Diet for Dogs With Canine Liver Disease

Reviewed by Clare Deming
Collie with Watermelon

Following a dog liver disease diet is an important treatment tool for dogs with compromised liver function. A dietary change for a pet with canine liver disease (CLD) helps the liver regenerate while also ensuring your dog is consuming the appropriate foods. Some foods have the ability to help the liver heal, whereas others can cause more harm than good.

Facts About Liver Disease in Dogs

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

Close-Up Portrait Of West Highland terriers

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. Symptoms of canine liver disease include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased thirst
  • Lethargy
  • Jaundice (yellow eyes and/or skin)
  • Blood in urine or feces
  • Seizures

The liver is remarkable in its ability to regenerate itself. With early detection and treatment, many CLD patients can recover completely. If not detected and treated early, this could lead to a serious brain condition known as hepatic encephalopathy.

Developing a Diet for Dogs

While it's natural to wonder what the best food to feed a dog with liver problems is, please keep in mind that all significant diet changes should be thoroughly discussed with your veterinarian. Canine liver disease 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.

As part of a treatment plan, a diet for dogs with liver disease includes 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 Diet for Dogs With Liver Disease

Since dogs suffering from liver disease require a change in diet, there are specific steps to take with a dog's daily dietary regimen. Of course, you will need to discuss your dog's specific needs with your veterinarian. Generally, your veterinarian will recommend a diet for a dog with elevated liver enzymes based on commercially prepared or home-cooked meals, or a combination of these.

Pet Dog waiting to be fed

Prescription Liver Disease Diets

Prescription food for dogs with liver disease includes Hill's® Prescription Diet l®/d® and Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Canine Hepatic. Both of these low-protein dog foods for liver disease come in wet and dry formulas. These diets are considered to be among the best options for dogs with liver diseases. 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.

Homemade Dog Food for Liver Disease

If you are making your own food, feed at least 50 percent of the meals as meat, keeping carbs and grains under 50 percent 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 daily multivitamin.

Chicken Recipe for Dogs With Liver Disease

Not all homemade dog food for liver disease includes fish. The recipe featured below, from Veterinary Technician Guide, includes chicken paired with a combination of oatmeal, boiled egg, cottage cheese, and pumpkin. Specifically, the ingredients include:

  • 3/4 cup of chicken
  • 3/4 cup of cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup of oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin (be certain to purchase canned pumpkin without additives -- no canned pie filling)
  • 1 egg

The steps to prepare the food are:

  1. Dice the chicken into small, bite-size pieces
  2. Cook the chicken via boiling or baking
  3. Cook the oatmeal separately as instructed by the directions on the box
  4. Boil the egg
  5. Combine the egg, oatmeal, and chicken
  6. Add all remaining ingredients
  7. Stir and serve (can be stored up to five days or frozen)

It's important to note that although this recipe is known to be generally safe, consulting your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist is highly recommended prior to feeding your dog with canine liver disease any different foods. What is best for one dog may not be best for another.

Simple Beef Recipe for Dogs with Liver Disease

PetPonder developed a simple recipe including ground beef for dogs with liver disease, including only three ingredients. These ingredients are:

  • 2 cups of rice
  • 3 slices of white bread
  • 1 lb. ground beef (braised with fat and retained)

The instructions to prepare the meal are:

  1. Cook the 1 lb. of ground beef. Do not remove the fat
  2. Cook the rice separately as instructed on the box
  3. Mix the beef and rice in a large mixing bowl and set it aside
  4. In another bowl, shred the pieces of bread into bite-sized pieces
  5. Add the bread to the beef and rice bowl
  6. Mix thoroughly and serve

Dog Liver Detox Diet

A detox, or liver cleansing, diet, is made at home using fresh ingredients. VetInfo recommends a mixture of 25 percent white fish and 75 percent vegetables. Potential vegetables to consider adding include potatoes and sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, and zucchini. The site also recommends reducing the use of phenobarbital during the detox diet phase, but this should only be done in consultation with your veterinarian.

Additional Foods for Dogs With Liver Disease

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.
  • Fruits such as blueberries, figs, seedless watermelon, and papayas.
Diet for Dogs with Liver Disease blueberries

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. Feeding less protein will control the symptoms of that condition.

Copper Considerations

Some animal proteins contain high levels of copper and should be avoided in a liver disease diet for dogs. Reducing the quantity of copper in your dog's diet and raising the amount of zinc can have a major influence on your dog's health if the disease is caught early. When the liver isn't working properly, copper builds up. Zinc can help to reduce copper levels in the body, but it's also important to limit copper-rich foods. 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
  • Whitefish
  • Beef
  • Eggs
  • Cheese

Fat

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. Including as many omega 3 fat sources as possible, such as fish oil and flaxseed oil, is an excellent way to provide your dog with healthy options that their body can handle.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are important to aid 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 advanced 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 protect 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, Royal Canin, or Purina. These prescription foods are specially designed for dogs with liver disease. These commercial diets, such as Royal Canin's Hepatic Dry Dog Food, are designed to be highly digestible, low in copper content, and formulated with ingredients that support healthy liver function.

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 and reduce the workload on the liver. Remember, the liver is responsible for removing toxins and waste, so breaking up meals into smaller portions more frequently will reduce the amount of work the liver has to do. Instead of the liver attempting to break through a massive meal, it has the opportunity to process smaller portions at a time with less stress.

Is It Possible to Control CLD with Diet?

Managing your dog's nutrition can help minimize the effects of canine liver disease, but should be used in combination with appropriate medical treatment, including surgery if necessary. Once the condition has been managed, many dogs with liver disease can discontinue medications and continue on the recommended nutrition profile the veterinarian has recommended. But, it depends on the severity of the condition. Dogs with chronic liver disease must eat a therapeutic diet along with taking life-long liver support medication. Your veterinarian will help you determine the proper course of action.

Getting Your Dog to Eat

Sometimes dogs with liver disease appear to lose their appetite. This could be because of the discomfort from the disease, but also because the lower protein food may just be less palatable for them. If you need help getting a dog with liver disease to eat, trying one of the homemade diets might make a difference, as this may be more enticing than dry kibble. If your vet agrees, you can try mixing some of the prescription diet wet food with the kibble. You can also talk to your veterinarian about adding some fresh items to your dogs' food to increase their interest, such as a low-sodium vegetable broth or fresh veggies and fish.

Seek Veterinary Advice

If your dog has elevated liver enzymes, have a conversation with your vet about what that might mean in terms of your pet's health and diet. If your dog has liver disease, you should work with your vet to develop an appropriate canine liver disease diet for your pet. A good diet can help your dog feel better and heal faster.

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