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What is Liver Failure (Acute)?

Acute liver failure is a very serious condition. It can occur suddenly, or as the end-stage of a chronic liver disease. The liver cleans and detoxifies the blood; it stores reserves of many nutrients and produces hormones that regulate digestion, metabolism and blood coagulation. Failure in the liver can cause multiple systemic problems, including fluid in the abdomen (ascites), digestive ulcers, lack of blood coagulation, susceptibility to infection, and hepatic encephalopathy, a liver-related brain disease. Many different conditions can lead to acute liver failure in dogs. Poisoning and infection are some of the most common issues that will trigger a sudden illness. Many endocrine imbalances affect the liver, and cancer or chronic inflammation can slowly destroy tissue. Some liver diseases are the result of a congenital abnormality that is present at birth. 

Depending on the cause, liver failure can occur at any time in a dog’s life. Some cases are reversible once the issue causing the problem is resolved. The liver is capable of regenerating itself and building new, healthy cells, but too much dead tissue causes scarring and cirrhosis. Many symptoms can be treated supportively with medications that support liver function. Diet change can also put less stress on the liver. If the condition cannot be treated, acute liver failure will lead to death.

In dogs, severe liver failure can cause dysfunction in many different systems and may even affect important organs like the brain. Veterinarians call this condition acute liver failure. It needs immediate treatment. Long-term recovery will depend on the cause.

Liver Failure (Acute) Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $10,000

Average Cost

$5,500

Symptoms of Liver Failure (Acute) in Dogs

Vomiting, poor appetite, and weight loss are often the first signs of chronic liver failure. A dog with these symptoms should be evaluated by a veterinarian before acute liver failure develops. Severe symptoms should be treated as an emergency.

Types

Symptoms of acute liver failure can appear with any condition affecting the liver. Conditions can be very sudden, or chronic and slow developing.

Sudden – poisoning can cause immediate liver failure if there are more toxins in the system than the liver can handle. Infection can also severely limit liver function quite suddenly. Occasionally necrosis, or the death of liver cells, can generate sudden, acute, symptoms.

Chronic – long term liver disease may begin slowly, but it will eventually manifest acute symptoms.

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Causes of Liver Failure (Acute) in Dogs

These are some of the most common causes of liver failure

Many types of poisoning

Infectious diseases

Chronic hepatitis – long-term inflammation of the liver, due to copper accumulation and other causes. This condition is more common among some breeds.

Endocrine disease – these may cause or contribute to liver failure.

Liver cysts – more common in Cairn and West Highland White Terriers

Cancer – cancer that originates in or spreads to the liver can cause liver failure

Congenital abnormalities

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Diagnosis of Liver Failure (Acute) in Dogs

Your dog’s symptoms will probably indicate severe liver failure. Bloodwork and urine samples can show the level of dysfunction and help to determine the cause of the problem. The veterinarian will check for infectious diseases, signs of poisoning, and hormone or enzyme imbalance. X-rays and ultrasound will often show an enlarged liver and may help to diagnose cancer, cysts, or vascular abnormalities.

The veterinarian will need your dog’s medical history, including any known conditions such as diabetes, and any medications, past or present. Family history may also be important, since breed is a factor. Any potential exposure to poisoning will be extremely relevant. An exact description of your dog’s symptoms may help to indicate the source of the problem. The veterinarian will need to know the dates of your dog’s last vaccinations and any potential exposure to infections.

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Treatment of Liver Failure (Acute) in Dogs

The veterinarian will start by treating the symptoms of acute liver failure. Severely affected dogs are often comatose and will need to be given intravenous fluids and electrolytes to decrease blood toxicity. Diuretics or enemas could be given to clean out the system. If too much fluid in the abdomen is causing respiratory difficulty, a long needle may be inserted to siphon off some of the fluid. If the blood is not clotting properly, transfusion may be necessary as well as medications that assist coagulation, such as heparin or vitamin K. Antibiotics may be given to treat and/or prevent infection since the immune system becomes less functional with liver failure.

After stabilizing the symptoms, the veterinarian will try to treat the underlying cause of the liver disease.  If poisoning was the issue, the condition may reverse itself once the toxins are flushed out of the body. Liver failure that is caused by an endocrine problem can often be rectified by treating this condition medically. Antibiotics or antifungal medication may be prescribed for bacterial or fungal infections. With viral infections, supportive management of the symptoms may be the only treatment possible until the immune system has fought the virus.

Surgery may be necessary to treat some causes of liver failure, such as cancer, cysts or vascular anomalies. This will depend on your dog’s overall health. Surgery will not be possible unless the symptoms of acute liver failure can be stabilized. Some conditions are inoperable, and there is always a certain amount of risk with surgery. Chemotherapy may be prescribed for some types of cancer.

Dogs that have chronic hepatitis as the result of a congenital abnormality may need long term medication. Drugs that bind to copper can help to reduce copper storage problems. Congenital enzyme and protein abnormalities usually result in a shorter life, although the condition may be manageable for a time with diet and medication.

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Recovery of Liver Failure (Acute) in Dogs

Your dog’s outlook for recovery will be based on the diagnosis made by a veterinarian. Complete recovery depends on identifying and eliminating the cause of acute liver failure. Some conditions are treatable. Others will need to be managed with long-term medication that may cause significant side effects.

For most chronic liver problems with an unknown or untreatable cause, a low protein, low sodium diet is recommended. Frequent, small, carbohydrate-based meals can help to put less stress on the liver and prevent the recurrence of acute liver failure. Some veterinarians may prescribe food designed specifically for dogs with liver problems, while others will recommend a homemade diet. Antioxidants, vitamin E, milk thistle and other supplements can also be given to support liver function.

Acute liver failure can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog has acute liver failure or is at risk, start searching for pet insurance today. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Trupanion. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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Liver Failure (Acute) Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $10,000

Average Cost

$5,500

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Liver Failure (Acute) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Chihuahua

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Fifteen Years

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Unknown severity

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11 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Puking

My 15 year old dog has had blood work and an exam, and came back that she has liver and kidney elevated. She was prescribed an antibiotic orally for one week. She has ups and downs of eating. Will vomit after her medication and will stop eating again. I believe she is in pain.

Dec. 24, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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11 Recommendations

Hello so sorry to hear about your dog. Liver and kidney issues can be painful. If she is vomiting her antibiotics you need to get a different antibiotic from your vet. They may also recommend that you give Prilosec or another gastric acid reducer with net medication to help her not want to vomit. Your vet will also be able to send home pain medication to help her feel much better.

Dec. 24, 2020

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Chorkie

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2.5 years

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Unknown severity

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7 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Elevated Liver Enzymes, Bloody Vomit, Urine And Diarrhea And Lethargic

Tink is our 2.5 yo. Chorkie, and for the most part a healthy, happy pup. She had 2 puppy's by c-section in February. After the pups came she had eclampsia and was treated with oral liquid calcium, recovered quickly. Other than this, she's never been sick. So today she woke me up vomiting, with bloody diarrhea and urine. She's not eating or drinking and we took her to an emergency clinic today as her regular vet is on vacation! They did labs on her and her particular enzymes ALT (226) and GLU (184) are high. What's causing this and how do I get her to eat and drink? He did give meds.

July 23, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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7 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I'm not sure what medications the veterinarian gave your dog, and unfortunately, without being able to see lab work or be able to see your dog, it is difficult to comment on what might be going on. The veterinarian that examined your dog today, seems to have a good idea what was going on, and it would be best to trust them and give the medications as directed. If they are not getting better, then it would be best to have a recheck. I hope that all goes well for your dog.

July 23, 2020

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Liver Failure (Acute) Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $10,000

Average Cost

$5,500

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