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Canine Liver Failure

Liver failure occurs when 80 percent of the dog's liver cells die, which can be caused by a number of diseases and substances such as certain drugs, poisons, and chemicals. How can we tell our dogs are suffering from liver failure? Read this page to learn more about the symptoms of liver failure in dogs.


The liver performs a lot of important and vital functions, and the health of the liver is essential to the physical wellbeing of our dogs.

There are a lot of causes of liver problems and the eventual liver failure in dogs, some such causes can be avoided if we take enough precautions. It is therefore important to learn about and be mindful of the causes.

It is equally important to learn about the signs and symptoms of canine liver failure. As you can see in our page on Canine Liver Problems, the early signs and symptoms of liver problems in dogs are non-specific. If your dog shows the symptoms listed on that page, you should wait no more and take him to the vet for a proper diagnosis.

If any liver problem is not treated in a timely manner, the liver will deteriorate further and the terminal stage is liver failure.

Below describes the development and the main symptoms of liver failure in dogs.

How Canine Liver Failure Develops

In the early stage of a liver disease in dogs, the liver usually swells and enlarges. If the disease is left untreated and allowed to progress further, the liver cells start to die off and scar tissue is formed. This results in an irreversible condition called cirrhosis. The liver is hard and rubbery and loses some of its functions.

If about eighty percent of the liver cells die, the liver begins to fail.

Major Symptoms of Canine Liver Failure

Major symptoms that indicate liver failure in dogs include:

  • Jaundice: One of the liver's functions in the production of bile. A dog with impaired liver function will have bile accumulation in the blood and tissues, resulting in jaundice - there is an yellowish appearance in his eyes, the inside of his ears, and in the mucous membranes of the tongue and the gums. The urine is dark brown in color.
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy: Another function performed by the liver is to remove ammonia from the blood. (Ammonia is a byproduct of protein metabolism.) If a dog is suffering from liver failure, ammonia cannot be effectively removed from the blood causing toxin build-up which adversely affects brain function, resulting in a brain disorder called hepatic encephalopathy.

    Symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy include behavioral changes, incoordination, confusion and disorientation, head pressing against objects, excessive drooling, and in advanced cases, seizures and coma.
  • Fluid Accumulation in the Abdomen: A third major symptom of canine liver failure is ascites - fluid accumulation in the abdomen. The dog looks bloated which could be mistaken for sudden weight gain. This condition is caused by low serum proteins and increased pressure in the veins that supply the liver. If left untreated, ascites will cause difficulty breathing as it puts pressure on the diaphragm.
  • Bleeding: A dog suffering from liver failure may have spontaneous bleeding in the gums, stomach, intestines, and urinary tract. As a result, blood can be seen in the dog's urine, stools, or vomitus.

Please visit this page to see how liver problems in dogs are being treated.
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