Liver disease in rabbits - Hepatic lipidosis

Hepatic lipidosis is caused by an accumulation of excess fat in liver cells. It is usually triggered by anorexia. Check the signs and know how to manage the problem

Posted: 20 April 2017

Liver disease in rabbits - Hepatic lipidosis

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Hepatic lipidosis is caused by an accumulation of excess fat in liver cells. It is usually triggered by anorexia. The loss of appetite happens as a result of many factors, including pain, stress, chronic fear, inappropriate handling, visits to the vet, changes in diet, dental disease and many other health problems.

It can develop quickly and rapidly becomes life threatening.

How does hepatic lipidosis occur?

In a healthy rabbit, volatile fatty acids are extracted from caecotrophs when they are digested, which are then absorbed directly through the caecal wall.

When a rabbit stops eating, these caecotroph are no longer formed, and glucose and volatile fatty acid production is reduced. Anorexia also results in hypoglycaemia, which stimulates lipolysis and the mobilisation of free fatty acids from fatty tissue. However because the normal metabolic processes have been interrupted, the fat begins to build up in the liver. The hepatocytes start to swell with fat and the rabbit rapidly becomes unwell.

Obese rabbits that can’t reach under the tail and ingest their caecotrophs are also at high risk from hepatic lipidosis for the same reasons mentioned above.

What are the signs of Hepatic Lipidosis?

The warning signals listed below can be seen with hepatic lipidosis but are not exclusive to that disease.

Look for these signs;

  • Anorexia – may be sudden or gradual
  • Weight loss – always check the weight of your patients at every visit. Check the body condition score
  • Faecal pellets – a decline in number and size of hard faecal pellets is a sure sign that a rabbit isn’t eating. You should expect to find in excess of 300 pellets per day
  • Dehydration – check skin tenting and body weight
  • Lethargy – check for the animal’s general alertness. If it becomes depressed and lethargic, it’s unlikely to be eating properly. The animal may be hunched.
  • Poor coat – depressed anorexic rabbits will stop grooming
  • Ataxia – with hypoglycaemia and dehydration, the animal will become uncoordinated

If a rabbit is anorexic, emergency medical care is needed

  • Fluid therapy – it’s very important to correct any fluid imbalance, so provide both subcutaneous and intravenous fluids as required
  • Analgesia – essential in many conditions, particularly post surgery, with dental disease and gut stasis
  • Assisted feeding - supplementary fiber-based foods, which can be fed via syringe, are very important. Excel DualCare is ideal
  • Prokinetics – metoclopramide is used to promote and maintain normal peristaltic movement

5 conditions that increase the risk of hepatic lipidosis?

  1. Obesity
  2. Pregnancy
  3. Surgery
  4. Dental disease
  5. Gastro-intestinal disease

Home Care of a Rabbit with Hepatic Lipidosis

It may be necessary to continue syringe-feeding the rabbit at home. This is where Excel DualCare is particularly beneficial.

Read our client handout on assisted feeding at home >

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