There are two important reasons why you should never take liver disease in dogs for granted. First, it being one of the largest and major organs in the body, it tends to reverse the condition as long as it is managed or treated as early as possible. Second, the liver is responsible for several critical body functions from removing toxins to metabolizing carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. But how do you know if your dog is sick with liver disease? How do you treat it?
Liver Disease In Dogs: Causes & Treatments
Meaning & Causes Of Liver Disease In Dogs
Canine liver disease is a broad term. It can refer to the inflammation, scarring, or dysfunction of the vital organ. Usually, by the time the vet has detected the illness, the dog has already lost at least 70 percent of the liver’s function. Because of the huge loss, clinical symptoms already appear.
It can also be acute or chronic. An acute liver disease or failure means a sudden reduction or loss of the organ function. It is life-threatening and is an emergency case since the damage can progress very quickly. On the other hand, it’s possible the disease is worsening gradually. It may be months or even years before the signs of the illness become more prominent.
Liver disease in dogs may also be primary, which means the condition began in the liver. One of the common reasons is congenital. Then there’s secondary liver disease, in which case there is an underlying condition that’s causing damage to the liver. Treating it can also cure or manage the liver dysfunction.
Indeed, there are various possible causes of liver disease in dogs, and these can include:
- Chronic or acute hepatitis, which is the inflammation of the liver that can lead to scarring
- Liver tumor, which can be benign or malignant (cancerous). If it’s liver cancer, usually, it is metastatic, which means the disease has just spread toward the organ.
- Exposure to toxins, including poisonous plants and animals, chemicals, certain types of human food (know what’s safe for them here) and drugs
- Certain medications
- Trauma or injury to the liver
- Heat exposure
- Vascular abnormalities such as congenital portosystemic shunt, where a blood vessel doesn’t go through the liver, causing toxic buildup
- Hypertension and diabetes
- Leptospirosis or infection of Leptospira bacteria
- Progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC), which causes bile, produced by the liver, to build up inside the cells
Signs & Symptoms Of Canine Liver Disease
Most of the symptoms associated with liver disease in dogs are also present in other illnesses, which can be a problem. It may lead to a late diagnosis or wrong treatment. Some dogs are also asymptomatic, so unless you’re faithful with your pet’s physical and blood exam, you’ll never know they’re sick unless they are already at their worse.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms to watch out for:
- Loss of appetite
- Disorientation or confusion
- Difficulty in walking or standing
- Sudden or massive weight loss
- Jaundice (or the yellowing of the skin, eyes, or gums)
- Signs of discomfort or pain
- Blood in stool
- Urgent need to pee
- Blood clotting issues (it may take longer for the wound to heal)
- Ascites or fluid buildup in the abdomen
Your canine may be going through the dog liver failure stages when they seem nauseated, disoriented, and losing a lot of weight over a short period. When you touch the right side of the abdomen, where the liver is, you may feel some swelling or the dog may react. They may also be sleeping more often than before.
A prudent veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical and blood test regardless whether these signs and symptoms are related to liver disease or not. One of the exams is the liver function test, which shall measure enzyme activity. High values often indicate liver damage. The results, however, need to be correlated with the other numbers such as creatinine and BUN for the kidneys or glucose for diabetes to obtain a clearer picture of the overall health of the canine.
The vet may also request for an X-ray or an ultrasound. This is an accurate way of determining if there are changes to the structure of the liver such as the presence of a tumor or mass, as well as scarring of the tissue.
Treatment For Liver Disease In Dogs
Can a dog recover from a liver failure? What is the dog liver life expectancy? As pet parents, these are often the questions you have in mind when your pooch faces such health challenge. Here’s the good news: because of the liver’s innate ability to regenerate, your dog has a very high chance of recovering. The condition may not only be managed but also be reversed.
The treatment options depend on the actual disease, the condition of the liver, the age of the patient, the chances of survival, the underlying disease, the presence of other conditions, the cost, and, most of all, the effect on the quality of life of the dog.
They can also have various goals:
- Treat, cure, or reverse the condition
- Manage the liver disease
- Support the remaining liver function until the organ has completely regenerated
- Provide palliative care to make the last days of the dog’s life as comfortable as possible
Based on these, the treatment options available include:
- Surgery – This is necessary if there’s a blockage, abnormality, or mass growing in the liver. This procedure carries a lot of risks or complications, so you need to discuss with your surgeon its full benefit to your dog’s life.
- Medications – Vets may prescribe certain medications to manage the symptoms of liver disease in dogs, especially when the organ is still regenerating. If there is ascites, your dog may receive furosemide. Chelating agents, on the other hand, are necessary to flush out toxins in the body including excess amounts of copper.
- Diet – For those with chronic conditions or for support for liver function, the vet may recommend a change in diet. Usually, it’s prescribed. The dog liver disease diet will include all the necessary vitamins and minerals to improve the function of the liver such as vitamin K for blood clotting or vitamin C for fighting toxins. They are also high-quality proteins, so they are usually raw meat or poultry. The fewer additives or fillers, the better.
Canine Liver Disease Prevention
While there’s no guarantee your dog will never suffer from a liver disease, you can still take a more proactive approach and do these prevention ideas:
- Supervise your dogs at all times especially when they are outside.
- Avoid keeping plants that are toxic.
- Keep all your chemicals and human food away from the dog.
- Update their vaccination.
- Visit the vet for a complete physical and blood exam at least once a year.
Toxic food is one of the common causes of liver disease in dogs. Make sure they don’t get to eat these:
Dealing with liver disease in dogs is not easy, and sometimes it can be a roller-coaster ride. But as long as you work closely with your veterinarian and give your pooch all the love and care they need and can have an extended quality of life ahead of your dog.
Have you dealt with liver disease in dogs? Share your stories in the comments below.