What is Liver Inflammation?
It's common for a pet owner to overlook the symptoms of liver inflammation. You may notice your dog losing their appetite, needing to urinate more, vomiting or being generally lethargic. This condition, or underlying conditions, can be linked to failures or malfunctions of nearby organs. Because the liver affects multiple systems, it can be difficult to diagnose inflammation. The liver not only removes toxins from the blood, but the production of bile and the metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. An inflamed liver will severely compromise the health of your dog. It's important to note that taking a wait and see approach, or failing to treat inflammation, can and will result in death of your dog.Liver inflammation is commonly idiopathic. In certain cases, it is also the direct causation of a potentially deadly underlying disease or condition. It's imperative that you treat the inflammation as soon as possible by successfully diagnosing it with the expertise of a local veterinarian. Just like in humans, the liver is an imperative organ that provides several core bodily functions.
Book First Walk Free!
Symptoms of Liver Inflammation in Dogs
The most common (though not exhaustive) symptoms include:
- Yellowing skin and in the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- Blue tinge in the eyes
- Swollen and/or painful abdomen
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Lack of appetite
Dogs rely a great deal on their livers. It is the second largest organ in their bodies after their skin (1.3-5.0% of body weight) and its malfunction results in many canine deaths. There are two types of liver inflammation in dogs.
- Symptoms manifest within days, and your pet's health quickly declines. This is the less common type, but is all the more distressing for its quick appearance. This is likely to be caused by toxins - possibly drugs, chemicals or a reaction to medicine, trauma, poor circulation and metabolic disorders. It must be treated immediately or will likely result in death as all these factors will contribute to necrosis (tissue death) of the liver.
- This condition occurs over long periods and, while no less serious, will manifest itself more slowly, so it is less easily detected. This condition is caused by the slow death of liver cells due to age or by an underlying disease.
Causes of Liver Inflammation in Dogs
There are many things which contribute to inflammation of the liver, some of which include:
- Fungal infection
- Bacterial infection
- Viral infection
- Parasites (heartworm and liver flukes)
- Anemia (low iron)
- Immune system malfunction
- Excess copper retention (note that Bedlington Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, West Highland Terriers and Skye Terriers have genetic predisposition to copper retention)
- Drug Reactions
- Blockage within the liver itself or the surrounding ducts
- This may not be directly causal, but the gallbladder, pancreas or chronic swelling of the kidneys may happen simultaneously with liver inflammation.
Diagnosis of Liver Inflammation in Dogs
If any combination of symptoms have appeared either quickly or over long-term, it is imperative to consult a veterinarian. Conclusive diagnosis cannot be made by the pet owner.
In order to determine liver inflammation, you will need to give a thorough history of your dog's health and, if possible, have a good idea how long the symptoms have persisted (when they started, any correlated events, etc.).
The veterinarian will complete several tests including:
- X-rays of the chest and abdomen
- Ultrasound - confirm there isn't cancer (may require surgery)
- Complete blood profile - check the levels of liver enzymes
The veterinarian will be looking for select abnormalities, these include:
- High liver enzyme levels
- High bilirubin levels (The liver filters bilirubin. They are waste products from the blood which should not exist in high quantities)
- Low glucose levels
- High copper levels
- Protein, red or white blood cells in the urine. (These can indicate infection)
- Low vitamin B12 levels. (This may indicate absorption problems with the small intestine or pancreas)
- Blood clotting. It should be noted that a failure of blood clotting can be a sign of late-stage liver failure.
- High levels of abdominal fluid
The veterinarian may require a biopsy of the liver that is done through surgery. This will naturally have a chance of infection associated with it, but will help the doctor determine whether the inflammation is acute, chronic, correlated to a separate condition or any abnormalities in the tissue or the surrounding fluid.
Treatment of Liver Inflammation in Dogs
Treatment varies dramatically based on what caused the inflammation. The basic aim of treatment is to remove the toxins that are causing the inflammation by flushing them out of the body with the help of intravenous fluids.
The doctors secondary, and competing priority, will be preserving the core function of the liver. This is done through the surviving liver cells.
- Treatment of acute inflammation will be to address the immediate cause. This will involve flushing out the harmful toxins through an overnight stay (in some cases several nights are required). This will be somewhat invasive due to the need for intravenous fluids.
- If the underlying cause is chronic, the veterinarian will discuss further treatment options with you. It is unlikely this condition will be fully treated, but it can be managed very successfully.
Regular checkups after either an acute inflammation or chronic inflammation are critical to your dogs maintenance. After severe liver inflammation, follow-up visits are recommended after a minimum of 2-3 weeks to ensure stable condition. If you notice any changes in symptoms, make an appointment.
Recovery of Liver Inflammation in Dogs
Your pet will need time and a restful environment to recover from any disease. If inflammation is caught early, it can be reversed - this is especially true in young dogs. However, in the case of older dogs, the underlying cause must be considered. It is likely antibiotics will be prescribed to prevent further infection. The doctor may recommend a diuretic to help with water retention.
There will be a diet change due to the need to regulate food protein levels because protein affects blood ammonia levels and consequently neurologic function, though whether higher or lower levels will be needed will depend on your pet's condition. Talk with your veterinarian about the need for supplementing this diet with water-soluble vitamins such as B, E and possibly K if blood clotting is part of the problem. You will need to change from feeding 2 or 3 large meals every day to smaller meals throughout in order to minimize the strain on the liver.
Cost of Liver Inflammation in Dogs
The cost of liver inflammation depends greatly on the type. Cancer treatment can reach thousands of dollars while an infection will be less, albeit still expensive if surgery is required. The standard costs include the basic veterinarian examination and visit which should cost around $55 and the full blood work, which could range between $100-$180. The minimum, excluding if an emergency clinic is required, is $425, while the maximum, excluding specialty treatments such as cancer, is $2,777.
Liver Inflammation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My 9 year old dog (lab mix) was found to have an enlarged spleen and liver on X-ray. When compared to earlier scans, the organs are double. They are a normal shape. His bloodwork came back perfectly normal. He is not showing any obvious symptoms. These findings were incidental when we took him in to have some fat tumors checked out. Should we have an ultrasound?
Add a comment to Bogie's experience
Was this experience helpful?
My dog had a liver biopsy and it came back changes due to malnutrition. Her enzymes seem to go up every so often and we treat with metronidazole and it goes back down. She's on Denamarin. Her bile acid study came back normal as well as the ultrasound. My dog is almost 3 I asked the vet about a liver diet and she said she didnt want to do that due to her young age. I bought her when she was 5 months old and feed her Wellness dog food. Would itbee wise to put her on the Liver diet?
Add a comment to Lacey's experience
Was this experience helpful?
Swiffer presented with pain on palpation at her last well visit about 7 mos ago. She had an untrasound and xrays and no sign of cancer was found, but the liver was significantly enlarged. She went through a 14 day course of flagyl and clavomox and has been on denamarin ever since. She had initial improvement after the antibiotics, but a few weeks ago I noticed severe incontinence & nausea and took her back in. This time liver values were bad as well as kidney. She just finished a second course of antibiotics and I am scheduling with an internist. Once again, she seems better after antibiotics. I also took her to holistic vet, who noted her right rear leg had improper reflexes and she is in back pain! She has had one treatment of cold laser and goes back this week. She is also on tramadol but this makes me nervous with liver issue. I am wondering if it is possible all of these are tied together, and if liver is her root issue. Also thinking pancreas but no idea. I had been feeding Orijen grain free but she is now on a bland diet (chicken, rice, yams) plus enzymes to aid digestion until I know what we are dealing with. As mentioned seeking further specialist advice but what does that sound like to you? What are possibilities?
Thank you, Melanie
My two dogs are experiencing the same problem. Well we have raised liver enzymes,enlarged liver, and back pain with leg tremors and lameness. No infection is showing in blood work. I believe they got it from a multivitamin blend that must of been contaminated because of severe abdominal pain and bloody stools after I added to their food the night before have you had a successful diagnosis yet?
My vet is currently taking this approach to treating my 10 year old Chi for 3 elevated liver enzymes and also urine showed increased bilu-something related to stress on liver and kidneys. I really liked this vet's recommendation as blood was found in her urine so today I will ask if she needs antibiotic for infection.
all resources are welcome - thank you!
Add a comment to Swiffer's experience
Was this experience helpful?
Being treated for a uti but he is fine in himself.bloods were ok the vet said.worried about the urine sample though?due back in two weeks for more bloods and urine test possibly scans
Add a comment to Merc's experience
Was this experience helpful?
Dog diagnosed with cholestasis. Elevated liver enzymes and old dog vestibular syndrome. Vet put him on steroids and antibiotics. Five days later symptoms of vestibular problems have cleared up but dog doesn't want to eat. I have been giving him egg whites with a little canned dog food by way a turkey baster which he readily takes. He Seems to be improving but still won't eat on his own. It's been 5 days. Vet thought he may have a blocked bile duct or infection of it.
Old dog vestibular disease usually resolves itself within ten days or so; elevated liver enzymes require a little more investigation. You can try giving milk thistle and SAMe supplements to support liver health, they are natural and non-prescription products which are widely available. For the meantime, continue with supportive care and feeding as you are; changes in diet may help to a lower (but better quality) protein diet to relieve stress on the liver. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
Thank you for your quick response and support!
Add a comment to Rosko's experience
Was this experience helpful?