Canine liver disease

The importance of good liver health for dogs

The liver is very important organ, not only for us humans, but also for our dogs. It can have serious health consequences if the liver is not working properly. 

There can be number of reasons for liver disease in dogs. Some are more serious than others are but with early diagnosis, canine liver disease can usually be successfully treated, or at least managed.

This section includes various information and advice about liver diseases in dogs:

The most common canine liver diseases

Diet tips for pets with liver disease

Dog being examined by a Vet

But first...

How does our dogs liver work?

The liver is the largest organ in the body and has many important functions. The liver is involved in building and breaking down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. And it plays a vital role in digesting nutrients and detoxifying chemicals.

The liver is also an essential part of the immune system and plays an important role in the production of red blood cells. It is also responsible for storing vitamins and minerals.

Basically…

"It is involved with almost all of the biochemical pathways that allow growth, fight disease, supply nutrients, provide energy, and aid reproduction. Liver cells, which are called hepatocytes, go through thousands of complex biochemical reactions every second in order to perform these myriad functions" (Long Beach Animal Hospital)

Since the liver has so many important functions, it goes without saying that when the liver is not working properly, there can be serious health consequences. Canine liver disease is a broad term describing a number of liver diseases in dog. Chronic liver inflammation in dogs is also known as canine hepatitis or hepatitis in dogs.

Early diagnosis of canine liver disease is important, i.e. so the condition can be treated or at least managed.

What causes canine liver disease?

There are many possible causes for liver problems in pets. The cause can be genetic, i.e. your dog may have been unlucky in the "gene lottery". Liver disease is also more common among older pets. However, any dog can develop liver disease.

Common causes for liver disease in dogs include:

- Trauma to the area, e.g. if the dog is hit by a car

- Infection (bacteria, viruses and fungi), e.g. infectious canine hepatitis and leptospirosis

- Diseases like diabetes, cushing's disease, hyperthyroidism and pancreatitis can cause secondary liver changes

- Some medication can also cause liver health problems, e.g. long-term use of painkillers like Tylenol and prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pets (NSAIDs)

The symptoms of liver failure in dogs 

Canine liver disease symptoms can be similar to the symptoms of many other diseases. The symptoms can also vary greatly and can be subtle in the early stages. It is therefore easy to miss the symptoms but they commonly include some of the following:

- Loss of appetite (most common symptom)

- Weight loss

- Vomiting and / or diarrhoea

- Blood (in the pee or poop)

- Excessive thirst and/or urination

- Ascites (build-up of fluid in the peritoneal cavity)

- Drooling

- Jaundice (yellowish eyes, tongue, or gums)

- Lethargy

- Seizures

- Fever

- Confusion

- Unstable walk

- Circling, wandering and/or pacing

- Head pressing

- Increased aggression

- Blindness

If you at any time suspect your pet may be suffering from liver disease see your Vet as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can mean all the difference for your pet.

The dogs most at risk of getting liver disease

Some dog breeds are more susceptible of getting canine liver disease than others are. These include many Terriers breeds, Maltese, Schnauzers, Keeshonds, Dalmatians, Doberman Pinscher, Cocker Spaniel, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, and German Shepherds.

Most forms of liver disease are more common in older animals (middle age to old), but congenital liver diseases are more common in younger dogs. Free roaming dogs are at more risk of being hit by car causing acute blunt trauma to the liver. They are also likely to have more access to chemicals and poisonous plants that can cause liver damage.

Vet giving dog an injection

What to expect if your dog has liver disease

The prognosis for your pet depends on the severity and length of time of liver pathology. This is why early diagnosis is so important. For formal diagnosis, your Vet will take blood tests and most likely do an X-ray or ultrasound to get a better picture of what is going on in your dog's liver.

Canine liver disease blood tests

It is recommended to run a CBC (complete blood count) and liver panel (hepatic function panel) on all pets showing symptoms of liver disease. Some Vets like to run these tests on regular basis on all animals over certain age.

CBC is useful to check for anemia (if the number of red blood cells present in the blood is lower than normal) and for indications of infection.

Hepatic function panel is a group of tests used to screen for, detect, evaluate and monitor acute and chronic liver inflammation (hepatitis in dogs), liver disease and / or liver damage. 

Abnormal liver values do not automatically mean your dog has liver disease. The first step is therefore to try to rule out any non-liver related diseases that may have caused the abnormal values. For definitive diagnosis, the Vet is likely to take a biopsy, i.e. remove small tissue sample for testing.

What is liver disease life expectancy in dogs?

The liver has amazing healing capacities so most canine liver disease can be successfully treated. The treatment options depend on the condition and severity of the disease.

Unfortunately, some types of liver disease are incurable, but with supportive care, the patient may still be able to live a comfortable, though shortened, life. For example, prognosis for liver cancer in dogs is still poor so the treatment is more about managing the disease as best possible.

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The benefits

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