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As dogs age, their organ function starts to decline. This increases the likelihood of disease in all areas of the body, particularly the liver. Liver disease is very common in older dogs, and may be life-threatening. A number of factors contribute to a dog’s chance of developing liver disease. These include age, breed, sex, diet, medications, infection, and cardiovascular health.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can optimize your aging dog’s liver function.
The Dangers of Detoxing
The practice of “detoxing” is hailed as a miracle solution for ridding the body of substances that may cause infection and disease. There are hundreds of detox diets out there for humans that claim to rid the body of toxins, bacteria, and other harmful substances. Holistic pet health sites also recommend detox diets for dogs and other animals.
There’s just one problem -- the benefits of detoxing are often exaggerated. There is no surefire way to rid the body of all toxins, because they are naturally present in the environment.
The liver actually plays an important role in detoxifying the body. It’s responsible for, among other things, filtering and removing toxins from food during digestion. Detoxing an organ that is already responsible for removing toxins seems redundant. This is why dogs with normal, healthy livers may not benefit from a liver cleanse.
However, there are some cases in which dietary changes and nutritional supplements are needed to restore normal liver function. Dogs diagnosed with liver disease, copper storage diseases, liver failure, and hepatic encephalopathy will benefit most from special diets.
How to Cleanse Your Dog’s Liver
Consult your veterinarian before making any adjustments to your dog’s diet or administering any supplements.
Compounds that improve liver function include:
Dogs diagnosed with liver disease that have consistently high levels of liver enzymes may benefit from antioxidant supplementation. These can decrease the amount of liver enzymes and protect liver cells from accumulating more damage. Antioxidant supplements recommended for increased liver function include Vitamins C and E, silymarin (commonly known as milk thistle), and S-adenosyl-methionine.
During digestion, the liver processes and stores copper from food. Copper storage disease occurs when abnormally high amounts of copper accumulate in the liver. This may be caused by congenital defect or primary disease. Zinc directly combats this by decreasing copper absorption. Zinc can be safely combined with antioxidant supplements to increase liver function.
If you prefer to change your dog’s diet, make sure to select a diet that is low in copper and animal protein. Home-cooked, high-carb meals may also optimize liver function. These diets should be administered in small portions according to veterinary instruction.
Vegetarian diets may be recommended for dogs diagnosed with hepatic encephalopathy related to liver failure. This disease renders the liver unable to remove waste products normally, which means they remain in the dog’s system and cause damage to the metabolic system. High-protein diets, particularly those that are meat-based, exacerbate symptoms. Vegetable and dairy proteins can cause symptoms to diminish while still providing all the protein dogs need.
Remember, never change your dog’s diet or provide any supplements unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian. You may need to maintain dietary modifications and supplementation throughout the rest of your dog’s life.