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Liver Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Stages & Treatment

Updated 06 November 2023
Read time: 7 mins
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Written by Corinne Homer
Copywriter

If your dog has been diagnosed with liver disease, you might understandably be a worried pooch parent. You may wonder: what does liver disease mean for a dog, what are the symptoms, and how do you understand and treat the different stages of liver disease? Also, if a dog has liver disease, do you switch their food? What should they eat? 

 

It’s completely normal to have so many questions - after all, our dogs are such beloved members of the family and we just want them to be healthy and as happy as they can be. In this article, we’ll explain the symptoms, stages and treatment of liver disease in dogs, so that you’ll feel more confident and well equipped for whatever stage of the condition your pooch is in. 

 

What causes liver disease in dogs?

Liver disease is relatively common in dogs and can affect all breeds and ages. There’s a lot of variation in what contributes to the condition: 

 

  • Sometimes it’s genetic factors that make liver disease more likely - in breeds such as Standard Poodles, Chihuahuas, Golden Retrievers and West Highland Terriers, for example 
  • Eating fatty foods over a long period can increase the chance of developing liver disease
  • Ingesting toxic substances - including plants such as ragwort, certain wild mushrooms, mouldy corn or artificial sweetener - can cause liver failure
  • Liver disease can be a side effect of illnesses like diabetes, or can appear alongside pancreas issues
  • A severe injury or trauma to the liver can lead to liver disease
  • If your dog is senior, developing organ dysfunction such as liver disease can be a part of old age.

 

Signs & symptoms of liver disease in dogs

So, what to look out for? It can be tough to spot liver disease in your dog, as the common symptoms could relate to many other illnesses or conditions. In any case, take your pooch to a vet to be tested if you spot any of the following: 

 

  • Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
  • Drinking and peeing more often than usual
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Instability on their feet/not walking correctly
  • Yellow whites of eyes or tongue (signs of jaundice)
  • General weakness or lethargy
  • Blood when they pee or poop
  • Seizures

 

Hepatic encephalopathy in dogs

In some cases, liver disease in dogs can lead to a secondary illness called hepatic encephalopathy - a brain condition. It might seem strange for a change in liver function to impact the brain, and really, it’s not entirely understood. As the liver is responsible for filtering toxins from the blood, it’s thought that changes in blood chemistry caused by a deteriorated liver can cause the brain to dysfunction. 

 

It’s most commonly linked to a portosystemic shunt in dogs (a particular liver condition) - but can also occur after acute liver failure or alongside severe/late stage liver disease.

 

How is liver disease diagnosed in dogs?

Once you’ve noticed your dog isn’t acting quite themselves and you’ve taken them to the vets, it’s likely the vet will carry out a few tests, such as blood tests, x-rays or an ultrasound. If the tests show that the liver isn’t functioning normally, they may carry out a biopsy on your dog to remove tissue for further testing. 

 

From there, they’ll know the type of liver disease your dog is suffering from and how advanced it is, and should instruct you on the best way to manage it.

 

Our Pooch & Mutt vet, Vet Linda, in lilac scrubs, holding a tan coloured curly dog, against a lilac coloured background

 

Stages of liver disease in dogs

The severity of your dog’s symptoms could indicate how advanced their liver disease has become. Generally, liver disease progression is defined by early stages and late stages…

 

Early stages of liver disease

When liver disease is in its early stages, your pooch may display mild symptoms such as decreased appetite, some weight loss, or peeing and drinking more frequently. They might get the odd bout of sickness and diarrhoea. The early stages can be hard to detect, as these symptoms can seem mundane and easily go under the radar. If you have any suspicions that things aren’t right, get your pooch to the vet for a check up. 

 

Later stages of liver disease

During the more advanced stages of liver disease, symptoms are more severe, as the liver’s inability to function causes your pooch to become more unwell. Your dog might be generally lethargic and weak, have jaundice of the eyes, gums and tongue, an inability to hold their pee means they may urinate in the house, and they may vomit, get diarrhoea and go off their food.

 

Treatment for liver disease in dogs

When it comes to treatment, getting the right food is an important step to manage liver disease in dogs - as if their liver can’t process what they eat it will significantly worsen symptoms and make the dog miserable. Treatment for a dog’s liver dysfunction depends on how advanced the damage is, and could be a combination of the following: 

 

  • Switching to a hepatic diet is one of the most important treatments for liver disease (read on for more about this)
  • You or a vet should administer medications such as antibiotics, immunosuppressive drugs or nausea medication to manage sickness and symptoms
  • Fluid therapy may be useful for maintaining hydration 
  • Nutritional supplements such as milk thistle and Omega 3 fatty acids can boost the dog’s health and overall wellbeing
  • Supportive measures will be needed, such as monitoring of blood pressure and taking to the vets for check-ups on a regular basis.
  •  

    A packet of our Liver Food, with all raw ingredients within the food spurting out from the packet, against a pale orange background

     

    Hepatic diet for dogs 

    It can be tough to know what to feed a dog with liver disease, but it’s usually vital for their treatment that they’re switched to a hepatic diet. Your vet will likely suggest a hepatic dog food as it’s specially formulated to provide your dog with all the nutrition and supplements they need without putting undue stress on the liver. Hepatic dog food needs to be extra appetising, too, as dogs with a dodgy liver often don’t want to eat.  

     

    For dogs with liver issues who also have a grain allergy or who prefer a grain-free diet, Pooch & Mutt has made a specialist dog food for liver disease that contains zero grain. Unlike other prescription hepatic foods, we’ve boosted flavour by adding delicious chicken skin and salmon oil - the perfect amount of succulent fats to make it irresistible to dogs who may have gone off their food. To top it off, we’ve added milk thistle - its natural nutrients are excellent for liver function.

     

    Can liver disease be cured in dogs?

    Whether a dog can be ‘cured’ of liver disease really depends on the stage of progression and the cause (for instance, if your pooch has liver damage as a part of diabetes, it would be dependent on the diabetes improving). 

     

    Liver disease tends to be progressive, and the damage already done to the liver rarely goes in reverse. However, in many cases liver disease can be managed and slowed so that a dog can live out their days happily. Staying ahead of symptoms, feeding them the right food, and maintaining regular check-ups with the vet will improve your dog’s everyday quality of life and hopefully extend their life, too. 

     

    If your pooch has liver disease, you’ll probably have a lot on your mind in regards to getting them the best treatment possible. That’s why Pooch & Mutt has formulated a range of vet-recommended specialist foods for dogs with specific health conditions, including our Veterinary Food for Liver Disease. We’ve created the exact right balance of proteins, nutrients and supplements so rather than fuss over food, you can just focus on caring for and loving your dog every day. 



    References 

     

    If you want to learn more about what to feed your dog if they have liver problems, check out our blog here.



    Comments (2)

    My dog Sweetheart has been diagnosed with Liver failure and I finally was able to get her going after 2 weeks hard work. We have a marvelous vet who has put her on nausea meds, meds for aches and pains, and a liver builder. She has improved considerably, but diet is a problem. She’s back to eating eggs, some chicken with broth,, salmon and tuna with juice. Does your food for Liver support recovery, or is there anything more you can suggest? She is 15 years young. Thanks for your help. Nandy

    Nancy - Sep 22 2023

    Hi Nancy, I asked vet Linda about this for you and she has advised “It isn’t a specific recovery food (so not e.g. higher in calories) but it is specifically designed to support the liver and is advised for those with hepatic disease.” If you are unsure, we would advise double checking with your own vet if our food would be suitable. :)

    Team Pooch - Sep 22 2023

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