One of the leading causes of death in dogs is canine liver diseases. Liver is a vital organ that performs a number of essential functions. The main function of liver is detoxification of the blood, removal of waste products from the system and secrete bile to help digestion. Liver also helps to carry out various biochemical processes, also helps the immune system fight diseases. As you can see, liver diseases tend to cripple most of the body functions, as the organ is no longer able to perform to its optimum capacity. It is important to spot dog liver disease symptoms as early as possible. This is because early treatment will ensure the liver has a chance to overcome any disease and perform its functions well.
Causes of Dog Liver Disease
There are several causes that lead to liver disease in dogs. Some of the most common causes of liver disease in dogs include:
- Infection due to bacterial, viral or parasitic agents like leptospirosis, hepatitis and heartworms.
- Toxic hepatopathy in dogs due to liver damage by exposure to drugs, chemicals, toxins like corticosteroids, aspirin or poisoning.
- Liver cancer
- Congenital or acquired liver shunts
- Trauma due to a severe blunt blow to the abdomen like during a car accident
- Pancreatitis causing inflammation from the pancreas to spread to the liver
- Hemolytic anemia that causes decrease in oxygen supply to liver cells
- Liver cirrhosis due to copper storage disease, chronic hepatitis, anti-seizure medications, etc.
Symptoms of Dog Liver Disease
Canine liver disease is one of the top most killers of dogs, because it remains undetected during the early stages. Liver has the ability to regenerate and thus, symptoms that appear are very subtle. Thus, only those dogs who are taken to a vet regularly, are diagnosed with liver diseases in their initial stages. By the time canine liver disease symptoms are more prominent, the disease has already set in, and the liver function has reduced. Some of the symptoms of dog liver disease are as follows:
☛ Gastrointestinal Symptoms
The first indication of liver disease in dogs is loss of appetite, that is, anorexia. The dog starts eating less than what it normally does. Along with loss of appetite, the dog shows signs of gastrointestinal upsets like diarrhea, vomiting, and even constipation at times. This occurs due to improper metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fat due to liver malfunction. Weight loss adds to the woes of the dog. As the dog suffers from other metabolic malfunctioning, he suffers from anemia. Thus, becomes very weak and becomes inactive and lethargic.
☛ Neurological Changes
The high levels of toxins circulating in the body causes a number of neurological as well as behavioral changes in the dog. As the liver is unable to filter them out of the bloodstream, it causes them to accumulate in the brain. This leads to hepatic encephalopathy. Thus, leading to a number of behavioral changes like aggressiveness, disorientation, restlessness, circulating, stupor, head pressing, seizures, excessive drooling, staggering, ataxia, mental dullness, aimless wandering and in severe cases coma.
When secretion of bile from the gallbladder is obstructed, it leads to accumulation of toxic bilirubin in bloodstream. This leads to jaundice in dogs also referred to as 'icterus'. This causes the whites of the dogs eyes, as well as the mucous membranes of the tongue and gums, to turn yellow. The dog starts passing a bright yellow-orange colored urine due to bilirubinuria.
☛ Stool Color
The color of the stools passed by the dog changes to pale gray colored feces. The bile secreted contains electrolytes, cholesterol, bile acids, bilirubin as well as globulins. It is very important for removal of drugs, absorption of fat from the intestine into the bloodstream, as well as recirculation of red blood cells. Bilirubin is a toxic substance that is detoxified in the liver and excreted. But, when the liver fails to detoxify and excrete bilirubin from the system, it results in the dog passing pale gray stools. Thus, indicating complete obstruction of the bile ducts due to liver disease.
☛ Bleeding Disorders
Liver disease causes coagulation problems in the animal. This condition is called coagulopathy. When a dog suffers from a liver disease, it affects its stomach and duodenum. Thus, the dog suffers from gastrointestinal hemorrhage and owners spot blood in dog's stool. Sometimes, blood is spotted in dog's urine as well as vomits.
☛ Skin Disorders
The toxins accumulated in the body also affect the dogs skin to a great extent. When one observes skin disorders called hepatocutaneous syndrome in dogs, it indicates an advanced liver disease. The dog develops ulcerated, crusted sores on the footpads. He suffers from foot pain and will have problems walking or getting up. The feet become itchy and one observes erythema (redness) between the toes. One may even observe sores and lesions on the ear flaps, oral mucosa, eyes and elbows.
☛ Other Symptoms
Apart from the above symptoms one may even observe:
- Swollen belly (ascites)
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Enlarged liver
- Bad breath
Treatment for Dog Liver Disease
Once the veterinarian suspects liver diseases, he will conduct a series of tests. These test include blood test, bile acid response, X-rays and ultrasound examination. The results will show the type and severity of the liver disease in dogs. The dog liver disease treatment depends on the cause of the condition. In case of bacterial infection, the dog will be give antibiotics. If medications or supplements lead to liver damage, they will be changed. The dog may be given antifibrotic agents like colchicine to treat liver cirrhosis. Anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed in case of liver inflammation and immunosuppressive drugs like azathioprine may also be given. Dogs with cancer may be administered chemotherapeutic drugs that fight cancer.
Apart from medications, the doctor will also suggest a change in the dog's diet. The amount of vitamins, carbohydrates, fat, minerals or proteins given to the dog will be adjusted. Natural herbs like milk thistle and burdock help in protecting the liver from toxic substances, and helps it rejuvenate itself. Canine liver disease may also be associated with other diseases like diabetes, heart problems or cancer. Thus, these issues also may have to be addressed while treating dog liver disease.
Dog liver disease symptoms generally begin with loss of appetite and weight loss. Soon, you may observe the dog drinks more water than usual and urinates just as often. The urine passed is often orange or dark in color. Diarrhea and vomiting are intermittently recurrent and the color of the stools passed is often light gray in color. Jaundice is another classic sign of canine liver disease. One should always be alert regarding these symptoms. A little knowledge will help you save your dog's life. Make sure you take your dog for regular health check ups. This will ensure any health condition will be detected before it turns into a complication.