Understanding Dog Liver Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

The liver is an essential organ in your dog's body. A dog’s liver is located in the right upper quadrant of the dog's abdomen and plays a significant role to ensure that Fido's body functions properly. A lot of times, we take the liver for granted and if something happens, we suffer the consequences. It’s the same thing with your canine companion.

If you give him nothing but fatty and greasy food along with exposing him to various toxins or medication that is dangerous to his health, his liver will be the primary organ that suffers. That is why it’s vital for dog owners to quickly recognize the signs of liver dysfunction so they can get their four-legged friend to the vet right away. Fortunately, if liver disease is diagnosed at an early stage, the issue is most likely reversible. Unfortunately, if you wait too long to fix the problem, then there will be negative consequences for them as well.

Fortunately, we have all the information that you will need to fight against liver disease to save your tail-wagging friend's life.

Related: Dog Diarrhea: Causes and Treatments

What Is the Function of the Liver?

The liver is the second largest organ in the body and has over 1500 functions. That is why if something happens to this organ, there will be severe consequences. The liver has a multifaceted role in the body. It helps to detoxify blood, metabolize medications, activate vitamin D, eliminate toxins and waste, metabolize energy, produce bile acids, digestive functions, store and release nutrients, create plasma proteins, regulate hormones, and create blood clotting factors. With all this in mind, all these functions would be significantly affected if a dog’s liver isn’t healthy.

Types of Liver Disease

There are two types of liver disease, which are acute and chronic. Acute liver disease usually happens immediately and is often caused by toxins or infections. Usually, acute liver disease can get better on its own or can be treated with medication.

However, the chronic liver disease usually develops gradually, and symptoms are difficult to diagnose in the early stages. For example, chronic illness like diabetes can result in chronic liver disease in dogs. Therefore, treatment of chronic liver disease focuses on keeping the underlying disease under control.

Signs of Liver Disease in Dogs

It’s vital to diagnose liver dysfunction before it escalates further. Luckily, we can tell you the main symptoms so you can keep an eye on them. If you witness particular symptoms on your dog, then it’s time to bring him to the vet.

Here are the signs and symptoms to look for: eye discharge, sinus problems, fatigue, loss of appetite, thyroid disease, ligament or tendon problems, allergies, dark urine color (signifies blood in urine), brittle nails, constipation or diarrhea, and aggression. Other symptoms to take notice are jaundice, vomiting, seizures, blindness, weakness, confusion, weight loss, blood in feces or urine, constant thirst, increased urination, excessive drooling, ataxia, blood clotting abnormalities, behavioral changes, and fluid retention.

Related: Why Do Dogs Eat Cat Food?

What Causes Liver Disease in Dogs?

In order to prevent or treat liver disease, it’s crucial to find the underlying etiology. There are a variety of causes to liver diseases in dogs. Keep in mind that older dogs are more susceptible to liver issues. Another factor is that certain dog breeds are more vulnerable to liver disease, so it’s essential to take a proactive approach to provide the proper supplements and lifestyle changes to slow down the progression of liver problems.

Another component to consider is the idea of copper storage disease. Breeds like labradors, poodles, golden retrievers, German shepherds, and Yorkshire terriers are prone to copper storage dysfunction. If your dog does not store copper properly, it can accumulate in the liver resulting in severe damage and dysfunction.

Another issue is hepatic lipidosis, which is commonly called fatty liver disease. There are breeds such as fox terrier, Chihuahua, Yorkshire terrier, and other toy breeds who are prone to fatty liver. The accumulation of fats and triglycerides can damage the function of the liver.

Some dogs are born with a congenital liver shunt disease which disrupts the blood circulation in the liver, leading to potential liver problems and complications.

Medications that Can Harm the Liver

There are a couple of drugs on the market that can significantly damage your dog's liver. These chemicals and toxins might be difficult for the liver to break down therefore resulting in potential harm and dysfunction. Sometimes, dog owners obtain prescription medication from the vet or purchase supplements or other medication over the counters in hopes of treating their dog.

Unfortunately, some of these medications are toxic for dogs. That is why it’s imperative to be able to recognize which drug, substance, or supplements are harmful to the liver and to avoid them if your dog has some predispose liver problems.

As a matter of fact, it’s an excellent strategy to start these medications at a lower dosage to see how Fido reacts to the ingredients. If you have to obtain heartworm prevention, deworming medication, flea and tick prevention, and acetaminophen, it’s essential to talk to the vet about the dosage and their effect on the liver.

Environmental Toxins Bad for the Liver

Dogs are constantly exposed to environmental toxins on a daily basis. It’s best to recognize these toxins and keep them away from your dog. The most common environmental toxins that your dog may come into contact with are processed food, pollution, household cleaners, heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides, aflatoxins, fluoride, and PBDE. These toxins can cause liver problem in dogs if they are exposed to them in high intensities.

What Diseases Can Lead to Liver Disfunction?

There are a variety of untreated chronic diseases that can escalate into liver failure. For example, pancreatic disease, diabetes, viral and bacterial infection, and untreated heartworm disease can all potentially lead to liver damage. The most common underlying illness would be a viral infection called canine hepatitis. Hepatitis is a highly contagious infection and can, in fact, be fatal. If your companion is infected with the hepatitis virus, it’s essential to bring them to the vet for a vaccine. If you are concerned about your dog's liver health, it is highly recommended to bring him to the veterinarian for preventative measures and an examination.Related: What to do if Your Dog has a Yeast Infection

How to Diagnose Liver Disfunction

Diagnosing liver disease in dogs requires a multitude of tasks. The first thing that your veterinarian will perform a physical examination. The vet will have to check for jaundice, distended abdomen, coat quality, mucous membrane color, and dehydration. The vet will also need information about the dog's behavior to see if he’s been aggressive or fatigue most of the time. If the dog has depression, ataxia, appetite change, or lethargy, that may indicate that something is wrong.

The next step is to obtain a complete blood count and serum biochemistry panel to check the hemoglobin and bilirubin functions and level. Serum bile acid plays a huge role in telling us how the liver is functioning. Your vet might have to perform a urinalysis to see if there are any ammonium crystals or bilirubin in the urine. If there are crystals or bilirubin, it means the liver may not be functioning correctly.

Through an extensive blood test, the vet will have to check the liver enzymes. The primary liver enzymes that your vet will check for is alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), and alkaline phosphatase (ALP). If these enzymes are abnormally high, then that means there is a potential liver problems that will require further investigation.

Usually, high liver enzymes will signify damage and inflammation to the liver cells. If we are talking about the human population, a high liver enzyme may indicate alcohol intoxication, but since your dog is not allowed to enter the bar and consume alcohol, then most likely they are exposed to some disease or toxins.

How to Treat Liver Issues in Dogs

Treatment for liver dysfunction depends on the stage of the disease and the underlying causes. For example, the acute liver problem is usually caused by toxin exposure. Proper treatment would emphasize antibiotics, liver medication, and viral medication. However, chronic liver disease will require something more complicated because it’s usually caused by chronic illnesses such as diabetes and pancreatic issues.

The first step of liver treatment would be dietary changes. Most dogs would benefit from a diet filled with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. That means your dog will have to stay away from fatty and processed foods, and instead focus on eating a healthy and nutritious diet. Your dog should consume foods with natural ingredients and few additives, like Dope Dog’s Peanut Butter Dog Treats. These 100% GMO-free treats help manage pain and digestion, as well as insomnia that may occur from liver discomfort.

You can also protect your dog's liver by giving him daily supplements of SAM-E or milk thistle. There are also medications that your veterinarian can prescribe to promote your dog's health. If your vet has diagnosed your dog with a cyst or a tumor on the liver, then surgery may be required to get rid of it.

What Is Liver Failure?

Liver failure is basically the end-stage liver disease. This is where the liver has suffered from constant damage and has escalated to the point where nothing you can do to save it. There are two types of liver failure; one is acute while the other is chronic. Both have very similar symptoms, except acute liver failure tends to occur very quickly while chronic liver failure is a gradual process.

This is a very serious result, and the only thing that the owner can do is make the dog as comfortable as possible. Either way, both of these have unfavorable results. Again, look for products that help dogs stay calm like CBD oil or soothing shampoos.

Related: Why Do Dogs Pant?

Signs of Liver Failure in Dogs

Liver failure in dogs has a variety of signs and symptoms. The most common ones are ascites, ataxia, seizures, vomiting, confusion, blindness, fatigue, weight loss, appetite change, constant thirst, blood clotting issues, increase urination, excessive drooling, blood in the feces and urine, and significant behavioral changes.

Signs of Liver Cancer

The hepatocytes are liver cells that continuously replicate to promote the function of the liver and to repair any damages that occur. However, if the liver is continuously exposed to toxins and trauma, it can cause a mutation in the hepatocytes. These mutations can result in erroneous replication, which could lead to liver cancer. If your dog has liver cancer, he or she may experience symptoms of seizures, fatigue, ataxia, diarrhea, vomiting, confusion, jaundice, appetite loss, weight loss, blood in urine and feces, increased thirst, and strange odor coming out of their body.

How to Prevent Canine Liver Issues

Some liver problems cannot be avoided, while others can be prevented. Luckily, dog owners can make changes in their dog's lifestyle to prevent potential liver damage. The first step is to avoid medication that is toxic to your dog's liver. It’s important to talk to your veterinarian to determine which drug, substance, and supplements are harmful to the liver. There is a variety of alternative medication that is safe and effective for your pet. Your vet can provide you with all the information.

Another key component is the annual check-up. Keep in mind that if liver problems are caught at an early stage, the vet can provide you with the proper treatment to prevent it from progressing any further. That is why it’s crucial to bring your four-legged friend for that yearly check-up. Another essential matter is to keep your dog away from fatty and processed food. These types of food can increase fats and triglyceride, which can accumulate in a dog’s liver, resulting in severe damages. Healthy and organic dog food can keep your dog's weight well-regulated and to prevent the accumulation of fat, therefore, promoting healthy vital organs.

The final strategy is to reduce your dog's exposure to poisonous environmental toxins. For example, it would be an excellent idea to keep your dog away from household cleaner because it can absorb into your dog's system and cause significant and irreversible damage.

How long can a dog live after being diagnosed with liver disease?

There is no time truly long enough in life to spend with our pets, and the time we do get is priceless. After diagnosis, the amount of time truly depends on the exact cause of the disease and the extent of the dog's liver damage

Sadly, if liver damage has already progressed and is in its critical last stages, almost 94 percent of dogs pass away within a few weeks of their diagnosis. The prognosis was less for canines with chronic hepatitis, a survival time averaging from 20 to 40 months. 

However, hope is not gone. Liver disease in dogs in its earlier stages can be effectively treated and managed, and many dogs go on to live months and even years happily after diagnosis. Healthy nutrition and working with your veterinarian are crucial in managing your dog's liver disease. 

The liver is a powerhouse of an organ and can be just as resilient and, if not too far gone, can even regenerate new healthy tissue. When a dog suffers from ongoing liver inflammation, no matter the cause, it is vital to start treatment as soon as you find out.

Cirrhosis of the liver is the final stage, and this is when the outlook is grim. Dogs being treated for inflammation of the liver have been able to live many years after their initial diagnosis successfully. Keeping up with your veterinarian and annual pet checkups is the first step against liver disease in your dog

What foods are hard on a dog's liver?

Dogs suffering from liver disease should always attempt to avoid foods high in fat, copper, and sodiumExcessive amounts of salt are not good for pets in general, and anything sweetened with artificial sugars is always off the list. Staying away from red meats that might be high in phosphorus is a good start. Even watching their intake of complex carbohydrates can help reduce raised liver enzymes. 

If your dog suffers from liver issues, avoid meats like lamb, pork, and salmon. Ditch the duck, and make sure your dog's diet is mostly free of organ meats that contain purines. Your dog requires protein in their diet, so we want to make sure the protein they get is not full of compounds that may be hard on the liver. Some of these proteins can be replaced by eggs and soy. 

Related: A Guide to a High-Fiber Diet

Is there really copper in dog food? 

Yes. Copper has been found in dog foods and even human-grade foods and is known to help red blood cells absorb needed iron in your body. However, liver disease can be caused or aggravated by excess copper in your pup's system. Although copper is an essential mineral and found in most dog food brands, a dog living with liver disease can actually become worse if given excessive amounts of copper in their diet. When the liver becomes overwhelmed, this can lead to more scarring and damage to the tissue. 

If you are concerned about copper toxicity, you can always have routine blood work done on your animal. Also, if you have copper water pipes throughout your home, it's best to buy water or flush lines for a minute or so before filling up your dog's water dish, especially if they suffer from liver issues. 

Dope Dog Mobility Munchies are a simple treat for your dog. Wheat, corn, and soy-free, with no artificial flavors, make these treats a healthy choice for dogs who need ingredient restrictions.

Take Home Message

You love your canine companion, so it’s vital to ensure that they are healthy and happy. Since the liver plays a very multifaceted role in their body, it’s essential to prevent any damage to that organ. This would entail bringing your pet to an annual check-up to detect potential liver issues and to be aware of any signs or symptoms so you can get help immediately. It is also important to make sure that your dog eats healthy food and exercise on a daily basis to keep his weight well-regulated and to prevent the buildup of body fat. Keep in mind that fats and toxins can be stored in the liver to cause significant damage.

With the proper knowledge and lifestyle modification, you will be able to keep your pet safe from liver disease.

Related: Zyrtec for Dogs

CBD Education Health and Medicine

← Older Post Newer Post →

Affiliate Program

Hey, we're dope dog. We love to work with dog obsessed pet owners that care about animal welfare and have a positive impact on the world. We'd love to hear more about you and your values. Tell us what you're looking for in a collab!

Apply now