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Diet for Dogs with Canine Liver Disease

Contributor: Mychelle Blake
Reviewed by Clare Deming
Hungry German Shepherd

Following a canine liver disease diet is an important treatment tool for dogs with compromised liver function. A dietary change for a dog with canine liver disease (CLD) helps the liver regenerate while also maintaining good canine nutrition.

Liver Disease in Dogs

Liver disease is common in dogs. It is especially prevalent in certain breeds such as West Highland Terriers and Doberman Pinschers. It is one of the top five causes of non-accidental canine deaths.

As the cleaning system for the body, the liver removes toxins and waste. It also produces bile for the digestive process. When the liver is compromised, toxins and waste may build up in the body. This may affect many of the other bodily systems such as the brain and heart.

The liver is remarkable in its ability to regenerate itself. With early detection and treatment, many CLD patients can recover completely.

Canine Liver Disease Diet Development

All significant diet changes should be thoroughly discussed with your veterinarian. CLD is not a condition that should be treated without medical guidance. Your vet will be able to structure a dietary plan that will help your pet recover.

Most dietary treatments for a CLD patient include four basic goals:

  • Provide good nutrition to maintain energy and health
  • Promote liver regeneration and reduce stress on the organ
  • Prevent and minimize potential complications, such as hepatic encephalopathy, where the toxins affect the brain
  • Preclude and inhibit liver damage from the accumulation of substances such as copper.

Specific Diets for Dogs with Liver Disease

Because dogs suffering from liver disease require a change in diet, there are specific steps to take with a dog's daily eating regimen. Of course, you will need to discuss your dog's specific needs with your veterinarian. Generally speaking:

  • Prescription diets for liver disease include Hill's® Prescription Diet l®/d® and Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Canine Hepatic. Both come in wet and dry formulas. If you decide on a prescription diet, follow the instructions on the package for your dog's weight. Break the meals up into about four or five smaller portions fed throughout the day rather than one big breakfast and dinner. This eases the stress on the body from processing a larger meal.
  • If you are making your own food, feed at least 50% of the meals as meat, keeping carbs and grains under 50% or less. You can calculate the amount of food for your dog by multiplying one gram of protein times your dog's body weight. Dr. Jean Dodds recommends a liver cleansing diet, which consists of a 50/50 mix of white potatoes and sweet potatoes with a white fish such as cod and halibut. Mix 1/3 fish to 2/3 potato mixture. As the dog acclimates to the diet, you can add cooked chopped carrots, yellow squash and green beans and scrambled eggs. She also recommends adding in a multivitamin daily.
  • Whether you are feeding prescription food or a home-cooked diet, add additional types of food to your dog's diet. Appropriate options include:
    • Dairy products such as cottage cheese, yogurt, goat cheese and ricotta cheese
    • High quality proteins such as chicken and turkey without the bones, fish and eggs
    • Oatmeal, white rice, barley and canned plain pumpkin (for soluble fiber)
    • Fish oil (for the omega-3 fatty acids)
    • Coconut oil
    • Fruit such as figs, seedless watermelon and papayas

Protein Control

Your vet will most likely recommend a change in the protein consumption of your dog. Liver disease usually means that less protein is being processed, so your dog's protein intake will need to be monitored. The general recommendation is to ensure the protein consumed is high quality, but to keep the amount to a moderate level. Some of the protein may come from non-meat sources such as cottage cheese. High quality protein sources contain enough amino acids for your dog and are easily digested. Other recommendations may include offering plant-based proteins, such as soy, rather than meat-based proteins.

In certain CLD complications, such as hepatic encephalopathy, the amount of protein may be reduced. Less protein will control the symptoms of that condition.

Some animal proteins contain high levels of copper and should be avoided. Organ meat, especially liver, should be avoided. Other meats high in copper include:

  • Duck
  • Lamb
  • Salmon
  • Pork

Protein sources that are relatively moderate to low in copper are:

  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • White fish
  • Beef
  • Eggs
  • Cheese

Fat and Carbohydrates

With CLD, dogs are able to tolerate higher levels of fat in the diet. Your vet may recommend a diet that has up to 50 percent fat content.

Carbohydrates are important to aid the digestion, add fiber and remove ammonia from the system. Cooked oatmeal, white rice and pasta are types of carbohydrates that may be included.

Additives and Supplements

Dogs with CLD, especially in the advance stages, should have a low-salt diet. Lowering salt prevents the build-up of fluid in the abdomen, called ascites which occurs in dogs with low liver function. There are good supplements that may help your dog with CLD. Some of these supplements are:

  • Vitamin B complex
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc, which helps bind copper and has antioxidants which protects the liver
  • Vitamin C, for antioxidant action
  • Vitamin K, for blood clotting
  • Adenosylmethionine (SAMe), which may reduce liver injury and also has antioxidant properties

Commercial Diets

Your vet may prescribe a special commercial dog food such as those made by Hill's or Purina. These prescription foods are specially designed for dogs with liver problems.

Feeding Routine

Some dogs with CLD benefit from a change in feeding routine. Instead of one or two regular meals a day, several small meals throughout the day may promote good digestion.

Seek Veterinary Advice

You should work with your vet to develop a canine liver disease diet for your pet. A good diet can help your dog feel better and heal faster.

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Diet for Dogs with Canine Liver Disease