The Signs and Holistic Approach to Liver Failure in Dogs

The Signs and Holistic Approach to Liver Failure in Dogs

Posted by volhard dog nutrition on Feb 19th 2024

Just like a well-oiled machine needs regular maintenance, our dogs' health, especially their liver, requires attentive care.

This article will explore the signs of liver failure in dogs. We'll decode the subtle and not-so-subtle hints that your dog's liver might be sending out an SOS.

But don't worry; it's not all gloom.

We'll also discuss how a proactive approach, including regular vet visits and healthy habits, is your secret weapon in keeping your dog's liver in tip-top shape.

A healthy liver means more tail-wagging days ahead!

The 4 Functions of Your Dog's Liver

4 functions of a dog's liver

The liver holds a pivotal role in your dog's overall health, standing out as not only the second-largest organ in the body after the skin but also as a vital multitasker.

The liver's 1,500 functions are essential to your dog's daily well-being:

  • Synthesis and Regulation of Nutrients: The liver plays a crucial role in creating nutrients and managing their distribution throughout the body.
  • Production of Plasma Proteins and Blood Clotting Factors: The liver synthesizes and secretes plasma proteins and other chemical compounds required for blood clotting.
  • Vitamin and Mineral Storage: The liver stores essential vitamins, such as A, D, K, and B12, as well as indispensable minerals like iron and copper.
  • Detoxification: The liver breaks down medications and eliminates harmful toxins from the body, acting as a natural filter.

The Liver Protects Your Dog from the Adverse Effects of Medications

3 ways the liver protects your dog from medications

When your dog is exposed to a large amount of medication or toxic substances, liver function becomes crucial in handling these challenges.

The liver and three other major organs—the kidneys, the intestinal tract, and the skin—play a key role in detoxifying the body.

Here's how the liver contributes to this process, especially concerning medical treatment:

  • Detoxification Role: The liver acts as the canine body's primary detoxifier, filtering out fat-soluble toxins from the bloodstream. Without this process, these toxins are free to accumulate, leading to fatal consequences.
  • Transformation of Toxins: The liver converts these harmful substances into a water-soluble form, allowing the body to excrete them through urine or sweat.
  • Enzymatic Breakdown: The liver uses enzymes to break down chemicals and medications, safeguarding the body from their potential harm.

This detoxification process involves two distinct phases: oxidation and conjugation.

Phase 1: Oxidation

During this initial phase, the liver transforms toxins into less harmful chemicals via oxidation.

This process involves oxygen molecules splitting into single atoms with unpaired electrons, creating free radicals.

These unstable atoms seek out other electrons, leading to oxidative stress.

Phase 2: Conjugation

Conjugation is the liver's way of teaming up with special helpers to neutralize toxins and prepare them for a safe exit from your dog's body.

During this phase, liver cells add amino acids like glycine, cysteine, and sulfur to the toxins, further neutralizing them.

This process makes the toxins water-soluble, enabling the liver and kidneys to efficiently remove them through bile and urine.

What Happens When Dogs Get Liver Disease

Due to its oxidative processes, the liver is a primary site for accumulating free radicals, much like rust gathering on metal.

This buildup can lead to significant cell harm and, more critically, liver disease.

Here's a closer look at this process:

  • Free Radical Accumulation: The liver's oxidative functions result in the buildup of free radicals, causing cellular and liver damage.
  • Regenerative Capability: Remarkably, the liver has the extraordinary ability to heal after damage, showcasing the body's natural protective mechanisms.
  • Late Detection Risk: Despite this regenerative power, liver damage in dogs often remains undetected until it prompts a reactive approach. At this stage, the damage is typically irreversible.

Given these factors, adopting a proactive approach to safeguard your dog's liver health is crucial.

A strong defense against liver damage is the most effective strategy to ensure the well-being of your furry friend.

Staying ahead of potential liver issues is imperative to avoid the severe consequences of advanced liver disease.

5 Types of Liver Disease in Dogs

Chronic Liver Disease

Chronic liver disease in dogs refers to the liver gradually losing its ability to function over a long period.

This type of liver disease develops due to various causes, such as long-term exposure to toxins, genetic conditions, or persistent infections.

Dogs with chronic liver disease may experience weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, or a lack of energy.

The disease progresses slowly, and symptoms might not be evident until the liver suffers significant damage.

Acute Liver Disease

Acute liver disease, unlike the chronic type, develops rapidly and may be dangerously severe.

Factors like ingesting toxic substances (e.g., certain plants or chemicals), infections, or a sudden blockage of blood flow to the liver may cause this condition.

Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), and, in severe cases, neurological issues like seizures.

Acute liver disease requires immediate veterinary attention, as it is life-threatening if not promptly treated.

Acute Liver Failure

Acute liver failure refers to a sudden and severe loss of liver function.

It is more immediate and critical compared to chronic liver diseases.

Causes of acute liver failure include ingestion of toxins, severe infections, or heatstroke.

Symptoms are often severe and include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and collapse.

This is a medical emergency—dogs with acute liver failure need immediate veterinary care to improve their chances of recovery.

Chronic Hepatitis

Chronic hepatitis is a specific type of chronic liver disease characterized by ongoing inflammation of the liver.

Immune system disorders and infections are often behind this condition, although it sometimes develops for unknown reasons.

Dogs with chronic hepatitis may experience lethargy, poor appetite, vomiting, and abdominal swelling.

Over time, chronic hepatitis can lead to scarring of the liver tissue, impairing the liver’s ability to function appropriately.

Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Infectious canine hepatitis is a viral condition caused by the canine adenovirus.

This virus specifically targets the liver, causing inflammation and damage.

It is a contagious disease that spreads between dogs through contact with urine, saliva, or feces.

Symptoms of infectious canine hepatitis range from mild to severe and include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and jaundice.

5 Conditions That May Result in Canine Liver Disease

5 conditions resulting in canine liver disease

Canine liver disease is a severe canine health issue that a variety of different conditions may cause.

Dog Breed Predispositions

First, certain dog breeds are more susceptible to liver diseases due to their genetic makeup.

For instance, Bedlington Terriers are known to develop copper toxicosis, a condition wherein the liver accumulates an excessive amount of copper.

Likewise, Doberman Pinschers might be more prone to chronic hepatitis.

Vessel Abnormalities

The term "vessel abnormalities" refers to problems with the blood vessels connected to the liver.

One common abnormality is a portosystemic shunt, where the blood bypasses the liver. Toxins accumulate in the dog's system if the blood doesn't properly flow through the liver.

Endocrine Diseases

These conditions are related to the body's endocrine glands and the hormones they produce.

For example, diabetes mellitus affects how a dog's body uses sugar, thus having a knock-on effect on liver function.

Another endocrine disease, hyperadrenocorticism, also known as Cushing's disease, prompts an overproduction of certain hormones, putting extra strain on the liver.

Finally, hyperthyroidism may impact the liver by affecting the thyroid gland.

Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases include bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections.

A well-known viral disease that impacts the liver is infectious canine hepatitis, which specifically targets this vital organ.

Liver Masses and Liver Cancer

Finally, liver masses and liver cancer (hepatic neoplasia) are significant causes of liver disease.

These masses can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Malignant tumors are particularly dangerous as they have the potential to spread to other parts of the body.

7 Causes of Liver Failure in Dogs

Causes of liver failure in dogs

Various factors contribute to the daily strain on a dog's liver. These include:

  • Vaccinations
  • Agricultural Chemicals: Exposure to pesticides and herbicides used in gardens or parks.
  • Dietary Factors: Processed foods, food additives, and mycotoxins are often present in grain and peanut products.
  • Environmental Contaminants: Everyday toxins, heavy metals, and environmental pollutants.

Awareness about these factors varies among dog parents.

Some are highly conscious and take steps to minimize their pets' exposure to these harmful agents, striving to maintain an environment as free from toxins as possible.

On the other hand, others aren't fully aware of the potential risks these elements pose to their dog's health.

The 4 Stages of Liver Failure in Dogs

Stages of liver failure in dogs

Early Stage

The signs of early liver failure may not be immediately noticeable.

The liver is a resilient organ that can function adequately, even when partially damaged.

During this stage, dogs show mild symptoms such as a slight decrease in appetite, minor weight loss, or a general lack of energy.

Some dogs may also experience a mild increase in thirst or urination.

Intermediate Stage

As the condition progresses to the intermediate stage, the symptoms become more apparent and concerning.

Dogs exhibit more pronounced signs of illness, such as persistent vomiting, diarrhea, or a noticeable decline in appetite, leading to significant weight loss.

Jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin, eyes, and gums, may become evident. This condition occurs because the liver is struggling to process bilirubin. This yellow pigment is typically broken down and eliminated by a healthy liver.

Dogs may also show signs of abdominal pain or swelling, indicating an enlarged liver or fluid accumulation.

Advanced Stage

The symptoms of advanced liver failure indicate significant damage to the liver.

Dogs at this stage may exhibit pronounced jaundice, severe vomiting, and diarrhea, causing dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

There is often a significant loss of muscle mass and strength, and dogs may become lethargic or unresponsive.

Neurological symptoms may also develop, such as disorientation, aimless wandering, tremors, and seizures. These symptoms result from the accumulation of toxins in the bloodstream that the damaged liver can no longer filter out, affecting the brain and nervous system.

End Stage

At this point, the liver has lost most of its functionality.

Dogs with end-stage liver failure will exhibit extreme symptoms like persistent vomiting, severe lethargy, and complete loss of appetite.

They may also experience bleeding disorders due to the liver's inability to produce the necessary blood-clotting proteins.

Neurological symptoms can escalate to even more severe conditions, like coma.

Unfortunately, end-stage liver failure is often irreversible. Treatment mainly focuses on providing comfort and supportive care to improve the quality of life in the dog's remaining time.

6 Dog Liver Failure Signs

Dog liver failure signs

Determining if your dog has a liver issue involves understanding their normal health state.

Annual blood work is crucial for monitoring liver values, as the liver, along with the gallbladder and pancreas, functions in a closely interconnected manner.

Stress on any of these organs can lead to complications as the others try to compensate and may become overburdened.

Symptoms indicative of liver disease include:

  • Digestive Issues: Watch for constipation, diarrhea, gas, or bloating, which are abnormal and should not persist.
  • Vision Problems: Disorders affecting the cornea or retina and sinus complications.
  • Urinary Changes: Urine that appears dark in color is a warning sign.
  • General Health: Poor appetite, lethargy, fatigue, problems with ligaments and tendons, and behavioral changes like irritability or aggression.
  • Other SymptomsAllergies, weight fluctuations, skin diseases, chronic digestive issues, arthritis, and anxiety can all be signs of a liver struggling to function properly.

Diagnosing Liver Failure in Dogs

The first step in diagnosing liver disease is blood testing.

Blood tests reveal a lot about the health of a dog's liver. They measure levels of various substances in the blood, including liver enzymes. Elevated levels of these enzymes may indicate that the liver is damaged or not functioning correctly.

The vet might also check the blood for bilirubin, a substance that builds up in the blood when the liver is working poorly and causes jaundice.

In addition to blood tests, the vet will employ imaging tests like ultrasound or X-rays to detect changes in the liver's size, shape, and texture. Ultrasound is particularly useful because it identifies masses, tumors, and abnormal blood flow, among other red flags.

Sometimes, the vet must take a sample of liver tissue, a procedure known as a biopsy. The tissue sample is examined under a microscope for signs of liver disease, such as inflammation, scarring, or cancer.

6 Ways to Prevent Liver Failure in Your Pup

Prevent liver failure in dogs

Guarding against Liver Damage in Dogs

The foremost step in protecting your dog's liver is prevention.

Keeping an eye on bloodwork changes is crucial, as they can indicate liver stress.

An effective defense strategy involves reducing toxins in your dog's environment. This encompasses avoiding unnecessary vaccinations, minimizing exposure to pesticides, chemicals, and drugs, and seeking natural alternatives whenever feasible.

Embracing a holistic approach to healthcare will significantly reduce the accumulation of toxins in your dog's system.

Dietary Changes for Liver Health

Another integral aspect is revising your dog's diet to eliminate harmful ingredients.

Feeding dogs a 100% highly processed diet introduces a considerable amount of toxins, including synthetic vitamins and minerals, that stress the liver and kidneys.

Most grains in kibble contain cancer-causing molds known as mycotoxins.

Even grain-free kibbles aren't free from pesticides and other toxins. Processed foods often contain harmful byproducts, further straining the liver.

Opting for fresh, raw, or gently cooked dog food with fewer than 10 to 15 synthetic vitamins is a healthy benchmark for a liver-healthy diet. The Volhard Rescue diet, coupled with a selection of high-quality protein (80% ground beef and 20% cottage cheese/full-fat, whole-milk Greek yogurt), will help bring your dog’s liver health under control!

Incorporating Liver-Healthy Supplements and Foods

Glutathione, a powerful antioxidant the canine body produces naturally, helps detoxify the liver and boosts the immune system. This chemical compound works by binding to toxins in the liver, preventing them from causing damage. However, exposure to heavy metals and pesticides can use up glutathione, making it hard for the canine body to protect itself properly.

Milk thistle, or silymarin, is another supplement that aids in detoxifying the liver, protecting cells, and promoting liver cell regeneration. It should be administered in liquid or powder form, following the recommended dosage, but avoided in pregnant or lactating dogs.The usually recommended extract of milk thistle contains 70 to 80% silymarin. Each extract should have a label with the silymarin percentage.

For tincture, start with a daily 1/4 tsp per 20 lbs of body weight split into 2 to 4 equal doses. If you use powder, give 2-5 mg per 1 lb of body weight 2 to 3 times per day.

If your dog is on prescription liver medication, there's no need for milk thistle since it already contains silymarin. Instead, we recommend the use of our Digestive Enzymes and Vitamin B Complex supplements to help break down the food into nutrients and make up for any disease-related deficiencies!

Xanten, an antioxidant more potent than vitamin C, is also beneficial for your dog's liver health.

Incorporating fresh foods such as sprouts, spinach, broccoli, celery, asparagus, lemon, apple cider vinegar, and fermented vegetables into your dog's diet supports liver health. Remember to puree or lightly steam the vegetables for easier digestion.

Liver in the Diet

Adhering to Chinese medicine's principle of 'like heals like' by including liver meat in your dog's diet can be particularly nourishing if the liver is struggling.

Liver meat is rich in vitamins A and B, trace minerals, iron, and protein.

The general guideline is to start with about half a tablespoon every few days for a medium-sized dog, adjusting the amount based on the dog's size.

However, since liver meat is rich, monitoring your dog's reaction and reducing the quantity if they experience loose stools is essential.

To avoid overloading the liver, liver meat should represent at most 10% of your dog's diet.

High-Quality Protein Intake

Ensure that your dog consumes high-quality proteins (i.e., 80% ground beef and 20% cottage cheese/full-fat, whole-milk Greek yogurt).

These proteins contain essential amino acids necessary for various bodily functions.

A diet with all 22 essential amino acids, of which dogs naturally produce 12, supports liver function effectively.

Regular Liver Cleanses

Conducting a liver cleanse at least twice a year, especially during the spring, is highly recommended.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, spring is the 'liver season,' making it a suitable time for detoxification.

The body's organ clock indicates that the liver's time is between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.. During this time, toxins are released, and new blood is generated. Detoxifying during these hours can enhance the effectiveness of the cleanse.

By feeding your dog a raw, fresh diet, using natural solutions for pest control, avoiding unnecessary vaccinations and medications, and limiting chemical exposure, you can significantly contribute to maintaining your dog's liver health!

Preventing Canine Liver Failure: An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure!

As we've journeyed through the winding path of understanding liver failure in dogs, it's clear that our four-legged friends rely on us to be their health heroes.

Remember, catching the signs early is like solving a mystery before it deepens—it can make all the difference.

So, let's keep a watchful eye on our canine companions. Embracing a proactive approach, with regular check-ups and a sprinkle of love and care, can help ensure your dog's liver doesn't have to work overtime.

After all, a happy liver leads to a happy, tail-wagging life for your furry friend!

For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!

Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods!

Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind.

If you want to contact one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!

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