The liver is one of the most important organs in a dog’s body. It is second largest after his skin and performs more than a thousand different functions, such as excreting toxins from the body, storing vitamins and minerals, breaking down nutrients and releasing them into the body, helping with blood clotting and producing plasma proteins, to name just a few.
With that in mind, it's no wonder that liver problems in dogs can cause many different health issues, some of which can be fatal. We will take a look at some of the most common signs of dog liver problems and what you can do to help your pooch in that case.
Common Signs of Liver Problems
Since the liver is responsible for many vital functions in a dog’s body, there's a number of different symptoms that your pooch might exhibit when he has a liver health issue.
Jaundice is a yellowish tinge of a dog’s skin that is best noticeable in the eyes, ears and gums. It is one of the most common symptoms of liver health problems because one of the liver’s functions is excreting bilirubin, and when the liver doesn’t work properly, the bilirubin builds up in a dog’s blood and causes the yellowish appearance.
2. Gastrointestinal Issues
While gastrointestinal problems can be a signal of a wide variety of issues or even stand on their own, they can also be related to liver not functioning properly. Decreased appetite and weight loss are the most prominent signs of liver disease and they are commonly accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea. Changes in the color of your dog’s stool can also be a sign of some liver condition, especially if you notice blood in his feces.
3. Changes in Urination
Increased urination, along with increased thirst, can be a symptom of a liver disease. There can also be blood in the urine or other changes in the color, especially if you notice that your pet's urine is much darker than usual.
4. Problems with Eyes
In addition to jaundice mentioned above, your dog’s eyes can also become pinkish in color. You may also notice some kind of discharge coming from the eyes. While this usually signals some type of eye illness, it can also be a sign of liver disease. In very rare cases, even blindness can be present.
If you notice that your pup is developing new allergies, it may signal some problem with his liver. In most cases, allergies are not a sign of any underlying disease but they can be in this case.
6. Neurological Problems
Dogs with liver problems, especially at later stages, can develop hepatic encephalopathy, which is a collection of neurological issues like disorientation, seizures, head pressing or behavioral changes like irritability, aggression and depression.
7. Other Common Symptoms
There are some other signs you may notice when the dog's liver isn't functioning properly and is not breaking down nutrients as it supposed to. These are things like blood clotting, poor nail quality, problems with ligaments or tendons or excessive drooling. Some dogs may suffer from fluid retention in their abdomen, which is called ascites.
Causes of Liver Problems in Dogs
While there are a few different liver issues or diseases that canines can go through, they all are pretty much caused by the same factors.
As dogs get older, it is normal for them to experience certain health issues. Liver problems are more commonly diagnosed in senior dogs as opposed to adult or young dogs. However, puppies are sometimes born with a disease called liver shunt which hinders the blood circulation in the liver.
Some breeds are more likely to suffer from liver problems. Knowing whether your pooch is at higher risk can help you take some preventive measures. For example, Poodles, Retrievers, Dobermans and German Shepherds are at higher risk of developing copper storage disease, which causes a dog’s body to accumulate copper in the liver and damage it if left untreated.
Chihuahuas and Terriers, as well as some other toy breeds, are prone to getting fatty liver disease. This illness is caused by triglyceride accumulation in a dog’s liver and leads to liver damage.
Liver problems often come as a result of some untreated condition. Things like diabetes, pancreatic diseases, viral and bacterial infections and heartworm disease can all lead to problems with the liver if they are not appropriately treated in a timely manner.
Liver health issues can be caused by some other factors too. Genetic abnormalities and toxins are the most prominent among them. Some medications and chemicals contain toxins which can build up in a dog’s body and cause liver damage. It is important to administer medications according to your vet’s instructions and not do it on your own.
How Dog's Liver Problems Are Diagnosed
You cannot make this diagnosis by yourself at home. Take your dog to see a veterinarian immediately if you notice any of the signs mentioned to get the right diagnosis. Some common tests for dogs liver problems include blood tests, x-rays, urinalysis and abdominal ultrasound. Your vet may also want to perform a biopsy, which means removing a small tissue sample for testing.
How to Prevent Liver Problems
You can’t always prevent liver problems, especially those that come with age or as a result of genetic abnormalities. However, there are a few things you can do to minimize the risks of liver problems or decrease the chance of them developing.
Remove Toxins from Dog's Environment
Some toxins that your dog comes in contact with can be avoided. For example, some vaccines have substances that can damage the liver. Consult your vet about these vaccines and avoid those that you and your vet deem unnecessary or not worth the risk. However, always get your dog vaccinated for core vaccines, such as canine hepatitis and leptospirosis.
Don’t let your dog come in contact with dangerous chemicals like pesticides and various cleaning products. Give your dog only essential medications that your vet prescribes and don’t give him any of the human drugs. You can also look for natural remedies you can give to your pooch instead of some harmful synthetic drugs, but consult with you vet about this beforehand.
Feed Your Dog a Healthy Diet
Processed foods can cause damage to the dog's liver. If you're suspicious of the commercial foods, try feeding the pupper more fresh foods, either homemade diet or raw. Familiarize yourself with these diets and how to do them properly to avoid malnutrition. If you feed your dog commercial kibble or wet food, ensure that it is of the highest quality and vet recommended.
You can add more fresh veggies and fruits to your dog's diet that are rich in antioxidants like vitamins A, E and C and carotenoids. These vitamins can be found in blueberries, apples, melon, spinach, celery, green beans, peas, carrots and pumpkin, all of which dogs can eat in moderation.
If you chose a raw diet, then increase the amount of organ meat you're feeding. Add more liver into your pet's diet because it is much richer in nutrients than muscle meat. Note that sometimes this can cause loose stools if your dog is not accustomed to it, so do any diet changes gradually to give the dog's digestive system enough time to adjust.
Cleanse the Liver
Some holistic veterinarians suggest to cleanse your dog’s liver occasionally to help this vital organ deal with all the toxins. Note that there are no studies suggesting this to be helpful but a lot of anecdotal evidence.
It is suggested that even if you feed your dog right and avoid harmful chemicals and medications, liver still comes in contact with a lot of toxins and it can benefit from the cleanse. Keep in mind that such “liver cleanse” can cause some side effects, so discuss this not only with your holistic vet but your regular veterinarian as well, and get a third opinion.
How to Treat Liver Problems in Dogs
There are a few different liver problems that your dog can suffer from and there is no one specific treatment for them all. For example, if your dog’s liver problems are caused by viral or bacterial infection, the primary goal will be to treat the underlying disease.
On the other hand, if your dog has liver cancer, the treatment will probably include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or some combination of them, depending on the location, severity and type. Either way, your veterinarian is the only one who can guide you through the treatment of your pet's liver health issues.
With this in mind, there are some things you can do to help your dog deal with chronic or acute liver disease. First of all, change his dietary habits as we already talked about. You can also use supplements like SAM-E or milk thistle to help the liver recover from damage. Certain medications may provide some control of these issues. However, all of this should be done in consultation with your vet.
Knowing the signs of liver problems in dogs is very important because early treatment is one of the key factors in preventing any more serious damage or even death. Take your pooch to the vet if you notice any of these symptoms and follow his instructions to help your dog deal with these problems by decreasing levels of discomfort for the pet.
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