Dog Tips

Liver Failure in Dogs

The heart pumps, the lungs breathe, the stomach and the intestines digest, so what exactly does the liver do? The liver breaks down all the alcohol you drink. Quite an important task, right? But dogs do not drink. So, what does their liver do? It aids digestion and blood clotting and removes the toxins from the body. If the liver doesn’t work properly, the other organs won’t either. It also breaks down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins and turns them into substances crucial for normal functioning. 

Now that we know how important the liver for dogs is, let us understand what can cause problems in this organ, how to identify symptoms and then the treatment.

Stages of Liver Failure in Dogs

Liver failure in dogs usually occurs in 4 stages.

  • Inflammation – An abnormal inflammation is how it starts. This can usually be treated with medications and dietary changes.

  • Fibrosis – In this stage, the liver begins to scar and harden. If identified at or before this stage, the disease can be cured.

  • Cirrhosis – The scarring becomes permanent here.

  • Failure – This is the final stage where the liver completely stops functioning properly. The dog may be in their final weeks if the condition reaches this stage.

Dog Liver Disease Causes

The liver is susceptible to injury because of its role in metabolizing, detoxifying, and storing various toxic compounds. There are multiple factors that can cause toxin build-up in the liver.

  • Vaccines or medications

  • Pesticides

  • Heartworm drugs

  • Food additives

  • Preservatives and processed foods

  • Viruses and auto-immune diseases

  • Chemical cleaners

  • Plants and herbs such as ragwort, certain mushrooms, and blue-green algae

Apart from these toxins, other factors that can cause liver damage in dogs are – 

  • Fatty foods

  • Diabetes

  • Pancreatic issues

  • Excess copper

  • Alcohol

  • Some essential oils like tea tree

Signs of Liver Failure in Dogs

The way to suspect if your dog has liver disease is to look out for the following symptoms –

  • Lethargy

  • Lack of appetite

  • Weight loss

  • Drinking more or less water than usual

  • Dry or brittle nails

  • Dull eyes or retinal disorders

  • Dark urine

  • Pressing their head against things

  • Swollen limbs

  • Irritability or aggression, especially when the belly is touched

  • Seizures or fits

  • Blood in urine or poop

  • Yellow eyes, tongue or gums

How Dangerous is Liver Disease in Dogs?

The danger levels of a liver disease in dogs depend on the type and severity of it.

  • Acute hepatitis – If the liver becomes suddenly inflamed, it can be cured by supportive fluids and medications. If the cause is bacteria, antibiotics may also help. A mild inflammation can be cured with a one-time treatment. 

  • Chronic Hepatitis – This is when the inflammation in the liver is long-term. Breeds like Doberman, Great Dane, Jack Russell Terrier, Poodle, Labrador, etc. are predisposed to this condition. It can sometimes be treated with antibiotics and other medications but if left untreated, can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. (2)

  • Tumors or cancer – Cancer can either start from the liver or spread from organs like the pancreas, breast or lymphoma. Primary tumors, the ones originating from the liver, can only be treated by surgical removal. For tumors or cancers that have spread from other parts of the body, chemotherapy is recommended to delay their progression. 

Chronic or severe liver disease can be fatal in dogs. When the liver is not functioning properly, a dog’s brain and nervous system can also be affected. An accumulation of toxins and waste in their bodies can cause this. It can lead to – 

  • Altered or confused mental state

  • Seizures

  • Lack of balance

Treating Liver Disease in Dogs

Common treatments recommended by vets for liver diseases in dogs are – 

  • A high-carb, low-protein diet to decrease ammonia levels in the blood

  • Vitamin supplements

  • Lactulose

  • Antibiotics

  • Surgery in the case of tumors

As they say, prevention is better than cure.

Preventing Liver Disease in Dogs

Some useful ways of preventing the development of liver disease in dogs include – 

  • Vaccinating your pet for canine hepatitis.

  • Keeping potential toxins like medications, pesticides, chemical cleaners and antifreeze away from the dog’s reach.

  • Avoiding OTC medicines without vet prescriptions.

  • Avoiding the dog drinking water from unclean or stagnant water.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight with regular exercise to avoid diabetes.

More About Spot Pet Insurance

For our caring and loving pet parents, we have dedicated a 24/7 Pet Tele Healthline. Whenever you feel confused about any symptoms or behavior, our experts will guide you to the best course of action. 

Medical conditions like liver disease in dogs can not only be a mental worry but also a financial one. The treatment costs of surgery, medications, alternate therapies, etc. can sometimes reach 4 digits. 

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  1. Liver disease and failure in dogs - Causes, stages, treatment | Vale Vets. (2022, June 27). Vale Vets.

  2. Sunkara, L. (2023, January 25). Liver disease in dogs: common signs, causes, and treatments. GoodRx.

  3. Taylor, M. (2022, August 20). Liver disease in dogs. WebMD.

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