Rejuvenating your pooch’s liver

Liver disease is a serious medical condition in dogs and it is very important to identify the primary cause at early stages, because liver failure will be exhibited only after 70 percent to 80 percent of cells are damaged. Here’s more on the liver diseases in pooches.

Liver – an introduction

Liver is one of the most important and complex organs that carries several vital functions like it stores dog healthnutrients, detoxifies blood, etc and has a tremendous capacity to regenerate. Liver can easily perform its functions even though after 70-80 percent of liver mass is affected by the disease/infection.

Anatomy and physiology of liver

Dog liver is normally deep red to reddish brown in colour with a firm consistency and is divided into several lobes. The chief functional cells of liver are called the heptocytes. The portal vein carries blood, nutrients and drugs and hepatic artery carries oxygen rich blood to the liver, hepatic veins drain blood form the liver and bile duct takes bile from liver cells to the gall bladder.

Liver performs many vital functions of which the most important are:

  • Metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fat.
  • Detoxification of waste.
  • Vitamin production and storage.
  • Manufacturing digestive enzymes.
  • Storage of nutrients.
  • Production of blood clotting factors.

Diseases of liver in dogs

Most of the liver diseases are secondary to a problem elsewhere in the body. Major factors that can cause liver disease include:

  • Inflammation- Inflammation can occur due to many reasons like trauma, drugs, viruses, bacteria, bile, and toxins, which usually leads to hepatitis.
  • Infection- Bacteria, viruses, and fungi can cause liver disease. Specific diseases include infectious canine hepatitis, canine herpesvirus, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), leptospirosis, abscesses, histoplasmosis, coccidiomycosis, and toxoplasmosis.
  • Heartworms- These worms can block blood flow into the liver and cause liver failure.
  • Toxins- Toxins through food and water as well as drugs used for treating illness can affect liver. For example, drugs like Ketaconazole, Acetaminophen, Glucocorticoids, Anthelmintics and Phenobarbital, etc.
  • Anaemia – Haemolytic anaemia can decrease the oxygen available to liver cells and lead to their death, thus causing liver damage.
  • Pancreatitis- The severe inflammatory process that occurs with digestive enzymes can spill over into the liver and cause liver damage.

Common symptoms observed in liver diseases

Symptoms of liver diseases are variable and subtle in the early stages of the problem. Some of these include:

  • Loss of appetite, vomition, nausea and diarrhoea.
  • Ascites-accumulation of fluid in the abdomen.
  • Yellowing of skin and mucous membrane (jaundice).
  • Pain associated with abdomen.
  • Increased water consumption and excessive urination.

Treating liver diseases

Liver disease is a serious medical condition in dogs and it is very important to identify the primary cause at early stages, because liver failure will be exhibited only after 70- 80 percent of cells are damaged. When a dog is presented to the vet, complete history, followed by the physical examination for observable abnormalities such as distended abdomen, dehydration, signs of jaundice, etc are usually carried out. A comprehensive assessment of liver enzymes that include alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate transaminase (AST), alkaline phosphatase (AP) and gamma glutamyltransferase (GGT) is must when suspected or tentatively diagnosed for liver ailment.

Diagnosing liver disease in dogs requires a number of tests that typically are conducted in a specific order over an extended period of time. Using a combination of history, physical examination, blood, urine, faecal tests, coagulation profiles, diagnostic imaging and tissue sampling tests, a veterinarian should be able to assess the nature and extent of a dog’s liver condition, so that an appropriate treatment protocol can be implemented.

The key to effective treatment in liver disease depends upon treating the primary conditions or removing the cause of the disease. Physical activity is usually kept minimal and special diet low in proteins is recommended.

(Dr Ritesh Sood is Product Manager at the Himalaya Drug Company. For further info, e-mail at:

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.