How to Spot and Treat Liver Disease in Dogs

Liver Disease in Dogs

The liver is a vital internal organ for dogs, just as it is for people. The liver is responsible for processing just about everything that is introduced to the system, eliminating toxins, and recycling what it can from the old materials in order to make new materials that are more productive to the body. When the liver stops working properly it can be a result of liver disease in dogs, and that can make your dog very sick, and very unhappy.

What Causes Liver Disease in Dogs?


Liver disease can be hard to detect because its symptoms are very common, and there’s no one thing that causes it; and many of the things that cause it are very possibly within reach of your dog. Certain plants can cause liver disease namely ragwort, blue-green algae, and certain kinds of mushrooms. There are certain molds that grow on corn that are also quite toxic to dogs and, if ingested, can start to affect the liver. These are some of the most worrisome causes of liver disease in dogs because the toxins are so close and present, especially outdoor dogs that live in the country or in areas where these plants and herbs may grow.

Long-term use of painkillers is another cause of liver disease. The liver and the pancreas work closely together in order to process food and aid in digestion. When medication is introduced, and especially when it’s used for a long time, there is an excessive amount of toxins in the system that the liver and pancreas have to break down. The liver needs to eliminate the toxins, which can cause it to become overtaxed and start to fail. And because the liver and the pancreas depend on each other, if one starts to falter, so will the other.

Other causes of liver disease are heartworms that are left untreated, diabetes, and fatty foods. If the dog has had a trauma or infection to the liver, it can also lead to liver disease. Sometimes dogs get liver disease simply due to genetics and/or aging.

Symptoms of Liver Disease in Dogs

Many of the symptoms of liver disease in dogs are so common with minor and major problems alike, and can seem so random, that it’s sometimes hard for pet owners to realize that there’s a problem. Although there is a wide range, here are some of the symptoms that may be seen when liver disease is present:

  • Problems with the abdominal or gastrointestinal tract. This might include things such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and even loss of appetite.
  • A sudden lethargy or depression. This may include excessive sleeping and refusing to play or go on walks.
  • A swollen belly. This occurs when the blood flow to the abdomen is interrupted and causes fluid to accumulate in the stomach, giving it a swollen look.
  • A sore abdomen. This might be because of the fluid that has built up in the stomach. If you or your vet try to pick the dog up and they cry or are visibly uncomfortable or hurt, this could mean that liver disease is giving them a sore abdomen.
  • A change in the feces or urine. Because the liver is so important in the elimination process, if there’s a change in that area it’s a sign that there may be something more serious going on. The liver contains bile pigments, which gives the feces and urine their color. If the liver is breaking down, feces may be a pale grey color, while urine is likely to be a brighter orange color.
  • Increased water consumption. This could be because of changes in the serum and kidney salt balances, but it will also often result in increased urination. Another cause for both of these symptoms might be behavioral, which is another change that can take place with liver disease.
  • This is a discoloring of the skin, usually in the eyes and around the eyes, that causes the skin to look yellow. It’s most easily noticeable on pale or white skin, which is why the delicate tissues of the eyes are often what’s first looked at when looking for jaundice. Again, because the bile pigments are in the system, instead of being processed by the liver, a change of skin color occurs.
  • Although it’s not as common a problem, excessive bleeding can also be a sign of liver disease. Because the proteins required for blood clotting are made by the liver, when the liver is experiencing problems, the blood can’t clot as quickly or as well.
  • Weight loss. Whether it’s because the dog simply stops eating because it upsets their stomach or a genuine loss of appetite, often dogs with liver disease aren’t interested in eating, which can result in a significant or chronic weight loss.
  • Behavioral changes/neurological changes. This doesn’t necessarily mean a well-behaved dog that suddenly starts acting out – although it might. Symptoms that fall under these categories include things like pacing aimlessly or walking around in circles, pressing their heads against cupboards and walls, and seizures.

Treatment of Liver Disease in Dogs

Luckily, while liver disease is serious, there is treatment available to make your dog healthier, and much happier. Treatment options range from making small changes in your dog’s diet, to more extensive required treatment options such as surgery. The treatment your dog will need might depend on how soon the disease is caught, so be vigilant about your dog’s health and changes in their mood or behavior.

When diet is the main problem, giving your dog healthier choices to eat might be the only thing that’s needed to get the liver back in full functioning order. Your vet can help you determine what a proper diet, full of all the nutrients and calories they need, will be for your pet. If the diet is to blame for the disease, it’s important that you not give your dog any fatty foods, as they can exacerbate the problem and make the liver worse.

There are medications that your vet can prescribe your dog that can help control the liver disease, and even treat it altogether so it’s no longer present. In addition to taking new medications, your vet will probably want to go through all the medications that your dog is currently on, and possibly change the dosages or reduce how much is being taken. If you don’t want to give your dog prescription medication, and if it’s appropriate, herbal supplements such as SAM-E or milk thistle may also be effective in helping the liver.

In the most extreme cases, such as when tumors or cysts are present, surgery may be required. While this is a last resort option, and something no pet owner wants to face, it is very safe and highly effective in eliminating liver disease.

While there are treatment options available for liver disease in dogs, it is often preventable, and this is important for dog lovers to remember. Try to keep your dog away from areas where poisonous plants might be present, give them a proper diet, and always keep up on your dog’s annual exams and vaccinations. Communicate often with your vet about your dog’s overall health, as well as any medications they are currently on. Your dog will be healthier, and you’ll both be happier, for it.



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I've been a dog lover since the day I was born but it's the current four legged love of my life, Phoebe who inspired me to create the Munch.Zone.

We moved together from Israel to New York in 2013, love hiking together, and never pass up a trip to the dog park. Watching her over the years sparked so many questions about dog behavior and health needs, and it wasn't always easy to find answers. Thus, the Munch.Zone was born.

On any given day you'll find me watching Netflix originals, eating popcorn, and thinking about how to get into house flipping.

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