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Canine Liver Problems

Liver problems, from liver failure to liver cancer, are rather common in dogs. Dogs with liver problems do not show distinct symptoms especially in the early stage, and as such diagnosis is difficult and often too late. Read this and other related pages on this site to learn more about liver problems in dogs.


The liver is an extremely important organ and is responsible for over 1,000 tasks 24 hours a day.

Some important tasks performed by the liver include the production of proteins, regulation of blood sugar, the regulation of blood clotting, the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats, the production and storage of all vitamins (with the exception of vitamin C), the production of bile for digestion, and the filtering out of toxic substances.

It is therefore not difficult to imagine liver problems in dogs can cause a lot of health disorders to the dog patient.

Symptoms of Canine Liver Problems

The early signs and symptoms of liver problems in dogs are unfortunately non-specific. For example, the dog patient may show the following signs:
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Chronic diarrhea and vomiting (vomiting is more common than diarrhea)
  • Soft and/or gray stools
  • Excessvie drinking
  • Excessive frequent urination
As you can see, the above signs and symptoms are similar to other health conditions and, if a proper diagnosis is not made, the liver will remain untreated until it reaches a more advanced stage when toxin build-up in the body causes symptoms that are indicative of liver failure.

Causes of Canine Liver Problems

Liver problems in dogs can be caused by a number of diseases, drugs, toxins, and chemicals.

Diseases causing liver problems in dogs include leptospirosis, canine hepatitis, and congenital liver diseases such as canine liver shunt and copper-associated hepatitis. Heartworm infection, pancreatitis, Cushing's disease, and diabetes mellitus can also be the culprits. Liver cancer is a major cause of canine liver failure.

Quite a few chemicals and toxins can damage the liver and cause liver problems in dogs. Some such toxins and chemicals can be found in a lot of insecticides and pesticides, household cleaning products, and some flea control products. In addition, toxic amounts of some chemicals and minerals can also be damaging to a dog's liver (e.g. lead, arsenic, phosphorus, iron, selenium).

Certain medications for dogs, if used in excessive amounts or over a long period of time, can also cause liver disease in dogs. Some such medications include antifugals and antibiotics, dewormers, NSAIDs, corticosteroids, anticonvulsants - to name a few.

Diagnosis of Canine Liver Problems

Diagnosis of dog liver disease is by a number of tests, such as:

  • Blood tests to determine the levels of red and white blood cells, and the levels of certain enzymes, such as alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and alkaline phosphatase (ALP). Dogs with liver disease often have elevated ALT and ALP levels.
  • Bile acid test
  • Urinalysis
  • Radiology, ultrasound, and/or CT scan

The most definitive diagnostic procedure is to conduct a liver biopsy.

For information on treatment, please read our page on Treatment for Canine Liver Disease.
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