Liver Disease In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

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Liver disease in dogs, also known as “hepatobiliary disease,” affects one of the most important organs in the body, as the liver filters toxins out of the blood, aids in digestion, metabolizes sources of energy, and manufactures proteins necessary for blood clotting, among other functions. Liver disease can be caused by any number of factors, including genetics, exposure to toxic substances or medication, infections, cancer, injuries, and more. Often, liver disease leads to a buildup of scar tissue, which is known as cirrhosis and is irreversible. Because the liver is so important to many bodily functions in dogs, liver disease can be fatal, especially if it goes untreated. If you see the signs of liver disease in your dog, you should consult your veterinarian so they can form a proper diagnosis, determine the cause, and begin treatment. Here is what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for liver disease in dogs.

Symptoms Of Liver Disease In Dogs

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Symptoms of liver disease in dogs can vary based on the severity of the condition and the cause of the illness. Symptoms also depend on which of the liver’s functions are compromised. Some dogs may show no signs of liver disease at all, especially if the condition is in the early stages. The symptoms that do appear can vary widely and often mimic the signs of other diseases. Here are a few of the fairly common symptoms associated with liver disease in dogs.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Increased thirst or urination
  • Blood in stool or urine
  • Unhealthy coat
  • Distended abdomen (ascites)
  • Unsteady walk
  • Confusion
  • Jaundice
  • Seizures
  • Blindness
  • Personality changes
  • Collapse
  • Coma

Causes Of Liver Disease In Dogs

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There are several possible causes of liver disease in dogs. Sometimes it can result as a natural process of aging, or the cause may be completely unknown. Usually the liver is a fairly resilient organ, and as much as 70 to 80 percent of liver tissue must be destroyed for liver failure to occur. That said, liver disease can easily become life-threatening if certain bodily functions are affected, and repeated exposure to liver disease increases the risk of cirrhosis and liver failure. Here are some of the potential causes of liver disease in dogs.

  • Ingestion of toxic chemicals (pesticides, household cleaners, antifreeze, etc.)
  • Ingestion of toxic plants or foods (mushrooms, lillies, etc.)
  • Exposure to certain medications, particularly long-term exposure (NSAIDS, antibiotics, corticosteroids, diuretics, and more)
  • Exposure to mold
  • Infections
  • Diabetes
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cancer
  • Liver cysts
  • Hepatitis
  • Liver shunts
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gall bladder stones
  • Fibrosis of the liver
  • Liver abscess
  • Injury or trauma

Treatments For Liver Disease In Dogs

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Treatment for liver disease in dogs depends on the cause, the severity of the condition, the extent of liver damage, and how early the disease is discovered. For most cases of liver disease, dietary changes and supplements are recommended. Liver-friendly diets are often high in digestible protein and low in sodium.

Medications are often prescribed to treat liver disease. Anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive drugs may be used, especially certain kinds of steroids. Other medications to manage the symptoms of liver disease may also be prescribed, including antiemetics to prevent vomiting and gastrointestinal medications to help with ulcers and bleeding. Surgery may be an option for dogs who suffer from tumors or cysts.

There are many different forms of treatment to address the various causes of liver disease. If your dog is suffering from liver disease, your veterinarian will work to determine the cause and prescribe appropriate treatment. Treatment is more effective when the disease is caught early, so consult your veterinarian at the first sign of unusual symptoms.

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