How To Recognize Liver Disease In Dogs & What To Do About It

by Amber

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Your dog’s liver is one of their most vital organs. It’s also one of the most complicated. You already have a good handle on what your dog’s lungs do, and it’s not hard to figure out why the brain, heart, and stomach are all important parts of your dog’s body. But the liver, that’s a different story.  Its purpose isn’t as obvious as those other main organs. As a result, it’s often overlooked in terms of caring for your pup’s health and well-being. Liver disease in dogs isn’t something to take lightly.

Located on the right side of your dog’s abdomen, the liver is the second-largest organ. Not only that, it performs around 1,500 different functions. Impressive, right? When you have one organ doing all that work, it’s especially important to both understand it and pay attention to how it affects the body. The trouble is, recognizing liver disease in dogs–especially senior dogs–isn’t always easy. (So don’t beat yourself up if you’ve missed the signs.) The important thing is to educate yourself so you can be the best advocate for your dog’s health.

What Does the Liver Do?

There’s no simple answer to this question. The liver is involved in almost every necessary bodily function and does things no other organ or tissue can do. It’s a complicated and hard-working organ that has a lot going on.

At a basic level, the liver’s job is to filter the blood. As blood passes through, the liver breaks it down into key components including nutrients, chemicals, toxins, and drugs. The process makes it easier for the rest of the body to either use or dispose of those materials.

The liver is also responsible for producing and releasing an important substance called bile. Bile is a digestive fluid that breaks down fats within the small intestines. The liver is constantly working to make more bile. And when there’s no food to digest, excess bile is stored in the gallbladder.

Here’s a short list of other important liver functions:

  • Metabolizes medications
  • Converts extra sugar into a starch-like substance that’s used for energy
  • Produces cholesterol and lipoproteins that carry fats
  • Produces proteins that help with circulation
  • Filters foreign and toxic substances (including bacteria) out of blood
  • Stores blood to be used in emergencies after sudden blood loss
  • Stores and releases vital nutrients

The Basics of Liver Disease in Dogs

The phrase “liver disease” or “liver failure” is something no pup parent wants to hear. When a major organ starts to malfunction, there’s always risk of serious (even life-threatening) side effects. In terms of the liver, organ failure or malfunction can affect the body in different ways. In worst-case scenarios, liver failure leads to necrosis, or death of the organ.

There is more than one type of liver disease. It’s a blanket term that covers a long list of liver-related health issues. There are two main types: acute and chronic. Acute liver disease develops suddenly and is usually triggered by some kind of toxic substance. Chronic liver disease happens more gradually.

Examples of acute liver disease:

  • Cholangiohepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
  • Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)

Examples of chronic liver disease:

  • Hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease)
  • Liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
  • Neoplasia (abonormal growth)
  • Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease)

In addition to these listed, there are also infectious diseases and cancer that can affect the liver. Each one presents its own set of difficulties and side effects, and specific treatment depends on the individual case.

Signs of Liver Disease in Dogs

While exact symptoms will depend on the specific type of liver disease, there are general signs that a dog’s liver is failing. Knowing what is “normal” for your dog will help you identify when something isn’t quite right.

Here’s a list of general symptoms related to liver disease:

  • Jaundice (a yellowish tinge to the skin, eyes, or gums)
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Blindness

Causes of Liver Disease

Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to prevent liver disease in dogs. Sometimes it’s a spontaneous mutation (like cancer or Cushing’s disease) and sometimes it’s brought on by toxins. Natural aging also makes a dog more at risk of liver failure. There’s simply no way for a pup parent to perfectly shield their pet from everything. You can, however, limit the number of toxins that could potentially damage the liver. Substances including pesticides, chemical cleaners, food additives,  and certain medications all contain toxins that the liver is exposed to. Limiting your dog’s exposure to these things could help keep their liver healthy.

Protect Your Dog’s Liver

Every day, your dog’s liver is exposed to countless toxins. It’s constantly under stress, and buildup of toxins can lead to both acute and chronic liver diseases. Whether you already know your dog has a liver disease or not, it’s always important to protect your dog’s health. Even completely healthy dogs could benefit from a little extra attention to their liver.

Here’s what to do to help with liver disease in dogs:

  1. Limit Toxins: Like we talked about above, you can limit what toxins your dog is exposed to. It’s impossible to completely cut off toxic substances in a world that seems overrun by them, but there are little things you can do to help. Choose natural pesticides over chemical products, keep medications like Advil out of your dog’s reach, and use non-chemical cleaning products in your home.
  2. Assess Your Dog’s Diet: Many processed dog foods include toxins in their recipes. Artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, and synthetic vitamins have negative effects on the body. If you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients in your dog’s food, it might be time to switch to something less processed.
  3. Add a Hepato Supplement to Your Dog’s Diet: The liver can use all the help it can get. You can give your dog’s body a healthy boost by providing a liver-healthy supplement to their daily diet. Milk thistle is one of the most well-known substances for liver support. It protects liver cells from toxins and helps damaged cells regenerate. A milk thistle supplement, like Riley’s Essentials Hepato Essentials, is best used when a dog is already experiencing liver failure. Talk to your vet to learn more.

Liver disease in dogs can happen at any age and in any breed. It can be sudden or a gradual decline in health. A lot of pup parents overlook it or misdiagnosis it. The important thing for your dog is for you to know the signs that something isn’t right and to talk to your vet. Early detection will be the biggest factor in your dog’s long-term health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional. 

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