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How to Identify and Treat Liver Disease in Dogs

Katelyn Son

By

Medically reviewed by

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When pet owners hear about canine liver disease, they can be forgiven for being alarmed. People and their pooches have such a strong bond that pet parents will go out of their way to make sure their dog is well cared for, often purchasing pet insurance just in case.

The liver is a very important organ. Incredibly, your dog’s body relies on it to perform roughly 1,500 different functions.

These involve producing and releasing nutrients, making plasma proteins, storing, and releasing critical vitamins and minerals, supporting blood clotting, producing bile acids and liver enzymes, breaking down medications and expelling toxins.

Liver dysfunction can be a very serious problem, and educating yourself about it beforehand is the first step in protecting your pet from various liver diseases. Here’s what to know.

What is Liver Disease in Dogs?

liver disease in dogs

Simply put, liver disease in dogs happens when this hard-working organ isn’t functioning as it should. There are a many common liver disorders in canines. Read on for a brief description of these liver diseases.

Abnormal Blood Vessels

A blood vessel may actually bypass the liver and cause toxins to build up. This can occur as a birth defect or might develop with age. These “shunts,” as they’re called, are either one main vessel that goes around the liver or several smaller shunts inside the organ.

Endocrine Diseases

Diseases like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease) that impact the endocrine glands can lad to an impaired liver organ.

Infection

Since all blood in your pup’s body moves through the liver, any infection in the blood will be carried into the liver. Canine hepatitis is the most canine liver infection, and can lead to inflammation and scar tissue developing. Infections can also be due to canine herpesvirus.

Leptospirosis

Although this is often associated with kidney disease, this bacterial infection that can result in canine liver disease. Dogs often pick Leptospirosis up in contaminated water and it can certainly impact several organs, resulting in kidney disease too.

Fungal Infections

The two most common fungal infections that can cause canine liver disease are coccidioidomycosis and histoplasmosis. A dog contracts these when they come into contact with spores in their environment.

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer in dogs will show up as primary tumors in the liver or secondary tumors that have metastasised, or spread, elsewhere in the body. Metastatic tumors are more common.

Liver Masses

Cysts in the liver are normally benign, although they may be large and can grow in size. They are around from birth or might occur as your pup ages.

It’s helpful to be aware that some dog breeds are more susceptible to particular liver conditions. Ask your veterinarian team about your canine companion’s chances. You may want to invest in pet insurance.

Signs Your Dog has Liver Disease

Signs Your Dog has Liver Disease

As with many other illnesses, symptoms of liver disease in dogs are varied and can easily be mistaken for something else. Due to the many functions the liver has, there are many different warning signs your dog might have liver disease. Specific symptoms will depend on the bodily function involved.

That said, there are several more common warning signs of liver disease in dogs. One is jaundice and the other is gastrointestinal problems.

With jaundice your pet’s skin has a yellowish tinge, most noticeable in the ears, eyes and gums. Gastrointestinal issues include symptoms vomiting and diarrhea, and a more worrisome condition called ascites, or fluid retention in the abdomen.

Following are the warning signs to look for:

  • Appetite loss
  • Ascites
  • Blood in urine or feces
  • Brittle nails
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Dark urine
  • Diarrhea
  • Eye discharge
  • Fatigue
  • Gas or bloating
  • Increased thirst & urination
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Jaundice
  • Seizures
  • Sinus issues
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss

Causes of Liver Disease

There are several causes for liver disease in dogs. They may be genetically predisposed or their liver problems might come from an injury, infection or trauma. With aging, a canine is also susceptible to having a liver problem so your vet may order blood screening tests at a regular health care check up.

Toxins are one of the major causes of liver dysfunction. That’s because the liver plays a role in breaking down these substances to protect your dog’s body from them. If the liver becomes overburdened with too many of these, it can’t do its job and liver damage may result.

Here’s a list of substances that can cause liver issues:

  • Blu-green algae
  • Certain plants & molds
  • Chemicals in cleaners
  • Dewormers
  • Environmental toxins
  • Flame retardants in furniture & carpet
  • Food additives
  • Heartworm drugs
  • Heavy metals
  • Medications
  • Mycotoxins from grain & peanuts
  • Processed or fatty food
  • Pesticides & herbicides
  • Tick & flea pesticides
  • Vaccines
  • Viruses

Liver Disease Treatment Options

Liver Disease Treatment Options

Since liver disorders can impact other body systems, it’s crucial to have a diagnosis for the condition and treatment started quickly. The challenge is that early symptoms of liver disease may not be apparent.

This means it’s best to err on the side of caution and have your pup examined and blood work done while the illness is in its early stages. Once chronic liver disease develops, your chances of restoring your dog’s health are limited and your pet could go into acute liver failure.

Furthermore, if your dog’s liver disease isn’t treated, they’re at risk for hepatic encephalopathy. This serious brain condition can mean experience blindness, depression, disorientation, head pressing behavior, personality changes and seizures. The potential for developing hepatic encephalopathy should definitely give you pause!

Luckily, early intervention and treatment helps since the liver is able to regenerate and heal from damage. The treatment your veterinarian advises depends on how much injury the liver has sustained.

Treatment options are:

Antibiotics

These are administered to deal with infections in your dog’s liver. They may influence what other medications your pup can take, or the dosage of other prescriptions may have to be altered.

Dietary Changes

The team at your vet clinic will want to make sure that your dog has the particular nutrients they need and enough calories to support the liver. This may mean that your pet is put on special dog food.

Supplements

Supplements can boost your dog’s healing, and the vet might recommend specific ones that can provide oxygen supplementation to assist the liver to recover.

Surgery

If your doggo has a liver tumor or cyst, be prepared that they may need surgery to remove it. Before making a treatment plan, your veterinarian will order tests to check for blood and urine abnormalities.

Preventing Liver Damage in Your Dog

Sadly, acute liver failure due to certain types of canine liver disease is sometimes unavoidable. Having said that, there are several preventative measures your can take to reduce your pup’s risk of contracting liver disease. We recommend:

Schedule Annual Vet Check-ups

Taking your dog to the veterinarian for an annual check-up is one of the best ways to be sure that your pet remains healthy. Your vet knows the early signs of liver disease. This is your opportunity to discuss the dog food and supplements you’re giving Tiger or Tulip.

Vaccinate Your Dog

Make sure that you stay current with your dog’s vaccinations. Along with rabies and other core vaccines, your vet will suggest vaccinating against infectious canine hepatitis. They may also urge you to have your pet vaccinated for leptospirosis.

Keep Toxins Away

Protecting your dog from toxins can be somewhat difficult. The place to start is in your home. Take a look at the cleaning products you’re using and replace them with natural alternatives where you can. Avoid taking your dog to an outside site where pesticides and chemicals have been used, or where they may encounter poisonous plants.

Offer a Healthy Diet

With your vet’s advice, make diet changes for your pooch that promote a healthy liver. This means no fatty or processed foods or those that contain synthetic minerals and vitamins.

Giving your pup dog food with a high-quality protein diet is a good idea. That’s because about half the essential amino acids your dog’s body needs to build and repair tissues, including in the liver, come from protein in their diet.

You can also give your dog liver. Not only is it a good source of protein, it has B vitamins, vitamin A and some minerals.

Supplements for Liver Health

Supplements for Liver Health

There are some beneficial supplements that can support the liver to break down toxins and promote health liver cells. Here are types to consider:

Antioxidants and Carotenoids

The liver breaks down toxins through a process called oxidation and this results in a certain number of free radicals, or unstable atoms. Too many free radicals can lead to tissue death, and this is where antioxidants can assist to restore the balance.

Carotenoids, the pigments found in some plants that show up as bright red, yellow and orange colors, are one of the types of antioxidant. Turkey Tail mushroom is another good example of a powerful antioxidant.

Astaxanthin

Astaxanthin is a particular carotenoid found in microalgae. It’s characterized by a red pigment that’s released and attaches itself to a cell’s external and internal areas to basically neutralize the free radical.

Fruits and Vegetables

Like their pet owners, fresh fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet for dogs. Plus, the following types provide antioxidant support:

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • ·Celery
  • Fermented vegetables
  • Lemons
  • Spinach
  • Sprouts (alfalfa, clover and radish)

Glutathione

This antioxidant can give your pet’s immune system a boost while it detoxifies their liver. Essentially it binds to toxins and prevents damage. Interestingly, Glutathione is used in hospitals to treat accidental Tylenol, or acetaminophen, overdoses.

Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle is also called silymarin. This substance protects cells from toxins and assists the regeneration of liver cells. In addition, it can be used to support dogs with existing liver disease.

Phytoplankton

Important nutrients that can help to restore liver health are contained in phytoplankton. A benefit of it is that it’s absorbed quite easily by mucous membranes and is gentle on digestion.

Cleanse Your Dog’s Liver

Finally, cleansing your dog’s liver twice a year is a good idea. This helps address toxins that are more difficult to deal with through other methods. A liver cleanse can assist to address allergies, anxiety, arthritis, fatigue, a gastrointestinal condition, skin disease and weight loss or gain. 

Turkey Tail Mushroom for Liver Health

Many mushrooms have helpful properties for our pets. Turkey Tail mushroom is an excellent antioxidant supplement with a range of benefits. In addition to assisting the liver to detox the blood, Turkey Tail supports the immune response and reduces inflammation. This probiotic works to help increase gut health, aiding digestion and the microbiome.

The best way to give Turkey Tail extract to Honey or Harry is in a supplement that can be added to your pet’s food, or offered as a chew. Daily does are based on the dog’s weight and will vary depending on the product ingredients, so read the instructions carefully.

Too much can irritate the bowel or be toxic. Watch for side effects like allergies, low blood sugar or low blood pressure.

Our Final Thoughts

young woman and her dog

Liver disease in dogs should not be a cause pet owners undue alarm. With preventative care, speedy diagnosis and treatment, pet parents can avoid chronic liver disease and acute liver failure for their canine companions. Finally, having pet insurance can give you some peace of mind.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the symptoms of a dog with liver problems?

The most common symptoms of liver disease are jaundice and gastrointestinal problems.

Can a dog recover from liver damage?

Liver disease in dogs is treatable with proper diagnosis and veterinary care.

What causes liver problems in dogs?

Toxins are one of the major causes, followed by injury and infection.