Canine liver disease is among the top five leading causes of
non-accidental death in dogs, and should be taken seriously. The liver is
responsible for a number of essential bodily functions. If compromised in any
way, it puts your dog's overall health in jeopardy. Luckily, liver disease
and death can be avoided just by educating yourself about the disease and
learning what you can do to help prevent it.
is just a general medical term used to describe any kind of disorder or
condition affecting the liver, causing elevated blood levels of liver
enzymes. There are many different forms of liver disease. This should not be
surprising when you consider the importance and metabolic activity of the
liver. Just like the human liver, a dog’s liver removes toxins and
other hazardous things from its bloodstream. A dog’s liver is able to
function even when 80% is consumed by the disease, which is amazing. Unfortunately,
the fact that the liver can function when it’s this diseased leads to
other well developed diseases before diagnostics are eventually made, which
makes it even more important to prevent or treat as soon as possible.
Possible Causes of Liver Disease
Some things that may cause your dog to suffer from liver
- Exposure to toxins such as
lead, iron, and phosphorus
- Skin infections throughout
the dog’s body
- Viral and bacterial
- Altered blood flow to the
liver due to heart disease or other congenital abnormality
- Dental cavities and other
various dental diseases
- Genetics - common in West
Highland Terriers and Cocker Spaniels
- Drugs - even drugs prescribed
by a veterinarian can cause liver disease if used for a prolonged period
Signs and Symptoms
Some changes that you may notice if your dog has liver
- Yellowing of the gums, skin,
- Loss of appetite
- increased thirst
- Prolonged vomiting
- Severe diarrhea
- Orange urine and an increased
frequency of urination
- Behavioral change such as pacing
and/or severe depression
- Swollen stomach
- Seizures - in severe cases
Different Types of Liver Disease
1. Infectious Canine
Hepatitis - an acute liver infection in dogs caused by the
canine adenovirus type-1 (CAV-1). This disease is spread in the feces, urine,
blood, saliva and nasal discharge of infected dogs. It’s contracted
through the mouth or nose, where it replicates in the tonsils. The virus then
infects the liver and kidneys. The incubation period is 4 to 7 days.
Symptoms: fever, depression, loss of appetite, coughing and
a tender abdomen. Severe cases will develop bleeding disorders which can
cause hematomas to form in the mouth.
- an infectious disease which is passed to dogs through contact with urine
from other animals infected with leptospirosis.
Carriers of leptospirosis may be rodents, skunks,
raccoons and other infected animals, including both dogs and people.
Symptoms: weight loss, fever, loss of appetite, nausea,
vomiting, muscle or joint pain, bloody urine and uveitis
(changes in the eye).
Hepatitis - not a single disease, but a group of liver
diseases causing cirrhosis. Idiopathic chronic hepatitis is an autoimmune
disorder. There is no known cause, but the immune system of the dog produces
antibodies that attack the liver, which then becomes inflamed and
progressively leads to liver failure.
Symptoms: anorexia, depression, weakness. More severe cases
may include lesions.
Diagnosing Liver Disease
Liver disease is diagnosed by various blood and urine tests,
abdominal radiographs (x-rays), and abdominal ultrasounds. In some cases a
biopsy of the liver is needed to determine the cause of the liver disease.
1. Blood Tests
- will show elevated levels of various enzymes. In addition high levels of bilirubin, an orange-yellow pigment formed in the liver
by the breakdown of hemoglobin, which is then excreted in bile will also be
present. A bile acids test will frequently appear elevated, as well as the
blood ammonia level.
(x-rays) - will show if the liver is enlarged. Weight loss may also be more
apparent on the radiograph, even though abdominal fat stores might appear
- reveals any changes in the internal anatomy of the liver, including
abnormal growths, if any. This test also helps to reveal any inflammation of
the pancreas, which could be an underlying cause of liver disease or
Surgery - usually performed when extreme symptoms appear or
diagnosis by any of the previous tests is inconclusive. This allows a biopsy
of the liver, as well as visualization of the surrounding abdominal organs
for any disorders that might be contributing to the liver disease.
Supportive care is crucial, and may even require temporary
hospitalization until all primary medications have been given, and blood
parameters return to the normal range or show continuous significant improvement.
Correction of any developed dehydration, as the result of poor appetite, will
be performed intravenously (IV), along with B-complex vitamin supplementation
to correct any nutritional deficiencies caused by the disease.
As with many medical disorders, dietary therapy is important
in the treatment of a dog with liver disease. High quality and highly
digestible carbohydrates are recommended to supply energy for your dog.
Inferior types of carbohydrates that are undigested are fermented by
intestinal bacteria, which increase the bacteria in the colon. These bacteria
then break down dietary proteins and produce extra ammonia, which is absorbed
into the body and contributes to toxicity in dogs with liver disease.
Frequent meals of high quality simple carbohydrates, such as white rice and
potatoes, are recommended. Vegetables act as a source of complex carbohydrates
and provide fiber. The fiber helps bind intestinal toxins, and promotes bowel
movements to remove these toxins from the body.
Your veterinarian will schedule regular visits during
treatment to monitor the improvement of your dog, as well as any new or
reoccurring symptoms that may have appeared. It is very important that you do
not skip any appointments with your veterinarian or fail to follow the
prescribed regimen. It may cause your dog to relapse, causing further damage
and more serious consequences.