What is Liver Fibrosis (Idiopathic)?
When scar tissue forms and continuously replaces the normal tissue of the liver, fibrosis occurs. Young dogs that are affected by this condition are usually under 2 years of age. Often the signs of liver dysfunction are minimal for quite some time; this is because the liver is remarkably resilient and can still function well right up until severe damage has been done. It is often at that point when the fibrosis is discovered, and unfortunately, reversing the effects is not possible. The prognosis for your family pet will depend on how much damage has been done when the disease is diagnosed. If you feel that your dog is acting out of character, it is best to bring him to the clinic for a full check up.
Liver fibrosis in a canine of young age is defined in veterinary terms as idiopathic fibrosis. Inflammation of the liver leads to this condition, which results from an accumulation of fibrous tissue. Untreated fibrosis eventually leads to cirrhosis of the liver which can dramatically interrupt the functions of the liver.
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Symptoms of Liver Fibrosis (Idiopathic) in Dogs
Liver fibrosis in young dogs is a condition that may only display subtle signs until your pet’s health has reached a crucial state. As the fibrosis quietly continues to take over the tissues of the liver, cirrhosis results. There may be no prior warning, or your dog may exhibit the signs below.
- Fluid in the abdomen is one of the most distinctive signs and is called ascites
- The abdominal distention can cause pain
- Weight loss can occur because of a loss of appetite
- Your dog may vomit
- Bowel movements may come in the form of diarrhea
- The mucus membranes such as in the gums, nostrils, and the skin become abnormally yellow indicating jaundice
- There may be excessive urination (polyuria)
- Your dog may be thirsty (polydipsia)
In some of the severe cases of liver fibrosis in young dogs that may have advanced to a dangerous stage, pets can show hepatic encephalopathy (abnormal brain function) with signs like circling, wandering, weakness, loss of muscle control, behavioral changes like aggression, and even seizures or collapse.
Liver fibrosis in dogs is the type of liver condition that is not associated with an underlying condition. It is characterized by a decrease in the size of the liver and this particular condition can show changes in the blood vessels between the intestines and the liver.
Causes of Liver Fibrosis (Idiopathic) in Dogs
Most liver diseases that affect our canine friends have very specific causes like an underlying disease or trauma to the liver. In the instance of liver fibrosis in a young dog, the reason for the damage is not so clear.
- Idiopathic hepatic (liver) fibrosis is not associated with any known cause
- Fibroblasts are tissue cells that connect the bodily tissues together
- With this condition, the liver cells are destroyed and good tissue is replaced with fibrous scar tissue that is harder and less pliable than normally found in the liver
- The damage is progressive, often not realized until much scar tissue has formed
Diagnosis of Liver Fibrosis (Idiopathic) in Dogs
The liver has what is often called reserves, which allow it to function very well even with damaged cells and tissues. Because of this, you may not be aware that your dog is sick until well into the disease. This is why regular health and wellness check-ups are recommended for our furry family members every year. Blood tests and physical examinations are a part of the appointment; liver dysfunction is not always known by your pet’s day to day behavior but could be indicated by a standard blood test.
In the case that your dog is displaying symptoms of illness, you should bring him to the veterinary clinic without delay and describe to the veterinarian the symptoms or behavioral changes that your beloved pet may be exhibiting. Describe his appetite, activity level, urinary and bowel habits. Any information that you are are able to provide will be beneficial to the diagnostic process.
A physical examination will be the first step towards diagnosis. Your veterinarian will feel the abdomen of your pet, which may show some distension if there is an accumulation of fluids. Your pet may show pain upon the palpation of his abdomen. In addition, your veterinarian will check the lymph nodes of your dog, look at the mucus membranes for signs of jaundice, and take his temperature to make sure no fever is present. She will order a urinalysis, which could show a change in color or the presence of ammonium biurate crystals. If a stool sample is light in color, this can mean a liver problem, too.
Blood tests (complete blood count and biochemistry analysis) can be very indicative of a liver problem. Markers such as bilirubin and cholesterol could be abnormal. Liver enzymes will most likely be elevated, there could be a decrease in red blood cells if anemia is a problem, and the white blood cell count may be high.
Further testing could be necessary in the form of radiographs of the liver which will clearly show changes in size, and ultrasound which may reveal abnormalities in blood vessels around the liver. Abdominocentesis will enable the examination of fluid accumulation in the abdomen. If needed, there are options of the liver biopsy and exploratory surgery, both which can confirm fibrous changes in the liver tissue.
Treatment of Liver Fibrosis (Idiopathic) in Dogs
Fibrosis will eventually turn into cirrhosis. Because of this fact, treatment is aimed more at maintaining the health of your canine companion and preventing or slowing down further progression of the disease. Treatment is also contingent upon what stage the fibrosis and cirrhosis have reached. In most cases, the extent of the liver damage classifies the illness as advanced by the time symptoms become apparent and diagnosis is made.
A dog who has become very ill and is showing the very serious secondary signs of liver disease in the form of central nervous system disturbance will need to be hospitalized with medication treatment to address and correct the CNS dysfunction.
In canines with liver fibrosis that has not yet caused serious damage to all bodily systems, there are protocols that can make your pet more comfortable in tandem with slowing down the liver tissue damage and the complications that can accompany it.
A low protein diet is recommended to start off because this will lighten the workload for the liver. Your veterinarian could suggest nutritional supplements (such as zinc to protect the liver) and vitamins such as vitamin K (blood tests may show liver-related clotting issues) and vitamin E (a good antioxidant for the liver).
Anti-inflammatory medicine (to reduce inflammation), and anti-fibrotics (to slow down tissue changes) will be very important additions to the medical therapy of a pet with liver fibrosis.
Recovery of Liver Fibrosis (Idiopathic) in Dogs
Managing your pet’s illness will be the main goal of the veterinary team since a diagnosis of liver fibrosis means that your furry family member has a progressive condition that cannot be cured. Adherence to the proper diet and medication regimen recommended by your veterinarian is essential. Regular check-ups which will include liver function tests will be required. Your veterinarian will work alongside you to ensure that your pet is as healthy as can be. Communication with the clinic, follow-up appointments as scheduled by the veterinarian, and keeping a watch over your pet to be sure you do not miss changes in his behavior or health, no matter how subtle, will be key.