Fatty Liver Syndrome

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Also known as: Fat Cow Syndrome  


This disease is also known as fat cow syndrome (extreme form of fatty liver), which can occur in well-fed dairy cows a few days postpartum. It is caused by an excessive accumulation of liver fat without being able to export it from the liver during late dry period and early lactation. The fat is mobilised from the body around 2-3 weeks prior to parturition due to hormone release and collects in the liver if there are excess amounts. The amount of fat deposited is influenced by Body Condition Score (how fat the cow is), milk yield (energy requirement) and appetite (low in fat cows). Various conditions such as abomasal displacement, mastitis, metritis and retained placenta can trigger the condition.

The condition can be fatal due to liver failure (up to 25% has been reported).

Clinical Signs

The cow will appear generally sick and be depressed and separate from the herd. It will have a poor appetite and there may be indication of excessive weight loss in a short amount of time. The cow may be down if the disease is severe. If it is a milder form, it may display as a herd or group problem and there may be signs of infertility in the herd, such as an increased voluntary waiting period.


Clinical signs and history, plus post-parturient period and high BCS pre calving are indicative of the disease.

Blood samples should be taken. If the disease is present, it is likely that AST, NEFA's and Beta Hydroxy Butyrate will be increased.

If sudden death occurs due to Fat Cow Syndrome, post mortem exam will reveal fat infiltration of liver. This will appear as an enlarged, rounded liver, which is a pale yellow in colour and friable in nature. NB: will also get fat infiltration of liver in cows which have not been eating for several days so interpret carefully.

Treatment and Control

There is usually no treatment for the severe form of Fatty Liver Syndrome.

Prevention can be achieved by keeping the cow at a correct Body Condition Score during its life. Cows must be dried off at correct BCS (up to 3.5) and BCS must not be altered during the dry period. Fat cows must not be starved and their appetite maintained over late dry and calving period to prevent excessive weight loss and fat mobilisation. A transition diet should be suggested to the farmer as a way of controlling this disease.


Andrews, A.H, Blowey, R.W, Boyd, H and Eddy, R.G. (2004) Bovine Medicine (Second edition), Blackwell Publishing

Blood, D.C. and Studdert, V. P. (1999) Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary (2nd Edition) Elsevier Science

Divers, T.J. and Peek, S.F. (2008) Rebhun's diseases of dairy cattle Elsevier Health Scieneces

Radostits, O.M, Arundel, J.H, and Gay, C.C. (2000) Veterinary Medicine: a textbook of the diseases of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and horses Elsevier Health Sciences

This term is intended to refer to cattle. See the following pages for similar syndromes in other species.

Hyperlipaemia - Horse
Hyperlipaemia - Donkey
White Liver Disease - Sheep
Pregnancy Toxaemia (sheep)
Hepatic Lipidosis (cat and dog)

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