Liver Disease in Dogs

What is Liver Disease in dogs? 

The liver is an important organ key to the removal of toxins and other waste products in the body. Loss of function can create a myriad of problems both chronic and acute in your dog.

The liver is part of the digestive system and plays a role in many functions of the body. Waste products are filtered through the liver, and turned into ingredients that become stool in the body. The liver also plays a role in the break down and metabolism of fat as well as its storage. Lack of fat intake causes the body to break down fat stores, while increased fat intake causes the liver to turn the fats into storable formats. The liver also plays a part in breaking down many medications into more usable parts, or for filtration out of the body.

In liver disease, several things can cause the liver to malfunction. Loss of liver function through cirrhosis or damage to the liver cells can adversely effective its ability to filter out wastes or break down products. Certain medications, illnesses, infections and chronic diseases can all destroy liver cells. Inflammation and infection of the liver can also cause a similar decrease in function. Fatty Liver Syndrome (Hepatic Lipidosis) is another cause of liver dysfunction, usually due to a rapid mobilization and attempted breakdown of fats in the body. These fats then overwhelm the liver at once, leading to a decreased ability to perform normal functions.

Liver disease can present in a similar manner to other GI issues as well as gallbladder issues. Dogs may appear jaundiced (yellow coloring to the skin, mucous membranes and eyes) may have abdominal pain or itching on the skin around the abdominal cavity, may have diarrhea or discolored stools, or may lead to a loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting.

Can I prevent Liver Disease in my dog?

Liver disease may be preventable in some cases related to fatty liver syndrome and medication use. Limiting medication use or finding low dosages that work as well can help keep the liver in better shape. Some medications may also come in already broken down forms, or may be passed through other organs in the body first, making them less harsh on the liver. Dogs that are having trouble eating, or are very overweight may also be prone to fatty liver syndrome and should be put on a careful exercise routine including a change in diet and gradual weight loss to prevent problems from occurring.

What should I do if I suspect Liver Disease in my dog?

If liver disease is suspected, a veterinary appointment is recommended. Your vet will perform a complete exam and may request additional tests to help rule out other causes for symptoms. Additional tests may include stool and urine analysis, blood work and X-rays. X-rays can help to look for an enlarged or swollen liver- a sign of illness, and blood work can help look for elevated blood values such as ALP, ALT and AST. These can all indicate a problem with the normal function of the liver and breakdown of chemicals in the body.

Treatment plan depends on the cause of the liver issues, as well as its severity. Minor tumors or growths leading to malfunction of the liver may be removed without adversely affecting overall function of the liver. Fatty liver disease may be able to be treated and monitored through careful diet and exercise plans. Changing medications may also help relieve some of the load on the liver, restoring normal function. More severe cases may require hospitalization and fluid treatment to help take some of the strain off the liver and allow it to heal.

Severe liver disease may become a case of palliative care, or keeping your dog as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. As liver disease progresses, other organs may begin to have problems, or there may be a toxic buildup of chemical in the body. Treatment of secondary symptoms such as edema (swelling of the tissues in the body) and jaundice may help prolong quality of life. Unfortunately, the body cannot function without a liver, so complete damage to the liver may require euthanasia as a last resort.

Natural Remedies for treating Liver Disease in dogs

Milk thistle is one of the most commonly used natural supplements for liver health and support. Many dogs have had positive results in treating and increasing liver function with minor disease, leading to an increased quality of life. Additional supplements that may be beneficial to liver health include Lycopodium 30C, Dandelion, Phosphorus 30C, Horehound, Plantain, Natrum Sulphuricum and many others. Meeting with a naturopathic or holistic veterinarian in your area can help determine the best action plan in supporting liver health and function.

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