Canine Liver Problems
Canine 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:

  • production of proteins
  • regulation of blood sugar
  • regulation of blood clotting
  • metabolism of carbohydrates and fats
  • production and storage of all vitamins (with the exception of vitamin C)
  • production of bile for digestion
  • filtering out of toxic substances

It is 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. 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.

Treatment for Canine Liver Problems

Treatment for canine liver problems depends of course on the type of liver disease, and may include the following:

Medications

Common medications that are conventionally used to treat canine liver disease include:

Corticosteroids

Chronic liver inflammation (often called chronic-active hepatitis) is treated using corticosteroids to decrease inflammation and scarring.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics (such as Neomycin) are given to dogs with hepatiac encelphalopathy. Antibiotics kill ammonia-producing bacteria, thereby lessening the amount of ammonia exposure to the body. Antibiotics are also used in cases of infection.

Diuretics

Diuretics such as furosemide (Lasix) are used to treat ascites (fluid accumulation in the abdomen).

Oral Zinc Products

For copper-associated hepatitis, oral zinc products (such as zinc acetate) are used to decrease absorption of copper, and to reduce the amount of copper in the liver.

Treatment for Canine Liver Disease – Diet

If your dog is suffering from liver disease, some dietary adjustment needs to be made. A diet appropriate for dogs with liver disease should be able to:

  • supply enough energy and nutrients to the body so as to prevent malnutrition;
  • minimize further damage of the liver by preventing copper accumulation, as well as accumulation of other toxins such as ammonia, and free radicals;
  • support liver cell regeneration;
  • prevent or minimize liver failure symptoms, such as hepatic encephalopathy and ascites.

The diet should have a high energy density, since dogs with liver disease usually have no appetite. The food should therefore be highly palatable.

If possible, feed the dog several small meals a day rather than just one or two. Your dog’s diet should include:

Fat

Fat is a concentrated source of energy and usually food that contains fat is highly palatable. It has been found that dogs with liver disease can tolerate larger quantities of fat in the diet (30-50% of calories) than previously assumed.

Only dogs with severe cholestatic liver disease and fat malabsorption should have their fat intake restricted, in which case essential fatty acids must be provided.

High-Quality Protein

Protein is needed by the liver during repair, but the protein in the diet must be of high biological value so as to minimize ammonia production, a by-product of protein digestion.

Dairy products (e.g. yogurt, cottage cheese), eggs, and white fish are easier on the digestive system and cause less ammonia production than meat products.

High-Quality Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a good source of energy for the dog but they must be highly digestible.

Undigestible foods are fermented by intestinal bacteria which will result in more toxins to be processed and removed by the liver.

Grains such as oatmeal and boiled white rice are recommended because they are high in soluble fiber, which helps to bind and remove ammonia and other intestinal toxins (by-products of protein digestion and bacterial fermentation of undigested foods) from the system.

Vegetables act as a source of complex carbohydrates and they also provide fiber that helps to promote bowel movements to remove toxins from the body.

Treatment for Canine Liver Disease – Supplements

Dietary supplements are recommended as part of the treatment for canine liver disease. If your dog has liver disease, consult with your vet on the use of the following supplements:

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is an herb that is good for the liver. It can increase bile flow; stimulate protein synthesis thereby rebuilding cells damaged by liver disease. It also acts as an antioxidant which slows down the inflammatory process and prevents further cell damage.

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)

Given in conjunction with a B-vitamin supplement, SAMe has been clinically proven in veterinary trials to safely and effectively restore and maintain liver function at the cellular level in pets. It may actually protect against liver damage caused by certain toxins or drugs such as acetaminophen, prednisone, etc.

(SAMe should be given apart from meals. Give the supplement to your dog either one hour before or two hours after eating.)

B Vitamins

B vitamins (especially B12) are essential for proper digestion and absorption of food.

Coenzyme Q10

CoQ10 is an antioxidant that is beneficial for dogs with liver disease. It boosts immunity, lowers blood sugar, and can slow tumor growth. It also produces energy for cell growth and functioning.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant and can be given to your dog as a supplement for liver health.

Recommended Supplements

Hepagen-C Canine by Thorne Research for Dogs

This formula contains milk thistle as well as antioxidants and important nutrients for liver detoxification.

Vetri-Science Coenzyme Q10

This is a safe and natural CoQ10 supplement for dogs and cats.