The liver is one of the most important organs in the body of your dog. It performs various functions like aiding blot clot, digestion, detoxification of waste products, and manufacturing of the body’s building blocks. If the liver fails to work properly, your pet can fall sick causing hepatitis which can progress into serious liver disease.
The liver is prone to being affected by a variety of diseases, including bacterial and viral infections, toxicities and neoplastic and degenerative diseases. According to canidae.com, “Canine liver disease is the fifth leading cause of death for dogs, and it’s estimated that three percent of all diseases veterinarians see are connected to the liver”. However, liver diseases can be treated and your pet can make a full recovery.
There are a number of factors that predispose dogs to developing liver disease and these include:
Age: geriatric dogs are more prone to developing a wide range of diseases than the younger ones
Certain drugs can cause liver damage with prolonged use. For example: acetaminophen, anesthetics, anabolic steroids, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, corticosteroids and certain pesticides.
Genetics: some breeds of dogs are more likely to have liver problems due to the presence or absence of certain traits. Rottweilers, Cocker spaniels, Dobermans and Yorkshire terriers are more prone to developing liver diseases.
Insufficient blood flow to the liver due to other conditions such as heart disease and heartworms
Viral and bacterial infections
Excessive consumption of fatty foods
Diabetes and issues with the pancreas
Due to the fact that liver disease can affect different parts of the body, it is usually difficult to recognize the symptoms when they are present. Some of the symptoms include:
Loss of appetite
Chronic weight loss
Vomiting or diarrhoea
Unstable gait and walk
Progressive lethargy and weakness
Swollen belly filled with fluid
Increased water consumption and increased urination
Pale coloured feces
Orange/ amber-coloured urine
If the liver disease is not addressed on time, it may degenerate into a severe condition called hepatic encephalopathy with serious neurological signs such as seizures, behavioural changes and aimless circling movements.
Your veterinary doctor will perform a series of tests before deciding on the appropriate treatment option for your dog. The available treatment options may include:
Medications: the type of medication used will depend on the type and extent of the liver disease. Medications should be given in lower doses since the liver which plays a major role in eliminating chemical substances is not working properly. Some of the medications used include corticosteroids (to decrease inflammation), Antibiotics (to treat infections), Penicillamine and zinc acetate, antiemetics, antiulcer medications like cimetidine, diuretics (to reduce some of the swelling due to fluid accumulation), and electrolyte replenishers.
Diet changes and supplements: In order to complement the medications your dog is placed on, you may have to make some changes to their diet. This will ensure that your pet gets the calories and nutritional requirements they need. In order to prevent deficiencies, a daily dose of mineral and vitamin supplements is usually prescribed for dogs living with liver disease. The usual vitamin supplements that are used include Vitamin K (to help control bleeding disorders) and Vitamin E which functions as an antioxidant to prevent progressive oxidative injury to the liver.
S-adenosylmmethionine (SAMe) is now prescribed in the treatment of liver disease and it is also available as a supplement.
Surgery: this is usually the last or only resort for dogs that have been diagnosed with an advanced stage of liver disease and especially those with tumors or cysts.
Liver disease in older dogs is preventable. You can ensure good health for your dog by taking them for regular examinations and monitoring what they eat. Your dog is counting on you to keep him healthy. Never delay treatment. It’s better to be safe than sorry.