Canine Hepatic Hurdles: Navigating Liver Ailments

A dog’s liver serves as a vital organ and is susceptible to various health issues that can endanger your pet’s wellness. Learn more about various liver ailments in dogs and how you can be aware about the signs and symptoms.


Liver diseases encompass a broad spectrum of conditions leading to the impairment or failure of the liver to function correctly. Such ailments often induce inflammation or harm to the liver, either as a primary issue or as a consequence of other underlying medical disorders.It is crucial for pet parents to recognize the triggers and signs of liver disease in order to maintain their canine’s overall health and happiness.

Spotlight on liver ailments

Numerous conditions or illnesses can lead to liver diseases in dogs, categorized as either primary, stemming from liver issues, or secondary, caused by another underlying condition affecting the liver. These conditions typically induce inflammation or damage to the liver. The main liver ailments in dogs are –

• Endocrine diseases, which influence the body’s hormone regulation through the endocrine glands, can contribute to liver complications. Conditions such as diabetes, hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease), and hyperthyroidism can impair liver function.

• Infectious diseases also pose a threat to your pet’s liver since all blood circulates through it. These diseases are usually caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi.

• Among viral infections, canine hepatitis is quite common which leads to inflammation and scarring in the liver. Canine hepatitis is preventable through vaccine, so ask your vet about it.

• Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection, can result in liver disease, although it’s often linked with kidney issues. Dogs contract leptospirosis through contaminated water sources, and the disease can transmit to humans as well. Diagnosis of leptospirosis can be challenging, and even with treatment, it may cause permanent secondary damage to the liver and kidneys.

• Coccidioidomycosis and histoplasmosis stand as the primary fungal culprits behind liver diseases in dogs. Dogs typically encounter these fungi by inhaling or ingesting spores in their environment, particularly when exploring areas where these fungi thrive, such as during hikes.

The primary focus of vet’s treatment in managing these infections in your furry friend is to address the underlying endocrine condition, as this plays a crucial role in enhancing liver function. Treating these infections may prove to be a challenge, often requiring prolonged courses of antifungal medications spanning several months. Make sure you stick to your vet’s advice, follow the medication routine prescribed for your pet, and make any required lifestyle and dietary changes.

Looming danger of liver diseases

Liver diseases can manifest various symptoms based on the affected function due to the liver’s multifaceted roles, often affecting other bodily systems. Jaundice, a prevalent symptom of liver disease, results in a yellowish discoloration visible in your pet’s eyes, gums, skin, and ears. The liver is responsible for discharging bilirubin, a by-product from the breakdown of red blood cells. When the liver isn’t functioning normally, bilirubinlevels build up in the blood which leads to jaundice.

Some common symptoms of liver disease include gastrointestinal signs like –

• Decreased appetite

• Vomiting

• Diarrhoea

• Sudden weight loss

• Increased water intake

• Increased urination

• Changes in stool colour, such as grey or yellow stool

• Fluid retention in the abdomen

Hepatic encephalopathy, a consequential condition of liver disease, involves a cluster of neurological symptoms like – seizures, disorientation, depression, head pressing, blindness, and behavioural alterations. If you notice any of these symptoms, don’t delay and seek medical help for your pet at the earliest.

Paws and pathology – know more about liver masses

Dogs are also susceptible to various types of liver masses.

Liver cysts may be congenital or can develop with age. While often benign, large or expanding cysts can induce symptoms of liver disease. Surgical excision of these sizable cysts usually resolves your pet’s liver relates issues. Liver cancer has two primary forms—less prevalent primary tumours originating within the liver and more common metastatic tumours spreading from other parts of the body.

Primary tumours are less frequent compared to metastatic ones. Treatment approaches may vary based on factors such as cancer type, location, and number of masses, and may involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of these.

Be careful with these breeds

Certain dog breeds have a predisposition to particular liver disorders. Copper storage disease is prevalent among Bedlington Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, Skye Terriers, and West Highland White Terriers. These breeds might exhibit a metabolic anomaly causing copper accumulation in the liver, resulting in chronic hepatitis. Shar-Peis are prone to amyloidosis, a condition characterized by the buildup of abnormally formed proteins within cells.

The art of diagnosis

Your vet will recommend diagnostic tests to look at your pet’s liver function and determine the cause of his liver disease. Commonly recommended tests are – blood test, abdominal ultrasounds, liver function tests, X-rays, and urinalysis.

Early diagnosis and intervention play a vital role in curing liver disease and averting serious health complications in your beloved pet.

Treatment beyond symptoms

The outcome of liver disease in pets can vary depending on the disease’s severity and whether the underlying cause can be effectively treated or cured.

An early start to treatment, before significant long-term damage sets in, can lead to a successful prognosis. The liver’s remarkable ability to regenerate and repair itself often results in a favourable outlook, particularly for cases of acute or mild to moderate liver disease.For chronic or severe liver disease, the prognosis is typically poorer, with treatment focused on managing disease progression and alleviating symptoms.

Follow these tips to manage liver diseases in your pet and keep them healthy –

• Implement a high carbohydrate and low-protein diet to reduce ammonia levels in the bloodstream

• Talk to your vet about vitamin supplements and which ones would work the best

• If your vet has prescribed antibiotics for your furry friend, make sure you follow the dosage instructions carefully

Regular monitoring by your veterinarian is crucial for pets with liver disease, as they can effectively manage symptoms, thereby enhancing your pet’s lifespan and overall well-being.

Prevention is better than cure

While not all cases of liver disease are preventable, taking certain precautions can mitigate the risk of specific diseases.

It’s advisable to consult with your veterinarian to determine which diseases, such as Leptospirosis, your pet should be vaccinated against. Additionally, if you reside in an area with a high risk of fungal or other infections, discussing preventive measures with your vet is essential for safeguarding your pet’s liver health.

Understanding and being able to recognize the signs of liver disease in your pet is crucial. If you observe any concerning symptoms, it’s imperative to promptly seek veterinary care.

–by Dr Dinesh Kumawat and Dr Gurmandeep

Dr Dinesh Kumawat (Veterinary officer MVU, UP)Dr Gurmandeep( B.V.S.C. And A.H.)