Whether you suspect your dog of having a liver disease or if they have been diagnosed with it already, it's normal for us pet parents to worry.
While any health condition involving our dog's organs might alarm us, liver disease in dogs is quite common and easily treatable in the early and middle stages. Nevertheless, detecting and addressing the issue early is key to restoring your dog's healthy liver function while preventing liver failure.
How the Liver Works
The liver is an astonishing organ with many functions. Located between the diaphragm and stomach, its role is integral to where it is situated in the body - at the center. According to research, the liver's functions are:
Anti-toxic: it detoxifies the blood.
Digestion: the liver also breaks down nutrients from food and digests fat too.
Immunological: another of its functions is generating protein that aids in the formation of blood clots.
Metabolism: the liver is also integral in generating energy by helping to break down fats. It also helps control blood sugar as it breaks down carbohydrates.
Symptoms of Liver Problems in Dogs
Among the signs that dogs have liver disease are:
To diagnose liver disease in dogs, tests that your vet may recommend are urine and blood tests. In some cases, they may also suggest exams such as: an ultrasound, X-ray, MRI and/or CT scan, and a biopsy.
Dogs that have liver problems will show a high number of liver enzymes, either an enlarged or smaller than normal liver, as well as abnormal liver tissue.
On the other hand, liver failure may show such symptoms:
- Acute gastrointestinal problems;
- Neurological issues;
- Problems with blood clotting.
If blood does not clot properly, your dog's nose may bleed and they may be easily bruised as well. In addition to this, there may be swelling in their abdomen along with other unusual behaviors.
Normally, the liver disease progresses gradually. Meanwhile, liver failure usually occurs fast. Because of this, it is important to have your dog treated quickly when they show signs of liver failure to avoid complications. When treated right away, liver failure can be reversed, but it is important to act fast.
What Causes Dog Liver Issues?
When any of the functions of a dog's liver are disturbed, they may develop liver disease. Among the causes that may gradually result in dogs getting the liver disease are:
There are certain toxins such as xylitol and paracetamol which may be harmful to a dog's liver and may thus lead to liver disease.
Vacuolar hepatopathy (VH)
Hepatitis describes liver inflammation. Fortunately, there are vaccines that help prevent the infections that may result from hepatitis.
Cancers of the liver
Liver cancer in dogs may start to emerge from the liver tissue, or it may have spread from other parts of your dog's body.
When a bypass of the blood vessels in the liver occurs, this can result in your dog having excessive toxins in their bloodstream, which may result in liver disease.
Genetic liver diseases
Some liver diseases are hereditary. Examples of which are: copper storage disease that may affect West Highland White Terriers and Bedlington Terriers. Another one is amyloidosis which may affect Shar Peis.
Idiopathic chronic hepatitis
This kind of inflammation may be autoimmune or may also be due to a transmissible disease that affects the liver.
With its many possible causes, the thought of your dog having liver disease may seem overwhelming. However, most of these causes can be easily prevented and treated, especially if they're diagnosed early on.
Causes of Dog Liver Failure
Below are the main causes that may lead to liver failure in dogs:
- Too much heat;
- Infections due to a heat stroke;
- Toxin ingestion (ex. Xylitol - the artificial sweetener).
In all the above cases, quick treatment can prevent liver failure from happening to your dog.
Treating Liver Disease in Dogs
Fortunately, most cases of liver disease are easily treatable. Upon detecting what is causing your dog's liver disease, your vet may be able to address the symptoms and provide treatment that may come in the form of medications, supplements, a change in diet, and in some cases, surgery.
Usually, chronic liver disease can be identified and treated easily because the symptoms are gradual. On the other hand, treatment for acute liver disease may be more complicated since it often results in liver failure.
When we talk of acute liver failure in dogs, it is important to address it as soon as you notice the symptoms to prevent complications. Upon diagnosis, the usual treatments are: intensive supportive care through fluids as well as gastrointestinal protectants, antidotes (in cases where poison/toxins have been ingested), and antibiotics.
How to Prevent Liver Disease in Dogs
Keeping your dog's liver healthy is key in preventing them from getting liver disease. Providing them with food that is easily digestible and with the right amount of calories that they need will go a long way.
If your dog has no specific diet requirements, giving food that is balanced and complete will be beneficial for them to have the proper absorption of potassium, sodium, chloride, as well as other minerals.
Note that it is essential to consult with your vet regarding any kind of changes you plan to make when it comes to your dog's diet. (Ex. Feeding them with food that specifically promotes a healthy liver)
While providing our dog/s with the proper nutrition through food is a key factor in preventing them from getting liver issues, it is equally essential to maintain their overall health and wellness. One way to do so is by being mindful of your dog's specific needs to avoid any problems.
Pet cameras such as the Petcube Cam may help in keeping track of your dog's overall health and everyday routine while knowing when anything's amiss. With its most advanced features that lets you see, speak, and interact with your dog, you'll be able to properly monitor them.
As pet parents, we want to be able to provide for our dog's needs and make sure that they are happy and healthy. In relation to this, we want to maintain our peace of mind by having the assurance that our pet will have the coverage and be given the proper care whenever problems arise. Petcube's Pet Emergency Fund does all this and more.
Are liver supplements for dogs helpful?
Depending on what is causing your dog's liver disease or if you just want to keep your dog's liver healthy, some liver supplements such as milk thistle, vitamin C & E, and S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe).
However, do consult with your veterinarian first before using any supplement for your dog to know whether it's safe and if it properly addresses your dog's needs.
Are liver tumors in dogs a cause for alarm?
Usually, dog liver tumors are benign, and tumors that are cancerous are often times a result of metastatic cancers that originated from another part of the body and have spread to their liver.
Whether it's a cause for alarm or not depends from case to case. Because of this, it is important to consult your vet to discuss the best way to address the specific dog's liver tumor.