Hepatic Encephalopathy In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

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Hepatic encephalopathy in dogs is a degenerative brain condition caused by advanced liver disease. The liver can’t properly filter ammonia, which then builds up and affects the central nervous system. This can lead to unusual brain function, altered consciousness, seizures, and coma among other symptoms.

Failure of the liver to filter ammonia can result from abnormalities present at birth, or it can come from other health issues later in life. Male or female dogs of any age can suffer from liver problems that lead to hepatic encephalopathy.

If you see the symptoms in your dog, especially if they suffer from liver disease, consult your veterinarian right away so they can diagnose and treat it.

Here’s 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 also appear suddenly and without warning.

Here are some of the signs you might see in a dog who suffers 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 appears within the first year of life.

A portosystemic shunt can also appear later in life, mostly due to health issues that cause high blood pressure in the vein that connects the digestive organs to the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver, for instance, can lead to an acquired portosystemic shunt.

Here are some further 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 in order to stabilize the dog’s system. This can include oxygen therapy and intravenous fluid, as well as a feeding tube if the vet deems it necessary.

Once the dog stabilizes, the vet will likely prescribe a special diet for dogs with liver disease.

The vet may then prescribe medication, including antibiotics if they suspect an infection, enemas, diuretics, or seizure control drugs. They may also prescribe zinc supplements. If the cause of the hepatic encephalopathy is a portosystemic shunt, then surgery may be an option to correct the defect.

During recovery, you should keep your dog warm and limit their activity. The vet will go over at-home treatment and give further advice on using a feeding tube if necessary to increase the dog’s calorie intake.

Avoid drugs like aspirin that can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, as well as tranquilizers or sedatives. If your dog is recovering from hepatic encephalopathy, then follow your vet’s instructions closely, keep an eye on the condition, and schedule follow-up vet visits to make sure recovery goes well.

Does your dog suffer from hepatic encephalopathy? If so, then how does your vet treat it? Let us know in the comments below!