Is Liver Disease Lurking inside your Dog? How to Figure it out and What to do About it. Deborah Shores, DVM

Flickr image by Helgi Halldórsson

Liver disease is a common disorder that affects many dogs, moreso as dogs age, but can affect young dogs too.   The liver is an extremely important organ that does everything from aid the digestive system, remove toxins from the blood stream, and make proteins. When the liver fails, it can cause numerous issues to arise. 

The term ‘liver disease’ is used to describe a wide variety of diseases that affect the liver. 

A few major types of liver disease include:

  • Infectious Canine Hepatitis is an acute liver infection that is caused by an adenovirus (a virus that originates in the tissues of the nasal cavity). This virus is spread through blood, feces, urine, and saliva. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, coughing, and discomfort in the abdomen. Many puppies receive a vaccination for canine adenovirus, as a result infectious hepatitis has become far less common in the United States and Canada. 
  • Chronic Active Hepatitis can occur at any age, although it is typically found in middle-aged to older dogs. Certain breeds, such as Standard Poodles, Skye Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Bedlington Terriers, and Doberman Pinschers have a predisposition to Chronic Active Hepatitis. Because this is a chronic (long-term) condition, your dog’s chances of recovery are far less than dogs with acute hepatitis.  Although the symptoms vary, the most common symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. This form of liver disease commonly results in cirrhosis, or replacement of liver tissue. 
  • Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is acquired when the animal is in contact with contaminated urine. Symptoms include sudden fever, weakness, sore muscles, lack of appetite, depression, dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea. Leptospira are found mainly in wet environments and has been found in rural, suburban and urban settings.  Wildlife often carries this bacteria.  Leptospirosis bacteria live in water, soil, and mud, so if your dog swims in, walks through, or drinks the contaminated water, there is a high probability that leptospirosis can develop. Recent research has shown that most dogs are at risk of acquiring Leptospirosis, while in the past hunting dogs were the most at risk.(1)

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease meaning that it transfers to other species, including humans. Special care must be taken when dealing with a dog with leptospirosis. So preventing the spread of infection is a top priority for leptospirosis patients. 

Some forms of liver disease are caused by the toxins that affect the liver.  These toxins are found in many common drugs, such as acetaminophen, anabolic steroids, drugs used for chemotherapy, some types of antibiotics, drugs used to control parasites, and phenylbutazone.  We'd like to emphasize this often ignored fact, that any pharmaceutical drug can be extremely toxic to your pet, this is why we at Elimay Supplements support the use of nutritional based supplements or herbs to help your pet through an ailment or from a prevention standpoint.  Please feel free to use the Ask the Vet feature on our website, should you have any questions about the various supplements to take for detoxification.  If your pet has been on a drug(s) for sometime, it is important to help your pet detoxify from it.  The body detoxifies naturally, but if the diet being fed the dog isn't specifically designed to aid in the detoxification, then supplementing with a trusted and nutritional supplement becomes critical for overall longterm health of your dog.  

Some chemicals, such as insecticides and toxic amounts of lead, selenium, phosphorus, iron, and arsenic can cause liver disease as well. Plants such as ragwort, blue-green algae, and some types of mushrooms are known to onset liver disease. 

For information on canine liver cancer, please refer to to our previous article: Canine Liver Cancer 

For many liver disease patients, natural unprocessed dietary adjustments are recommended to ensure that your dog receives a good nutrient intake to support the regeneration of the liver. There are pre-made “liver diets” available commercially, but some owners choose to follow a recipe and make it at home. The diets typically contain highly digestible protein to reduce the metabolic demands of the liver. Dairy products and eggs are generally common for liver disease patients. If your dog has liver disease, consult with a veterinary dietician or better a holistic veterinary practitioner for a balanced unprocessed recipe that is right for your individual dog’s needs. 

Medications are also often used for dogs suffering from liver disease. Steroids have been used and claim to extend lifespan, but there is absolutely no basis for this.  Extending a lifespan is not the point, the quality of your dogs life is.  Your pet will live his or her best life if emphasis is made to its quality.  Antibiotics are sometimes used to fight bacterial infections, we recommend probiotics to start. Many other medications are used to combat other symptoms, such as vomiting, ulcers, and bleeding.   However, we never recommend starting a dog with any drugs for treatment, unless absolutely necessary.  Start your pet on a nutritional homemade unprocessed diet and a supplementation program designed to continue the process of detoxification.  Supplementation accomplishes two things in this case, 1) fill any nutritional gap your pet may have in their diets, and 2) to fast track the treatment of any ailment or detoxification.  Ask your holistic veterinarian for more information or write to us!

With some forms of liver disease, the best option is to offer your dog supportive care. Intravenous fluids may be given to help with dehydration and electrolyte balance. A quiet environment, healthy diet, and lots of attention are all essential. As always, we recommend that you consult your local holistic veterinarian if you can find one, or your veterinarian to learn the best treatment options for your dog.

(1)  Leptospirosis and Your Pet: A CDC Fact Sheet. Veterinary Information Network Community Contributors. 

About Deborah Shores, DVM

Dr. Deborah Shores is a graduate of Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has many years of experience working both in private practice and industry from Virginia to South Carolina, treating mainly dogs and cats. She has a special interest in nutrition and holistic veterinary medicine and plans to pursue an acupuncture certificate at the Chi Institute in Florida. She has two cats and recently lost her 8 year-old Australian Shepard to liver cancer. 

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