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Liver Disease in Dogs: Signs, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Living With Canine Liver Problems (2024)

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liver disease in dogsA distressed liver affects your dog’s health in many ways.

It struggles to remove toxins, make proteins, and metabolize nutrients.

Liver disease causes fluid buildup, lack of appetite, vomiting, jaundice, and even brain dysfunction.

Through bloodwork, imaging, and biopsy, vets diagnose the issue.

With diet changes, supplements, medications, or surgery, treatments aim to reduce symptoms and support liver function.

Daily care and prevention can help dogs with liver problems live happily.

Key Takeaways

  • Dogs with liver disease may show symptoms like jaundice, lethargy, gastrointestinal issues, and fluid buildup.
  • Common causes include infectious diseases, toxins, and cancerous growths in the liver.
  • Diagnosis involves blood tests, imaging, and sometimes liver biopsy.
  • Treatment can include diet changes, supplements, medications, and sometimes surgery.

Signs of Liver Disease in Dogs

Signs of Liver Disease in Dogs
You’ll notice several symptoms if your dog is suffering from liver disease:

  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes, gums, or skin, is a common early sign as bilirubin builds up in the bloodstream.
  • Your dog may seem depressed or lethargic as toxins affect the brain.
  • Gastrointestinal upset like vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite frequently occur.
  • You may see blood in vomit or stools as clotting ability decreases.
  • Fluid buildup in the belly from decreased protein production causes an enlarged abdomen.
  • Increased thirst and urination happen as the liver loses the ability to regulate fluids.
  • Weight loss from poor appetite and muscle wasting can develop over time.

Diagnosing liver disease early is key, so contact your vet promptly if these symptoms arise for bloodwork and further testing.

Common Causes of Liver Disease

Common Causes of Liver Disease
You should be aware of some of the most frequent causes of liver issues in canines:

  • Infectious diseases like canine hepatitis or leptospirosis
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Cancerous growths within the liver

Knowing the origins of your dog’s liver problems can help guide diagnosis and treatment.


Infections are a common cause of liver disease in dogs.

Conditions like leptospirosis and canine hepatitis, both bacterial infections, can lead to inflammation and scarring of the liver.

Some fungal infections like coccidioidomycosis can also impair liver function and trigger disease.

Preventive measures like vaccination and awareness of infectious triggers that prompt liver problems are key.


  1. You’ll find certain toxins and chemicals can damage your dog’s liver over time.
  2. Toxins like aflatoxins in moldy foods and environmental chemicals like insecticides may poison your dog’s liver.
  3. Your dog’s liver can suffer damage from toxins in fungal-contaminated foods, chemicals, and some natural substances.
  4. Ingested toxins like aflatoxins, chemicals, plants, and medications can harm your dog’s liver.


Liver tumors, whether primary or spreading from elsewhere, can also damage your dog’s organ.

Cancer treatments focus on extending quality of life.

Palliative care like pain relief, nutritional support, and holistic approaches help dogs and owners cope with the emotional impact.

Monitoring for secondary conditions allows for early intervention.

Diagnosing Liver Problems

Diagnosing Liver Problems
When a veterinarian suspects liver disease, they’ll run blood tests looking for abnormalities in liver enzymes and function.

Imaging such as x-rays or ultrasound allow visualization of the liver to check for structural problems.

For a definitive diagnosis, a liver biopsy to examine tissue samples under a microscope is usually recommended.

Blood Tests

You’d undergo blood tests to look for elevated liver enzymes and other irregularities indicating liver dysfunction.

Diagnostic accuracy helps vets determine treatment strategies based on bloodwork interpretation.

Changes in ALT, AST, cholesterol, and copper levels can indicate problems and guide canine nutrition and monitoring progress for diseases like hepatitis or copper storage disease.


Some of the next tests you’ll run involve imaging like X-rays or ultrasound to get a visual on what’s going on in the liver.

Imaging techniques like abdominal radiographs and ultrasound scans provide key diagnostic insights by showing the liver’s structure, highlighting masses, and detecting abnormalities.

Advanced imaging innovations allow veterinarians to pinpoint liver disease non-invasively.

Continued scanning breakthroughs will further our radiological understanding of complex canine liver problems.


You’ll sometimes need a liver biopsy to confirm your dog’s diagnosis if blood tests and imaging haven’t provided enough information for the vet.

A biopsy can provide diagnostic insights by testing the liver tissue directly.

The procedure involves using a needle to extract a small sample for examination under a microscope.

There are some risks, like bleeding, so your vet will weigh biopsy benefits against risk factors.

Tissue analysis can pose interpretation challenges but gives the most definitive urea, bile acids, and biliary enzyme data to diagnose liver diseases like hepatitis or diabetes mellitus.

Types of Canine Liver Disease

Types of Canine Liver Disease
You’ll find that there are several types of liver disease in dogs, including:

  • Chronic hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Tumors

Some of these types are inherited, while others are acquired due to infection, toxins, or medications.

Early diagnosis and treatment can often help manage these conditions and improve your dog’s quality of life.

Chronic Hepatitis

Since diagnosing liver disease involves various tests, you’ll want to understand the different types of canine liver diseases.

Chronic hepatitis causes long-term inflammation that can lead to permanent damage.

This condition often stems from genetic predisposition, environmental factors, or both, resulting in symptoms like weight loss, increased drinking, and urination.

Treatment options focus on dietary changes and supplements to manage inflammation and prevent further liver injury over the long term.

Regular veterinary care is crucial for dogs with chronic hepatitis to monitor progression, adjust therapies, and provide the best quality of life possible.


With cirrhosis, your dog’s liver becomes scarred over time from chronic inflammation.

This blocks blood flow and prevents the liver from functioning properly.

As cirrhosis progresses, veterinarians often recommend dietary changes to reduce strain on the liver.

They also recommend medications to help control complications like fluid accumulation (ascites) and neurological issues (encephalopathy).

Certain breeds may be more prone to developing cirrhosis or experiencing breed-specific disease progressions.


In light of cirrhosis, you’ll learn about tumors growing in the liver next.

Certain breeds like Labradors and poodles face a higher risk for hepatic tumors.

Surgical removal may be possible, but the prognosis varies.

Palliative care focuses on quality of life when tumors are advanced.

Diagnosing liver tumors poses challenges and often involves imaging tests and biopsy.

Medical Treatments for Liver Disease

Medical Treatments for Liver Disease
When it comes to treating liver disease in dogs, the main medical therapies focus on:

  • Diet changes
  • Supplements
  • Medications

An appropriate therapeutic diet along with vitamin supplements can help manage symptoms and support liver function.

Depending on the cause and severity of disease, antibiotics or other drugs may also be prescribed by your veterinarian to treat underlying issues.

Diet Changes

You’ll want to alter your dog’s diet by increasing carbohydrates and restricting protein levels to help reduce ammonia levels in your pup’s bloodstream.

Consult with your veterinarian on the best nutritional approaches and dietary guidelines for your dog’s condition.

They may recommend homemade diets, prescription diets, or other balanced diets to support liver function.

Careful nutrient balance is key.


Those supplements can help manage your dog’s liver disease by providing vital nutrients a damaged liver may not be producing.

  1. Vitamin supplements like vitamin E and B complex help support liver function.
  2. Milk thistle protects liver cells and aids recovery.
  3. SAMe (S-Adenosylmethionine) helps repair and regenerate the liver.
  4. Zinc and arginine boost the body’s natural defenses against toxins and infections.


These medications treat liver disease’s underlying causes and manage your dog’s symptoms.

Medication management and therapeutic approaches aim to:

  • Resolve infections
  • Reduce toxins
  • Slow cancerous growths
  • Address side effects

Vets craft individualized treatment plans that mix traditional and emerging therapies for the best possible outcome.

Careful monitoring helps minimize medication side effects.

When Surgery is Needed

When Surgery is Needed
You may need to consider surgery if your vet determines medication and diet changes aren’t effectively managing your dog’s liver disease.

There are three surgical options that may be recommended:

  1. Liver biopsy to diagnose the underlying cause.
  2. Partial hepatectomy to remove damaged sections of the liver.
  3. Creation of a portosystemic shunt to redirect blood flow around the liver.

In critical cases where liver failure is imminent, surgery carries serious risks that your vet will discuss in depth.

The recovery process is complex, involving rounds of testing and monitoring to ensure your dog stabilizes post-operation.

Surgical intervention is a last resort when medical strategies fail to curb declining liver function.

Consult thoroughly with your vet to determine if the potential benefits justify undertaking high-risk surgery for your dog.

Coping With Liver Failure

Coping With Liver Failure
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When a beloved dog reaches liver failure, it’s devastating.

Providing palliative care and emotional support will ease their discomfort.

Work closely with your vet to adjust their diet and lifestyle appropriately.

Supplements can help compensate for what a failing liver can’t produce.

Make the most of your time together through gentle play, cuddles, or just sitting together.

Stay hopeful, but be realistic about prognosis.

Focus on your dog’s quality of life and lean on friends for your own support.

Preventing Liver Problems

Preventing Liver Problems
How can you help prevent liver disease in your dog?

  • Stay up-to-date on vaccinations.
  • Avoid toxins.
  • Get regular check-ups.

Maintain awareness of liver disease signs so you can get early veterinary help if needed.

Follow veterinarian-approved nutritional guidelines for your dog’s size, breed, and age.

Ensure your dog receives recommended vaccinations against diseases like canine hepatitis and leptospirosis.

Avoid exposing your dog to toxins like poisonous plants, lead, medications, moldy foods, insecticides, herbicides, and rodenticides.

Bring your dog to the veterinarian annually for wellness exams to monitor organ function and catch problems early.

Ask your veterinarian to show you how to check for signs of jaundice and take your dog’s temperature at home between visits.

Staying informed, providing proper nutrition, minimizing toxin exposure, keeping up with preventative medicine, and closely monitoring your dog can reduce the likelihood of liver disease occurring.

Living With a Dog With Liver Disease

Living With a Dog With Liver Disease
Dealing with your dog’s chronic illness requires patience and adaptability as their needs and your routines change over time.

Supporting a dog with liver disease involves providing supportive care through diet, medication, and regular veterinary monitoring to preserve quality of life.

An emotional bond with your dog can provide mutual comfort during this difficult time.

Aspect Adjustments Tips
Diet Feeding smaller, more frequent meals of a special veterinary diet low in proteins and copper. Avoid table scraps or treats without veterinary approval.
Medication Giving medicines on schedule, tracking progress and side effects. Set phone alerts for medication times.
Veterinary Care More frequent veterinary visits for bloodwork and examinations. Keep detailed records of symptoms and test results.
Exercise & Activity Limiting activity and providing assistance with mobility issues. Use ramps, lift harnesses, provide soft bedding.

Providing the best care possible allows you to focus on enjoying the time you have together rather than on your dog’s prognosis.

With lifestyle adjustments to support your dog’s medical needs, you can continue strengthening your emotional bond.

Prognosis for Liver Disease

Prognosis for Liver Disease
A dog’s prognosis for liver disease depends on your ability to manage symptoms and provide supportive care.

Recovery strategies involve:

  • Owner education on providing palliative care
  • Long-term management using supportive therapies

As the dog’s caretaker, you must:

  • Closely monitor your dog’s condition
  • Watch for signs of deterioration
  • Adjust treatments accordingly

Strategies like:

  • Nutritional support
  • Medications
  • Fluid therapy
  • Physical rehabilitation

May help control symptoms and improve quality of life.

However, liver disease is progressive, so dogs may eventually decline despite your best efforts at home care.

Prolonging comfortable living without pain or distress should be the goal.

Work closely with your veterinarian to:

  • Develop realistic expectations
  • Transition to hospice care when treatments no longer provide a good quality of life

Focusing on your dog’s comfort allows you to make the most of the time you have together.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are some nutritional supplements I can give my dog to help support liver health?

Give your dog milk thistle and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) supplements.

These can help support liver health by:

  • Reducing oxidative stress
  • Improving liver function
  • Supporting the production of glutathione – a key antioxidant for the liver

A veterinarian can provide guidance on appropriate dosing.

How often should my dog with liver disease have blood work checked after initial diagnosis?

After diagnosis, have your dog’s blood work checked every 3-6 months.

This allows the veterinarian to monitor liver function and adjust treatment as needed to provide the best quality of life.

Regular blood work helps gauge disease progression and response to therapy over time.

What symptoms indicate my dog’s liver disease is progressing or getting worse?

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What at-home care is needed for a dog with liver problems?

Many dogs with liver disease require a special low-protein diet to prevent toxic buildup.

Otherwise, provide ample fresh water, limit treats and table food, give prescribed medications on schedule, and monitor symptoms at home between vet visits.

Watch for worsening appetite, activity level, or stool to help catch regression.

If your dog exhibits:

  • Yellowing of the eyes or gums
  • Vomiting blood
  • Severe confusion
  • Seizures
  • Collapse

You must take them to the vet immediately.

These emergent signs could indicate severe liver damage or failure needing prompt treatment.


While a dog’s liver disease brings distressing signs and hardship, don’t lose hope.

With attentive veterinary care, lifestyle changes, and a bit of luck, pups can still live joyfully despite hepatic setbacks.

Monitor your dog’s symptoms, feed them liver-friendly foods, give medications as prescribed, and most importantly, share affection daily.

Together you’ll weather the storms of liver disease and make the most of each moment along the winding road.

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is the founder and editor-in-chief with a team of qualified veterinarians, their goal? Simple. Break the jargon and help you make the right decisions for your furry four-legged friends.