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Liver Disease in Dogs

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The liver is an important organ for your dog. It helps with digestion and blood clotting, and it removes toxins from his system. If it's not working right, it can make your companion sick. But liver disease can often be treated and managed.

Symptoms

It's easy to miss the symptoms of liver disease. They're similar to those for other problems.

Your dog's symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Increased thirst
  • An unstable walk
  • Increased need to pee
  • Confusion
  • Yellowish eyes, tongue, or gums (jaundice)
  • Signs of weakness 
  • Blood in his pee or poop 
  • Seizures
  • Ascites (a build-up of fluid in the belly)

If your dog's liver disease isn't caught early, it can lead to a serious brain condition called hepatic encephalopathy.

What Causes Liver Problems

Sometimes liver disease can happen as a result of aging. Sometimes it's genetic. But it can also be brought on by infection or trauma to the area. Some diseases and medications can hurt your dog's liver.

Other causes of liver disease may include:

  • Some plants and herbs such as ragwort, certain mushrooms, and blue-green algae
  • Molds that grow on corn
  • Untreated heartworms
  • Diabetes
  • Issues with the pancreas
  • Long-term use of painkillers
  • Fatty foods

If your dog has some symptoms of liver problems, your vet may ask you about his diet and medications. The vet may want to do blood tests and X-rays or an ultrasound to get a picture of what is going on with your dog's liver. He may also want to take a biopsy -- remove a small tissue sample for testing.

Treatment

Your dog's treatment will depend on how soon you catch the problem and what caused it. A vet will need to see how much damage there is to the liver.

  • Diet changes often help. Your dog may need a special diet to make sure he's getting the nutrients and calories needed to help his liver.
  • Supplements such as SAM-E or milk thistle may help the liver recover.
  • Medications may help control his liver problems. You may also need to change your dog's other medications or reduce how much he takes.
  • Surgery may be an option for dogs with tumors or cysts.

Work closely with your vet to manage the disease and avoid liver failure.

Prevention

You can help your dog avoid getting liver disease. Take him to the vet for his yearly exams and vaccinations. Make sure your vet is aware of any drugs or supplements he may take. Be mindful of what you feed your dog. Fatty foods can hurt his liver. And don't let your dog roam free in areas where there may be poisonous plants or insects.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on September 24, 2014

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