Liver Disease in Dogs

The liver is an important organ for your dog. It helps with digestion and blood clotting, and it removes toxins from their 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:

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
  • Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease dogs can get through direct contact with urine from infected animals or through water, soil, or food contaminated with their urine
  • Molds that grow on corn
  • Untreated heartworms
  • Diabetes
  • Issues with the pancreas
  • Use of painkillers
  • Fatty foods

If your dog has some symptoms of liver problems, your vet may ask you about their 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. They 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 they are getting the nutrients and calories needed to help their liver.
  • Supplements such as SAM-E or milk thistle may help the liver recover.
  • Antibiotics are used for infections of the liver. You may also need to change your dog's other medications or reduce how much they take.
  • Surgery may be an option for dogs with tumors or cysts.

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

Continued

Prevention

You can help your dog by catching liver disease early and making small changes before it becomes severe. Take them to the vet for their yearly exams and vaccinations (including one that protects against leptospirosis). Make sure your vet is aware of any drugs or supplements they may take. Be mindful of what you feed your dog. Fatty foods can hurt their liver. And don't let your dog roam free in areas where there may be poisonous plants or insects.

WebMD Veterinary Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on August 30, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Canine Health Foundation: "Protein-Losing Nephropathy (PLN): An Overview."

Vet Info: "Jaundice in Dogs."

UC Davis Veterinary Medicine.

Web DVM: "Ascites (Free Fluid in the Abdomen in Dogs and Cats)."

Canine Liver Disease Foundation: "Types and Causes of Liver Disease."

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