High Cholesterol in Cats

Hyperlipidemia in Cats

Hyperlipidemia is characterized by abnormally excessive amounts of fat, and/or fatty substances in the blood. Chylomicrons are micro particles of liquid fat, in the class of lipids, which include both triglycerides and cholesterol, and which are formed during the digestion of fats from food. After eating a meal, the nutrients in an animal’s body pass into the small intestine, from which chylomicrons are absorbed 30-60 minutes later. Normally, the absorption of chylomicrons increases serum triglycerides for 3-10 hours, but some animals will have high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels for more than twelve hours after a meal – one of the main indications of hyperlipidemia. The clear part of the blood, the serum, is referred to as being lipemic when it has levels of triglycerides measuring over 200 mg/dL. Sometimes, levels of triglycerides in an animal’s serum can be even greater than 1000 mg/dL, giving the serum a milky, opaque appearance. This is medically referred to as lactescence (literally, being milky).

Certain diseases like diabetes mellitus and hypothyroidism can decrease the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which is responsible for dissolving lipids. Diabetes mellitus, obesity, and hyperadrenocorticism can affect the liver in such a way that the liver produces more very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), resulting in increased lipid levels in the blood. Other diseases, like nephrotic syndrome, cause the liver to increase production of cholesterol. Conversely, if the liver itself is diseased, it may not be able to excrete cholesterol at all. Hyperlipidemia can also be the result of an inherited disease in certain breeds of cats.

Symptoms and Types

Symptoms of hyperlipidemia include seizures, abdominal pain, nervous system dysfunctions, patches on the skin, and cutaneous xanthomata, which are yellowish-orange lipid-filled bumps (i.e., bumps filled with a fatty, greasy liquid).


  • Increased absorption of triglycerides/cholesterol:
    • After eating, especially after fatty meal
  • Increased production of triglycerides/cholesterol:
    • Nephrotic syndrome (degenerative kidney disease)
  • Decreased clearance of triglycerides/cholesterol:
    • Under-functioning thyroid gland
    • Over-functioning adrenal gland
    • Diabetes mellitus
    • Inflammation of the pancreas
    • Obstruction of the bile ducts (cholestasis)
  • Pregnancy
  • Defects in lipid clearance enzymes, or lipid carrier proteins
  • Inherited


Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your cat, taking into account the background history of symptoms, diet, and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. You will need to give a thorough history of your cat’s health. Your pet will most probably need to be hospitalized so that it can be put on a strict fast for twelve hours. After twelve hours or more, your veterinarian will order a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a serum sample for biochemical analysis, and a urinalysis. If triglycerides are greater than 100 mg/dL, and/or if cholesterol is greater than 200 mg/dL, your cat will be diagnosed hyperlipidemic.

The results of the blood work and urinalysis will allow your veterinarian to rule out the various underlying diseases that cause hyperlipidemia. Your veterinarian may also perform further testing for hyperadrenocorticism and hypothyroidism, depending on the blood work results. It may also be relevant to check your pet’s lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity.


A medical condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed


A gland that aids in both digestive and insulin functions


The term for a type of fur on cats that have two colors, spotted or striped


A type of lipid that moves through the bloodstream


An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness


An enzyme charged with digesting fat

thyroid gland

A gland found in the neck of humans and animals that secretes glands responsible for metabolic rate, calcitonin, and others.


A condition of the blood in which the fat levels are high


The fluid created by the liver that helps food in the stomach to be digested.

adrenal gland

The gland that produces the hormone adrenaline and others; helps to regulate the metabolism, electrolytes, and even sexual function; also helps to regulate the way the body responds to injury, trauma, etc. The adrenal gland is found near the kidney. Also referred to as the suprarenal gland.


a) Mass per volume b) The number of animals in a given area


A passage in the body with walls


A substance that causes chemical change to another


Term used to imply that a situation or condition is more severe than usual; also used to refer to a disease having run a short course or come on suddenly.

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