Liver Disease in Dogs
Liver disease doesn’t refer to a single disease. “Liver disease” refers to a group of conditions that affect the liver. This may make you feel even more intimidated if your dog has been diagnosed with “liver disease”. However, don’t panic! This article will provide information on normal liver functions, types of liver disease, clinical signs and how veterinarians work with pet owners to manage them.
An overview of the liver
The liver performs extremely important functions in the body.. It stores several important nutrients such as carbohydrates, vitamins, iron and so on. The liver also regulates the levels of many of these nutrients in the blood. In addition, the liver removes toxins and infectious organisms (e.g. bacteria) from the blood. If waste products are not removed from the blood, they can travel to the brain and cause severe neurological symptoms. Furthermore, the liver produces important molecules that are essential for normal bodily function (e.g. clotting factors, which help the blood to clot)
The upshot of this is that it’s important to keep your pet’s liver healthy, monitor them for signs of illness, and consult a veterinarian as soon as you suspect any signs of illness. When medical problems are detected earlier, they’re often easier to manage.
Signs of liver disease in dogs
As the liver has many functions in the body, clinical signs are wide-ranging. Signs of liver disease include (but are not limited to):
-Lethargy (reduced activity)
-Excessive drinking and urination
-Swollen belly (due to fluid leaking into the abdomen)
-Changes in stool colour
-Clotting problems (e.g. bleeding gums, nosebleeds, blotchy gums, swollen joints)
-Nervous symptoms (seizures, uncoordinated movements)
Some of the above symptoms (e.g. seizures) are medical emergencies that require immediate attention, so it’s important to consult a veterinarian as soon as you notice these symptoms
Types of liver disease in dogs
There are several types of liver disease in dogs, and some diseases are more common than others.
This article will give an overview of the more common ones, their potential causes, and how vets may treat them. Common liver diseases include (but are not limited to):
In normal bodies, the portal vein collects blood from the gastrointestinal tract and travels to the liver. The blood is then detoxified in the liver before it travels to the rest of the body. Portosystemic shunts (PSS) occur when there is an abnormal branch of the portal vein that allows the blood to bypass the liver and travel directly to the rest of the body.
Most cases of PSS are present from birth, due to a birth defect. Therefore, PSS is more likely to occur in very young animals. These animals have stunted growth, as well as many of the above signs. Occasionally, PSS develops when many small shunts form because of severe liver disease.
Imaging (e.g. radiographs, ultrasound) is used to diagnose PSS. Imaging is used in conjunction with other diagnostic tools such as blood test readings.
Management of portosystemic shunt: PSS cases are managed with prescription liver diets that have controlled amounts of high-quality protein (e.g. Hill's® Prescription Diet® l/d® Liver Care Canine ). Lactulose syrup is also used to reduce ammonia waste in PSS patients.
Seizure patients can be treated with anti-seizure medications (e.g. Levetiracetam, phenobarbitone, potassium bromide).
Depending on the nature of the shunt, some affected pets may be candidates for surgery.
Hepatitis refers to liver inflammation. Hepatitis can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). There are many potential causes of hepatitis. Bacterial infections such as leptospirosis can cause hepatitis. Drugs and poisons can also cause leptospirosis.
Management of hepatitis: Management aims to address the root cause. For instance, leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics such as doxycycline. Hepatitis is also managed with supportive care (e.g. fluids, specialised liver diets, supplements).
Cancers can originate in the liver, or spread to the liver from elsewhere. There are a range of management options for cancer - including surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
Use of supplements in liver disease
There are many types of liver supplements in the market for dogs. You can consider liver probiotics like Rocks Nutraceuticals Liver + Probiotic Supplement. Other types of liver supplements include supplements with S-adenosyl-L-methionine (sAME). sAME is turned into glutathione in the body, and glutathione is a major antioxidant in the body that has a ton of important functions (e.g. improving immunity, organ heallth).
sAME - containing supplements include MaxxiSAMe Liver Supplement for Dogs, Vetri-Science Vetri SAMe supplement, Livermarin 200, and so on. Some supplements (e.g. SAMYLIN ® Liver Supplement) contain Silybin. Silybin is extracted from milk thistle. Studies suggest that it may have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Do ask your vet about the supplements that suit your dog!
We hope that this article has given you an overview of liver diseases in dogs. Consult your vet if you want more personalised advice.