Liver disease in dogs is something that all dog owners should be worried about. The symptoms associated with this disease type depend on numerous factors, so a more detailed analysis of the disease is required to fully understand its facets.
Knowing how to properly identify and subsequently treat liver disease is vital to maintaining your dog’s health. This is why we’ve written this guide covering everything you need to know about liver disease in dogs (i.e. symptom identification, treatment options, prognosis information, etc.).
How to Determine if Your Dog Has Liver Disease
The liver helps the body break down nutrients, clean the blood, and perform a whole host of other important functions. Because there are so many bodily functions associated with the liver, there are likewise many different symptoms that can occur with liver disease.
The type of symptoms that your dog might experience depends entirely on which specific function(s) the disease has affected (in the liver). With that being said, below are some of the more general symptoms that occur when a dog has liver disease.
- Jaundice – This symptom occurs throughout the animal world (and yes, even in humans). Markers for jaundice include yellow skin, gums, eyes, and ears. The yellow color is typically very pronounced and easy to identify. Because the liver cleans the blood, if a certain function is affected by the disease, it can cause a buildup of unclean blood (which thereby causes the appearance of yellow skin).
- GI Symptoms – The GI tract of your dog includes its entire digestive system, as well as all other associated organs/body parts. If the disease has affected the part of the liver responsible for interacting with the GI tract, symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and related behavioral changes will occur.
- Loss of Brain Function – Referred to clinically as “Hepatic encephalopathy,” this is when your dog experiences a loss in their ability to perform neurological-related behaviors. They might have a lowered ability to balance, move properly, and might also experience extreme personality changes (e.g. depression).
Treatment and Management Options
After you’ve brought your pet to the vet and they’ve performed the necessary diagnostic tests (and diagnosed your dog with liver disease/dysfunction), your vet will develop a custom treatment plan. Nearly all treatment plans vary from dog to dog, mainly because of the differences in underlying health issues, medical histories, and breed types. Some of the most common treatment options include the following:
- Ursodiol urinary stone medication for pets
- Anti-nausea and anxiety medication
- IV fluids
- Steroidal medications
- Blood transfusion procedures (in advanced cases)
- Various types of antibiotics
Health Problems Associated With Liver Disease
Unfortunately, there are numerous health problems that are associated with liver disease. Below we cover a few of the major ones.
This health issue is related to blockages in the liver. Younger dogs who have shunts typically have them as a birth defect, whereas adult/older dogs usually acquire them from having a blockage of blood pressure in the liver.
The treatment of shunts depends entirely on its/their anatomy. Some cases can be resolved with surgical intervention, where others cannot be operated on. In these cases, the dog is usually prescribed a very low-protein diet along with specific medications that work to detoxify the blood.
Numerous health issues/diseases associated with the endocrine system can be related to poor liver function (and vice versa). These include the following:
- Cushing’s disease
When it comes to these kinds of health issues, the primary focus is placed on treating these underlying issues (rather than directly on healing the liver). That’s because the underlying issues are the cause of the liver issues (in most cases).
Other examples of health problems that can be associated with the liver are numerous, and all should be taken seriously:
- Viral hepatitis (canine)
- Development of bladder/urinary stones
- Various types of mycosis (fungal infections)
- Development of cysts (on/in the liver)
- Liver cancer
Can Liver Disease Lead to Death?
Liver disease in dogs can present with numerous symptom types, all of which have the potential of becoming very serious. Knowing whether or not your dog’s liver disease can be serious depends on what is actually causing the disease in the first place.
If the underlying issues are severe, then the prognosis is usually worse (compared to if the underlying issues are treatable/curable). Most cases of liver disease are treatable, however as the disease reaches more advanced stages, the prognosis gets increasingly worse.