Liver disease in dogs is the fifth leading cause of non-accidental death among dogs. It is a very serious condition. Since the liver is the largest and most important organ in the body. The body becomes toxic and starts to deteriorate if it’s not working properly. The liver is a complex organ. It filters your dog’s entire blood supply many times each day. It processes everything that the body is exposed to, both internally and externally. It performs many vital functions, including detoxifying the blood of drugs and poisons; removing ammonia and other wastes from the blood; manufacturing blood-clotting factors; and synthesizing enzymes, proteins and metabolites.
The liver has a phenomenal ability to regain function and is believed to be capable of complete regeneration. When liver disease is identified early on, there is a chance of complete recovery. However, early diagnosis and treatment of liver disease in dogs is extremely difficult. The liver can perform its function without discernible changes in blood analyses with up to 75 percent of it affected by disease. This means the disease is usually well advanced, and possibly untreatable, before any symptoms are noted.
Liver disease is a catch-all term that applies to any medical disorder that affects the liver. There are many different specific and non-specific diseases of the liver. Your Vet will need to do further diagnosis to determine the cause and best treatment. Because of the complexity of liver disease in dogs.
Liver Disease in Dogs Causes
- Prolonged use of some drugs such as NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug), cortisone, anti-convulsants, steroids, some antibiotics, anesthetics, parasite control drugs, chemotherapy drugs and acetaminophen.
- Exposure to high levels of toxic chemicals like insecticides, lead, phosphorus, selenium, arsenic and iron.
- Other diseases, viruses and infections like hepatitis, heartworms, and infections elsewhere in the body; most commonly dental disease, chronic skin and ear infections.
- Certain breeds of dogs are prone to genetically inherited liver disease (female Doberman Pinschers, American and English Cocker Spaniels, Bedlington Terriers, West Highland White Terriers).
Common Symptoms of Liver Disease
- Vomiting with or without blood.
- Diarrhea with or without blood.
- Eating unusual things.
- Frequent urination and increased water intake.
- Depression or lethargy doesn’t want to play anymore, lays in a spot away from you and family.
- Loss of appetite or ravenous appetite.
- Orange urine.
- Pale gray stools or orange/yellow stools.
- Jaundice the whites of the eyes, skin and gums turn yellow.
- Chronic weight loss or wasting.
- Ascites – swollen belly filled with fluid.
- Severe neurological signs – behavioral changes, seizures, aimless pacing or circling, head pressing. (May be associated with mealtime.)
- Unexplained bleeding or prolonged bleeding (e.g. after nail trimming or drawing blood).
Cirrhosis of the Liver
Cirrhosis is the final stage of liver disease in dogs. It is when the liver cells die off and turn into scar tissue. This condition is irreversible. The only treatment option is dietary care. The liver can still function with up to 70-80 percent of the liver affected. Cellular regeneration is not possible once the tissue is scarred. The only hope is to keep the part of the liver that remains as healthy as possible.
Liver Disease Diagnosing in Dogs
- Examination to identify the specific signs of liver disease.
- Consultation with Vet (most important) to get a full history (when, where, why, how, etc.) and more to determine when the liver disease started and what could be causing it, so that whatever’s causing it can be stopped.
- Blood Test to check for anemia, other organic abnormalities, health of the bile system, infections, electrolyte imbalances, digestive enzymes, blood parasites, blood proteins, blood sugar (glucose), liver enzymes and ammonia.
- Ultrasound to visually inspect for scar tissue, cancer, abscesses, abnormal blood supply, to determine what percentage of the liver is affected and determine the size and density of the liver, gall bladder and bile system.
- Biopsy to give a microscopic perspective to ascertain diagnosis, the actual conditions of the liver cells and prognosis to better determine appropriate treatment.
Liver Disease Treatments For Dogs
There is a wide range of treatments for the various liver diseases. Your Vet will be able to recommend the best treatment. Here are the basic points for treatment of liver disease.
- There are no conventional medications that actually cure liver disease in dogs.
- Identify and remove all toxic drugs or agents, which may potentially hurt the liver.
- Rest and confinement to allow the body time to heal the liver, reduce discomfort, and reduce physical and mental stress.
- Change diet to get down to basics and provide all necessary nutrients, which may be lost due to liver processing failure, being careful not to over-tax the liver with large amounts of food. (Usually done with a prescription diet dog food.)
- Control ascites and water retention with reduced sodium.
- Control concurrent infections with antibiotics.
- Add Vitamin and Mineral supplement.
- Deal with other medical problems as they come up. Deal with each separate problem both individually and as part of the whole diseased entity with regular trips to the Vet.
- Add Milk Thistle, Vitamin E, Selenium, SAM-e and other supplements that support liver function (as recommended by your Vet).
- Discuss nutritional needs and supplements with your Vet before changing the diet and adding supplements to make sure you are doing no harm (e.g. high protein with concurrent kidney problems could cause kidney failure).
- Change to natural or healthy homemade diet with high levels of top quality protein, which will not produce high levels of ammonia during digestion, and high levels of carbohydrates with at least 6% of essential fatty acids.
- Adjust diet to add food remedies that support liver function.
- Add a high quality multi-vitamin with minerals and anti-oxidants.
- Add digestive enzymes to meals to aid in utilization of food and supplements.
- Remove all toxic chemicals from the environment, including the diet, pesticides, chemical treatments and medications.
- Treat the whole system, including new problems as they come up.
- Perform regular checkups at home and see your Vet regularly to monitor progress and check blood levels.