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- Can Dogs Live with Liver Disease?
Can Dogs Live with Liver Disease?
The liver may not be quite as 'glamorous' as the heart, brain, or lungs, but it still performs several important roles that are essential to your pet's health. However, due to the fact that it plays such a crucial role in the proper functioning of the body, it's also susceptible to a wide range of problems.
A diagnosis of liver disease is far from good news for your pet, but it's not the end of the world. There are several potential treatment options available, and catching liver disease sooner rather than later can greatly improve the success of that treatment.
Let's take a closer look at what liver disease is, how it affects your pooch and how it can be treated or prevented.
Signs and Symptoms of Liver Disease in Dogs
From detoxifying the blood and metabolizing energy sources to playing an essential role in blood clotting, the liver performs a pretty extensive list of tasks. As a result, the clinical signs of liver disease can be extremely variable.
The liver has remarkable regenerative powers, and at least half of functional liver tissue will need to be destroyed before any symptoms of disease become apparent. And because the liver wears so many hats, any liver problems can have a flow-on effect that will spread to other body systems.
Just as in people, one of the most common symptoms of liver disease in dogs is jaundice. This yellowish tinge is usually most easily noticeable in the eyes, ears, and gums. This is caused by a build-up in the blood of bilirubin, which the liver excretes as a by-product of red blood cell production.
Gastrointestinal symptoms are another common result of liver disease. Vomiting and diarrhea, weight loss, decreased appetite, and changes in stool color may all occur. Increased thirst and urination are other warning signs, while some dogs will suffer from fluid retention in the abdomen.
As liver disease progresses and begins to affect other parts of the body, another common result is hepatic encephalopathy. This causes a range of neurological signs in pets suffering from liver disease, including seizures, depression, disorientation, blindness and sudden changes in personality.
Early detection is an important factor that plays a part in determining the success of treatment, so if you notice any of the telltale signs of liver disease, take your dog to the vet for a full check-up.
The Science of Liver Disease in Dogs
In some ways, the liver is like a movie director who plays a crucial role in the development of a film, but doesn't get as many headlines and plaudits as the actors. The liver performs a huge range of essential behind-the-scenes jobs to manage a range of bodily functions, including:
- Removing toxins from the body
- Metabolizing medications, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and protein
- Creating bile to help break down and digest foods in the small intestine
- Stores minerals and glycogen
- Manufacturing proteins essential for blood clotting
All in all, the liver plays a part in some 1,500 critical biomechanical functions, which gives you an idea of just how important it is to look after your pet's liver. However, there is no one cause of liver disease, and the body's second largest organ can suffer disease or damage caused by many things, including:
- Ingestion of or exposure to high levels of certain chemical toxins, including insecticides, lead and arsenic
- Ingestion of toxic levels of some medications, including antifungals, analgesics, and antibiotics
- Birth defects, most commonly congenital portosystemic shunts which essentially result in toxins bypassing the liver
- Acquired shunts, which arise when there is a blood pressure build-up in the liver caused by hypertension or cirrhosis
- Endocrine diseases like diabetes, Cushing's Disease and hyperthyroidism can all impair liver function
- Infectious diseases such as leptospirosis, heartworm infection and infectious canine hepatitis
- Liver cancer, which may originate in the liver or spread from elsewhere in the body
Diagnosis and Treatment of Liver Disease
Though it may take some time for the symptoms of liver disease to become apparent, diagnosis is usually a fairly straightforward process. After examining your dog and taking a full medical history, your vet can conduct blood tests to check the levels of liver enzymes, albumin, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), bilirubin, cholesterol, glucose, and a range of other substances. Urinalysis is also commonly used, while a biopsy, radiographs, or ultrasounds may also be required depending on your dog's condition.
If a diagnosis is made early, canine liver disease can usually be treated, or at least managed to improve your dog's quality of life. While the method of treatment varies depending on the underlying condition, the goal is to get rid of any harmful toxins, promote the healing and regeneration of liver tissue, and keep the dog in as best shape as possible until normal liver function can be restored.
For example, liver cancer may be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of all three. Meanwhile, other liver diseases may only be treated with supportive care, such as giving IV fluids to combat dehydration, prescribing medications to tackle symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, and generally providing a safe and restful environment. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best treatment plan for your pet.
Finally, the prognosis for canine liver disease varies. Unfortunately, in cases of chronic or severe liver disease, the prognosis may be poor. However, if the problem is caught early and the underlying cause can be treated or eliminated altogether, the outlook is usually excellent. And thanks to the liver's amazing ability to regenerate, your pet could go on to live a long and happy life.
By a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Published: 05/18/2018, edited: 04/06/2020
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