What Causes Liver Disease In Dogs?


Liver disease is a commonly diagnosed problem in many dogs. Liver failure stems from many causes. The prognosis for dogs with liver disease ranges from good to poor depending on the specific cause and the individual animal. Let’s look at how a dog can get liver disease.

What is the liver’s normal function?

The liver has many different functions. It acts as one of the major storage systems in the body. The liver detoxifies the blood and synthesizes proteins, which are used in many different processes throughout the body. It also produces many of the chemicals necessary for digestion to occur normally. In addition, it metabolizes carbohydrates and lipids, and produces coagulation factors that are necessary for proper clotting of blood. When the liver fails to function normally, the situation can become quite serious and can be life-threatening.

What causes liver disease in dogs?

There are many different potential causes of liver disease in dogs. Infections frequently cause liver disease in dogs. Adenovirus is an example of a virus that can damage the liver of dogs. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection which can cause liver disease. Parasitic infections can also cause liver damage.Inflammatory disease, such as pancreatitis or inflammatory bowel disease, can affect the liver. Liver disease can become a complicating factor in these diseases. Several types of cancer can affect the liver. The cancer may start in the liver or may spread there from other parts of the body.


There is a long list of toxins and poisons that can affect the liver of the dog. Medications like acetominophen as well as certain plants can damage the canine liver. Fertilizers and cleaning products can cause liver damage as well, depending on their individual ingredients. Portosystemic shunts occur when the blood flow is rerouted by an abnormal blood vessel, causing the blood delivered to the rest of the body to bypass detoxification by the liver. This results in toxins that would normally be removed and metabolized by the liver rising to abnormal levels in the blood stream.

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What are the symptoms of liver disease?

In the early stages, liver failure can cause a lack of appetite. Vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss are these common symptoms of liver disease. A noticeable increase in thirst and urination is also not infrequent. As liver failure progresses, jaundice may become conspicuous. Jaundice refers to a yellow coloration to the skin, gums, tongue, sclera (white part of the eyes) and other mucous membranes. It is also sometimes called icterus. Ascites may also be seen and is an accumulation of fluid within the abdominal cavity. Ascites will make your dog look bloated. Bleeding and bruising may also occur because the liver is not able to produce adequate levels of coagulation factors to control clotting. Blood may be seen in your dog’s urine, vomit or feces. Your pet may also have bruises under his skin or small pin-point areas of hemorrhage on his gums.

Hepatic encephalopathy is a brain disorder that occurs as a result of abnormal levels of ammonia and other toxins in the blood reaching the brain. Normally, a healthy liver would metabolize these toxins and keep their levels low. However, the failing liver is unable to properly metabolize the compounds leading to an increase in their blood levels. Incoordination, episodic weakness, disorientation, head-pressing, behavioral changes, drooling, stupor, and mental dullness are seen with hepatic encephalopathy. The symptoms will be more severe after your pet has eaten a meal, particularly a high-protein meal. Seizures and coma may occur as well.

How is liver disease treated?

Treatment of liver disease involves identifying and treating the underlying cause, if possible. The prognosis ranges from good to poor, depending on the cause, the condition of the animal, and the ability to correct the underlying cause.

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dog is treated

Liver disease can be a serious issues for dogs. Successful treatment depends on identifying and correcting the cause of the disease. Unfortunately, there are many different diseases that can result in liver disease and, even when identification of the cause is straight forward, treating the disease may not be so easy.

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