Canine Liver Disease Foundation says that liver disease in dogs is one of the top 5 causes of non accidental deaths of dogs. The liver, both in humans and dogs is a very important and complex organ of the body that carries out several essential tasks needed for the continuation of life.
The liver is an extremely important organ in a dog’s body and in terms of size it is the second largest after the skin. It is laden with heavy responsibilities such as producing the essential building blocks for the dog’s body.
Some of the essential functions of the liver include:
- It metabolizes amino acids
- Blood clotting and produces digestive enzymes
- Metabolizes lips and carbohydrates
- Harmful compounds in the bloodstreams is extracted by the liver
- Does the work of breaking down of the drugs that is administered to a dog
- Stores and produces vitamins K, A,E and D
- Detoxification of poisons and waste in the body
- Stores nutrients and energy
- Regulates blood sugar by converting glycogen to glucose
- Produces bile which aids in digestion
Liver disease in dogs can easily result in a brain condition called hepatic encephalopathy (a neurological condition with obvious changes in behavior such as aimless circling or pacing and head pressing) if not detected early enough and can even death.
Because most of the symptoms of liver disease in dogs are very similar to the symptoms of some other diseases it may be difficult to tell if a dog is suffering from liver disease merely by the observation of the symptoms. As a result this increases the probability that the liver problem may be noticed when the liver damage becomes severe and large part of it has been destroyed; at this point liver failure is just around the bend.
That notwithstanding it is essential that very dog owner should at least know the symptoms associated with liver disease in dogs and to know when to visit the vet when some of the symptoms of liver disease in dogs become visible in his dog.
In the early stages, symptoms of liver disease in dogs are not really specific; however signs like weight loss, loss of appetite and excessive drinking and urinating may be indications that your dog may be suffering from liver disease.
Liver disease in dogs in its early stages results in the swelling and enlargement of the liver and as the disease spreads, the liver cells begins to die until it gets to the point where the liver becomes firm and rubbery, at which point the liver has reached a terminal point and no longer reversible. It is only after about 80% of liver cells are dead that the liver starts to fail.
Symptoms that directly suggest liver disease in dogs:
- Grayish, soft feces
- Blood in the urine and stool
- Intolerance to antibiotics, sedatives and anesthesia
- Abdominal distension caused by liver enlargement
Symptoms that indirectly suggest liver disease in dogs:
- Loss of weight become visible the moment the liver is beginning to fail in its responsibilities.
- General weakness
- Loss of interest in food
- Labored breathing
- Progressive lethargy such as your dog becoming less and less playful
- Swollen stomach that appears to be filled with fluid
- Pain around the abdomen which you can check by lifting your dog with your arms under his belly
It is worth stating that symptoms will vary from dog to dog and it’s usually a function of the cause of the liver disease.
Some possible causes of liver disease in dogs:
- Viral infections, parasitic infections, bacterial infections and fungal infection
- Toxic reaction
- Genetic abnormalities and sometimes aging
- Side effects from the use of some medicine
- Bile duct disease
- Vascular abnormalities
- Nutritional imbalance
- Fatty foods
- Chronic infection may lead to liver disease
- Roundworm and heartworms.
The foregoing are some of the known symptoms and causes of liver disease in dogs but by no means an entire list.
While there are many possible causes of liver disease in dogs, medication and unhealthy commercial dog food are two of the major reasons behind liver disease in dogs. This is the reason you should pay great attention to your dog when he is on medication and be quick to visit your visit when you notice the slightest reaction.
Of course at this stage you are not likely to see any possible sign of liver disease in your dog but if your dog on heavy medication and/or the medication last for a significant period of time, it is advisable to see your vet at some stage and request a liver check.
This should at least involve a blood test to check for state of the liver because earlier detection will save you from unnecessary headache. However if you are seeing sign of possible liver disease in your dog make sure to demand a liver disease test even if your vet thinks otherwise.
Because the liver is capable of regeneration, earlier detection makes it easier to reverse the symptoms and disease. The down side is that the reserve capacity of the liver makes it possible for the liver to continue to self sustain until it is about 80% damaged at which point the disease has become too advanced and almost untreatable. I cannot stress it enough that when you start seeing a couple of the symptoms of liver disease in dogs you should visit your vet and demand for a test.
The possible tests for liver disease in dogs are blood test, X-rays, biopsy (tissue extraction for testing) and ultrasound to get a clear picture of what may be going on inside the dog’s liver.
Diagnosis of liver disease in dogs will generally include the following:
- A thorough blood work.
- Analysis of the urine.
- Tissue analysis.
Cirrhosis: the end stage of chronic canine liver disease
Cirrhosis of the liver in dogs is a chronic liver disease in its final stage in which normal tissues of the liver are being replaced by the formation of fibrous scar tissues. Scar tissue is the result of the normal healing of a damaged body tissue e.g. the scar that is formed due to a cut; scars are also formed as a result of internal injury like a severally damaged liver. So when scarring is occurring in the liver of a dog, it simply means the liver is getting damaged and scarring is following up.
For a dog to stay alive it needs to retain about 20% of liver function but when cirrhosis happens normal liver tissues are replaced by scar tissues and the moment the liver functions drops lower than 20% then the end of life is on the horizon for the dog.
This is a state of acute liver failure and the life expectancy of a dog in this condition is a function of extent of the liver damage, the quality of the treatment the dog receives.
While cirrhosis is more commonly seen in middle aged and old aged dogs, it can affect dogs of all ages. Dog breeds like the Doberman pinschers, Labrador retriever and Cocker spaniel are known to be among the worst hit by cirrhosis.
Liver disease is commonly seen the following breeds:
- Scottish Terriers
- Yorkshire Terriers
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Cairn Terriers
Treating canine liver disease
The prognosis and the treatment of liver disease in dogs and cirrhosis is a function of the underlying cause of the disease and the extent of the damage; because the liver has the capacity to regenerate, treatment of the underlying cause will in most cases halt the progression of the liver disease. This means that there is always hope for the dog suffering from liver damage.
The treatment of canine liver disease is threefold:
- Supplements and diet for liver disease in dogs.
- Surgery may be required in some cases.
Medication: in most cases specific treatment of liver disease in dogs is unavailable. Treatments that are offered are usually supportive and/or also to treat the symptoms such as medication to prevent dehydration, control vomiting or provide essential nutrition.
Medication that will be administered also depends on the extent and the cause of the liver disease in the dog.