Understanding Canine Liver Disease

Westie Trio

Canine liver disease is one of the top five causes of non-accidental deaths. Owners should be alert to the signs and symptoms of this condition, especially in affected breeds.

Function of the Liver

The liver is an essential and unique organ. It has the capability of functioning even when affected by disease. It also can regenerate itself, unlike other organs. This makes early treatment especially effective.

The liver is involved in all body processes in some way. It removes toxins from blood, helps with waste removal and produces bile for digestive purposes. It is the cleaning system of the body.

Causes of Canine Liver Disease

There is no one specific cause of liver disease in dogs. Just a few of the more common causes include:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Trauma to the abdomen
  • Hemolytic Anemia
  • Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Parasites
  • Viruses
  • Toxins that have been ingested, possibly from contaminated food
  • Genetics and inherited traits

Symptoms

Dogs in the early stages of canine liver disease may display no visible symptoms. This is because the liver is so successful at working at a diminished capacity. As the disease progresses, the following symptoms may appear:

  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargic behavior
  • Pale mucus membranes, including gums
  • Recurring gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting or diarrhea
  • Bleeding problems
  • Light gray stool or orange urine
  • Weight loss
  • Neurological signs, such as seizures or circling
  • Increased fluid consumption
  • Swollen or bloated abdomen

Diagnosis

A vet will diagnosis liver disease based on a physical examination and blood test. The physical examination will review possible symptoms, especially an enlarged liver. The blood test will measure the level of liver enzymes.

Treatment

Eliminating the cause of the disease is the first step in treatment. In the case of a bacterial infection, for example, your vet will probably prescribe antibiotics. Many times, however, liver disease may be the result of other diseases such as hemolytic anemia. The treatment in that case becomes more complex.

Dietary adjustments are the most common treatment for liver disease in dogs. Your veterinarian can discuss with you the options for adjusting the amount and type of protein, carbohydrates and fat in your dog's food. Certain commercial dog foods are especially designed for dogs with liver conditions.

Your vet may also recommend supplements, especially zinc and vitamins K and E. You may also want to discuss herbal and homeopathic treatments that have been effective.

Since the liver can heal itself, treatments are usually designed to take the stress off the liver to allow it to regenerate. In many cases, this is exactly what happens. The dog will recover after treatment without permanent damage.

Severe Cases

Not all cases are easily treatable. Some dogs have congenital abnormalities that may require more extensive treatment including surgery. Liver cancer is also a serious form of liver disease. Treatment may include surgery and chemotherapy.

Breeds Prone to Liver Disease

Some breeds are more prone to develop liver disease than others. This certainly does not mean that every dog of that breed will develop liver problems. Nor does it mean that other breeds will never have a liver disease. It means, instead, that owners of these breeds should be more alert to possible symptoms and have their dogs regularly screened for liver issues.

Breeds that seem to have a propensity toward liver problems are:


Early detection is the key to successful treatment of liver disease, so contact your vet as soon as you notice possible symptoms.

Understanding Canine Liver Disease