Common Liver Diseases of Dogs
Your dog’s liver is a vital organ that is sensitive to damage and disease. For this reason, it’s important to recognize early signs of illness in your dog so that she can be treated quickly. Continue reading for more information on common liver diseases in dogs, how they’re diagnosed, and tips for keeping your dog healthy and happy!
What does the liver do?
The liver is a large organ located just behind the diaphragm near the stomach, spleen, and small intestines. It performs important functions including detoxifying or removing waste substances like damaging drugs or chemicals from the body. The liver helps control metabolism through the use of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. It also makes essential proteins, bile to help with digestion of food, and blood-clotting factors.
Causes of Liver Disease in Dogs
Many conditions can cause or worsen liver disease in dogs. These include:
- Certain medications, vitamins, and supplements
- Toxins (chemicals, plants, foods, etc.)
- Infection (bacterial, viral, fungal, parasites)
- Cushing’s disease
- Injury to the liver including trauma or decreased blood supply
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Foreign body
- Acute pancreatitis
- Genetics/breed disposition
- Heart disease
Symptoms of Liver Disease in Dogs
Signs that suggest liver disease include a yellow tinge or color to the skin or the white part of the eyes. This yellow tinge is also known as jaundice or icterus. Dogs may also develop swelling of the abdomen or stomach area called ascites which happens when there is a buildup of fluid.
Dogs often have other signs not specific to the liver. These can include changes in behavior such as sleeping more than usual, decreased activity, panting, weakness, or increased drinking and urination. Dogs with severe or advanced liver disease may experience bleeding, a disoriented or “drunken appearance”, not eating, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and increased drooling/salivation.
Diagnosing Liver Disease in Dogs
Diagnosing the specific problem causing liver disease requires that your vet perform a thorough physical exam and history such as diet change, current medications, changes in the environment or household, appetite, and previous medical history. Your vet will draw blood to assess the liver and other organs to see how they’re functioning. Other tests that help diagnose liver disease in dogs include urinalysis and x-rays and/or ultrasound of the abdomen.
The most specific and accurate diagnostic method for liver disease is to get a biopsy or a small piece of tissue from the liver. Sedation or anesthesia is required to safely obtain a biopsy. Knowing the specific cause of liver disease in your dog helps your vet determine the best treatment.
Your vet may recommend a referral to an internal medicine specialist. A veterinary internal medicine specialist usually has access to 24-hour intensive care veterinary facilities that are better equipped to care and treat patients needing intensive or long-term care.
Treating Liver Disease in Dogs
Like any illness, having an accurate diagnosis for the specific liver disease helps determine the best treatment options. In addition, there are supportive treatments that help dogs to recover, including nutritional support. Always talk to your vet before changing your dog’s diet if he has liver disease.
Treatment varies depending on your dog’s symptoms. Dogs with mild signs of liver disease often don’t need to be hospitalized. They may go home with medications to help with nausea, vomiting and to encourage eating.
Dogs with signs of dehydration, weight loss, and not eating often need to be hospitalized. Treatment in the hospital is geared toward keeping your dog hydrated, providing nutrition, appropriate medications, and close monitoring. Dogs with severe liver disease are at risk for developing problems with other organs, such as the kidneys, and must be monitored closely by medical staff.
When to Contact a Veterinarian
If you notice that your dog has any of the symptoms listed above, schedule an appointment with your vet. If your dog has eaten or been exposed to a plant, food, or chemical that may be toxic, it’s important to contact a Pet Poison Control hotline and your emergency care veterinarian right away.
Have more questions about liver disease in dogs?
Schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets.