Canine liver disease

Think for a moment about filters. They extract impurities from liquids or air. That’s exactly what the liver does, too. (Of course, it does much more than that!) Like us, our dog’s entire blood supply filters through his liver for the removal of waste products. And given the complexity of the liver’s function, no wonder it’s prone to disease. It’s important to monitor your dog for symptoms of liver disease as he ages. When diagnosed early, the treatment for certain types of liver diseases can result in successful recovery.

What causes liver disease?

Liver disease refers to any disorder of the liver, whether it’s metabolic, inflamed, infectious, or cancerous. Here are some common causes for liver disease :

  • Infectious diseases (bacterial, viral, fungal)
  • Parasites
  • Copper and other liver storage diseases
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Poisoning
  • Trauma
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer
  • Drugs
  • Heart disease or congenital abnormality
  • Malnutrition

Signs and symptoms

Keep a keen eye out for the following :

  • Jaundice (yellowness of skin, mucous membranes, whites of eyes, and excretions)
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Enlarged abdomen (due to a bulging liver or fluid retention)
  • Seizures
  • Behavioural changes (listlessness, depression)
  • Dark coloured urine
  • Anaesthesia intolerance
  • Gray-white and soft faeces

These symptoms can develop rapidly, or slowly over time. If you notice any of these signs, take your dog to your vet immediately.

Making the diagnosis

To determine a diagnosis, your vet will :

  • Feel your dog’s abdomen for abnormalities like liver enlargement.
  • Examine your dog’s tongue and gums for jaundice.
  • Take a blood sample and test for elevated enzyme levels that could indicate liver disease.
  • Take an ultrasound and biopsy in order to make a definitive diagnosis.

You may need to bring your dog in for repeat tests to see how well he’s responding to the prescribed therapy.

Variations in treatment

Eliminating what’s causing harm to your dog’s liver, and changing his diet, will increase his chances for recovery. Of course, treatment will vary, depending on the type of liver disease your dog has. For example, if he has copper storage disease, he’ll need to eat a special diet that’s low in copper. If his liver disease is a result of trauma, he’ll need rest, nursed care and a diet change. If infection is the cause, he’ll need to take antibiotics.

Dietary considerations

Dietary therapy is a critical part of your dog’s recovery. By moderately reducing the amounts of protein from your dog’s diet, you’ll decrease his liver’s load. By increasing highly digestible complex carbohydrates and high-quality fats, a quick energy release will provide the optimal conditions for repair and regeneration of his liver.

Do not give him table scraps or treats during his recovery from liver disease. He must only consume his prescribed medication, fresh water, and his special diet. Watch your dog closely for recurring symptoms and call your vet immediately if you spot any.

Controlled, not cured

Some types of liver disease just aren’t curable. In these cases, the disease must be managed through supportive therapy for the rest of your dog’s life. Ask your vet for more information on liver disease.

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