Hepatic Encephalopathy In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

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Hepatic encephalopathy in dogs is a degenerative brain condition that is caused by advanced liver disease. The liver is unable to properly filter ammonia, which accumulates and affects the central nervous system. This can lead to unusual neurological function, altered states of consciousness, seizures, and coma among other symptoms. Failure of the liver to filter ammonia can be caused by abnormalities present at birth, or it can be acquired from conditions that develop later in life. Male or female dogs of any age can suffer from liver problems that lead to hepatic encephalopathy. If you see the signs of hepatic encephalopathy in your dog, especially if your dog suffers from liver disease, consult your veterinarian immediately so they can form a proper diagnosis and prescribe treatment. Here is what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for hepatic encephalopathy in dogs.

Symptoms Of Hepatic Encephalopathy In Dogs

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Symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy in dogs can vary and may be mild or severe. You may notice unusual behaviors, personality changes, a loss of balance, seizures, or even coma. These symptoms may appear suddenly and without warning. Here are some of the signs you might see in a dog suffering from hepatic encephalopathy.

  • Circling or running into walls
  • Confusion, especially after meals
  • Hysteria
  • Aggression
  • Pacing
  • Head pressing
  • Sudden blindness
  • Tremors
  • Staggering, clumsiness, or loss of balance
  • Aimlessly wandering
  • Vocalizations
  • Lethargy
  • Increased or decreased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Orange or brown urine
  • Anorexia
  • Weight loss
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Causes Of Hepatic Encephalopathy In Dogs

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There are several possible causes of hepatic encephalopathy in dogs. One of the most common is a congenital condition, present at birth, called a portosystemic shunt. This is a defect that causes blood to move around the liver instead of through it, which prevents the liver from being able to filter the blood. Ammonia and other toxins then move to the brain and cause the symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy. This condition appears within the first year of life.

A portosystemic shunt can also be acquired later in life, mostly due to conditions that cause high blood pressure in the vein that connects the digestive organs to the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver is one condition that can lead to an acquired portosystemic shunt. Here are several other possible causes of liver issues that result in hepatic encephalopathy.

  • Liver failure due to exposure to drugs, toxins, or infection
  • High blood alkaline levels
  • Low potassium levels in the blood
  • Exposure to anesthetics, sedatives, or certain drugs
  • Intestinal bleeding
  • Infections
  • Constipation
  • Muscle wasting

Treatments For Hepatic Encephalopathy In Dogs

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Treatment for hepatic encephalopathy may begin with hospitalization to stabilize the dog’s system. This can include oxygen therapy and intravenous fluid, as well as a feeding tube if the veterinarian deems it necessary. Once the dog is stabilized, the veterinarian will prescribe a special diet for dogs with liver disease.

Medication may be prescribed, including antibiotics if an infection is suspected, enemas, diuretics, or seizure control medication. Zinc supplements may be recommended. If the cause of the hepatic encephalopathy is a portosystemic shunt, surgery may be an option to correct the defect.

During recovery, the dog should be kept warm, and activity should be limited. The veterinarian will go over at-home treatment and give instructions on using a feeding tube if it is necessary to increase the dog’s calorie consumption. Drugs like aspirin that can cause gastrointestinal bleeding should be avoided, as should tranquilizers or sedatives. If your dog is recovering from hepatic encephalopathy, make sure you follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely, monitor the condition, and schedule follow-up vet visits to make sure recovery is going well.