7 Biggest Signs Of Liver Disease In Dogs


Liver disease causes a range of different symptoms in your dog. Regardless of how your dog manifests the symptoms of liver disease, you know that the disease is serious. Here are the seven biggest signs of liver disease in dogs, whether the disease is chronic or acute.

7 Biggest Signs Of Liver Disease In Dogs

The liver performs a wide variety of functions in your dog, so liver disease can result in a lot of different problems and symptoms. It can be easy to mistake some of these symptoms for other problems or even just as indications of your dog getting older. Look for multiple symptoms in order to recognize liver disease quickly. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms 

One of the most common indications of liver disease in dogs is gastrointestinal symptoms. Separately, these symptoms could be mistaken for something else, but when taken together and paired with other symptoms of liver disease, these become clear indications of a problem.

1. Anorexia and weight loss

Most dogs wolf down their food as soon as they get the opportunity. If you notice your dog refusing to eat, you have a right to be concerned. While your dog turning their nose up at a meal once in a while isn’t a big deal, dogs that regularly refuse to eat may be suffering from liver disease. Dogs that lose weight due to lack of appetite are likely suffering from some kind of important issue. Liver disease often results in anorexia to the degree that weight loss occurs.

2. Vomiting and diarrhea

If your dog does eat something, a dog with liver disease may have a hard time keeping it down. Whether your dog is vomiting large amounts or regurgitating bile, regular vomiting is an indication of possible liver disease. Failure to maintain a solid stool is also an indication of liver disease, especially when there is a strange smell associated with it.

3.  Excessive drinking and urination

Pay attention if your dog can’t seem to be able to get enough to drink. Your dog may drink excessively and whine for water when they don’t have it. All of that water needs to go somewhere, so your dog may show excessive urination as well. If your dog is having urination accidents without explanation, an issue associated with increased water consumption, this could be an indication of liver disease.

Depression and Strange Behaviour

Your dog may just not seem as happy and energetic as normal. They may lie around and refuse to go on walks or play with you. Here are some indications of behavior changes that might represent liver disease.

4.  Depression

Your dog may seem unable to feel happy and excited. Their tail just never wags anymore and they seem to have lost the spring in their step. This may be especially marked if your young dog suddenly acts like they have aged ten years.

5.  Behavior changes

Your dog may just seem distant and unable to connect with you like normal. They may have strange behavior or act erratically. Liver disease can result in neurological symptoms that cause your dog to circle or act strangely. At later stages, your dog may stumble, what is known is ataxia, or they may experience seizures.

Appearance

If you look closely at your dog, you may actually see some of the signs of liver disease in their appearance. Here are some specific things to look for. 

6. Jaundice

Jaundice may be the most recognizable indication of liver disease. It causes your dog’s skin, gums, and eyes to appear yellow. The yellow cast may be very slight or quite prominent. 

7. Distended abdomen

Your dog may develop an extended abdomen, which may also be tender, as fluid accumulates in the abdomen. Don’t mistake this for a full belly or weight gain. Know how much your dog is eating so that you will notice when the abdomen is distended, not full. 

Signs of acute liver failure

Acute liver failure happens much more rapidly and severely than typical liver disease. It is often associated with clotting problems and neurologic issues. It may happen due to a sudden injury to an otherwise healthy liver or because a diseased liver has suddenly gotten worse.  If your dog suddenly develops neurologic symptoms or their blood isn’t clotting normally, they may be going through acute liver failure. Get your dog to the vet rapidly for intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and medications. The liver is highly capable of regeneration and may be able to recover with sufficient supportive therapy. 

Poisons that may affect the liver

A common cause of acute liver failure is poison. Some drugs that your veterinarian prescribes for other conditions may also affect the liver. Your veterinarian will carefully monitor your dog’s blood levels to make sure that a prescribed medication is not causing too much damage to the liver. If any decrease or altered function of the liver is determined, your veterinarian will make a decision about stopping or changing the medication.  If your dog is not on any medications that generally result in liver damage, it can be a little more challenging to determine what’s causing the problem. Here are a couple of other things that may be at fault.
  • Heavy metals. A variety of heavy metals can result in acute liver failure. Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to accumulating copper and may be more likely to suffer liver damage as a result of exposure to even small amounts of copper.
  • Herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides. Poisons that work on plants, bugs, and fungus can also hurt your dog. Many of these products are used in gardening and tend to be spread in areas your dog has access to, so accidental poisoning is unfortunately very common. If your dog shows sudden symptoms after being outside, one of these products may be the culprit.
  • Cycad plants and Amanita mushrooms. Whether you planted them or not, these plants and fungi may find their way into your yard. Cycad plants, including the popular sago palm, are common house and yard plants that can be extremely toxic to your dog’s liver. Amanita mushrooms can grow wild in your yard and your dog may decide to munch on them.
  • Aflatoxins produced by mold or blue green algae. If your dog is playing in standing water or in dark, moist conditions, they may fall victim to the blue-green algae that can grow in standing water and warm weather or the aflatoxins produced by a range of different types of mold. 

Testing for liver disease in dogs

Your veterinarian can perform a range of tests to find out if your dog is suffering from liver disease. Blood tests are useful for diagnosing general liver disease. X-rays and ultrasonography can show the size of the liver and look for irregularities. This kind of imaging can also search for diseases of the gallbladder, which are often associated with liver disease.  If a problem is found, biopsy or aspiration can help determine any bacteria or toxicology that may be playing a role in your dog’s liver disease. If these tests are inconclusive, less common tests such as nuclear scintigraphy may be used to find blood vessel abnormalities or other possible issues.

What causes liver disease in dogs?

There are a number of possible causes for liver disease in dogs. As your dog gets older, liver disease becomes more likely. Some breeds, like Rottweilers, Dobermans, Cocker Spaniels, and Yorkies are more likely to be born with or develop liver problems. Medications can also result in liver problems since the liver’s goal is to filter out toxins. Medications that have acetaminophen, in particular, can cause liver damage in dogs.  Your dog may also develop liver disease because of a bacterial or viral infection or because your dog has consumed something poisonous. Less often, altered blood flow to the liver because of heart disease or a congenital abnormality may be the cause.

Treat liver disease in dogs

If liver disease is resulting from toxins or poisoning, your veterinarian may induce vomiting or administer something like activated charcoal to reduce the effects and absorption of the toxin or poison. Your veterinarian may also pump your dog’s stomach if necessary or administer a specific antitoxin. Depending on when chronic liver disease is caught, a specific treatment may be prescribed to treat an underlying cause. Supportive treatment may be used to slow the progression of the disease and minimize complications.  An important aspect of treating liver disease in dogs is diet. The recommended diet has just enough calories to maintain a normal weight but has significant protein restriction for dogs at risk of developing hepatic encephalopathy. Some dogs benefit from eating small yet frequent meals. Dogs that have severe anorexia and refuse to eat altogether may need tube feeding.  Supplements including vitamins B, K, and E all may be beneficial. Complications of liver disease often involve low potassium and vitamin B levels, so supplementation with these vitamins is often recommended as well. If dogs are suffering from liver disease because of excessive levels of copper, vitamin C should not be given. 

Summary

Be careful to keep an eye on your dog for any signs of liver disease, especially as they get older. Whether or not you have seen signs of liver disease, it is a good idea to consider switching to a diet that is liver healthy when your dog is older. Make sure that you take any signs of gastrointestinal upset, strange behavior, or depression seriously and look for other signs of liver disease in your dog.

Coral Dawn Drake

My fiance, Justin, and I live with our two little dogs, Sofie and Lisa, and three chickens in Gainesville, Florida. Justin and I are homebodies who occasionally enjoy a good adventure. I love living in Gainesville, and I love Florida. I can’t imagine anywhere more beautiful or strange than this hot, marshy place where people are guaranteed to be nothing other than themselves. Justin is always reminding me to relax. Relaxing doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m always busy. Making art or editing photos, digging in the yard or trying to grow some new moss or plant. There never seems to be enough time to do everything that I want to do. Life is so, so full and I want to plunge into every second of it.

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