement for up to one month after clinical signs have resolved. This can help prevent recurrence of the condition.
On the return home, your cat may not want to eat. If this is the case, you will have to force feed them. You may want to try a tuna flavored food that is safe for cats. Do not continue to feed your cat canned tuna, liver, or other fish made for human consumption. Though it is a common conception that cats love fish, feeding them canned fish is extremely harmful for them. For guidance regarding your cat’s diet, consult your vet.
Various pet sites and sources recommend administering tuna made for human consumption only as a special treat. However, eliminating this tuna completely from your cat’s diet is recommended, particularly if they are suffering or have suffered from yellow fat disease.
Your vet may schedule follow-up appointments as needed to monitor the condition. If you have any questions regarding your cat’s new diet, or if the condition does not seem to be improving despite treatment, contact your vet immediately.