Liver Diseases In Dogs: What Are Its Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Plans?
Fri, December 9, 2022

Liver Diseases In Dogs: What Are Its Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Plans?


Sharon A. Center of MSD Veterinary Manual, a trusted source of animal health information for students and practicing veterinarians, said that the liver performs numerous functions, as well as has a large storage capacity and functional reserve. It's even able to regenerate.

These functions enable the liver to safeguard itself against permanent damage. Sadly, this organ is also prone to injury considering the role it plays in metabolizing, detoxifying, and storing different kinds of toxic compounds.

If your dog has liver disease, it may struggle to perform some of the aforementioned biological processes, which can make your pet even sicker, according to Jenna Stregowski of The Spruce Pets, a website for pet-related information. Some liver disorders and issues are more serious than others, but learning to spot them before they escalate can prevent liver damage and nurse your dog back to good health.

Histopathological Survey On Canine and Feline Liver Diseases At the University of Tokyo

Naoki Hirose and colleagues of biomedical and life sciences journal PMC chose a total of 4,755 cases of dogs and 1,016 cases of cats between November 2006 and December 2012. Regarding canine liver biopsies, 9.7% of the canine biopsy cases were non-proliferative while 30% were proliferative liver diseases. However, there were no significant lesions in the remaining four cases.  

Microvascular dysplasia (MVD) comprised 42.5% of non-proliferative diseases. MVD with portosystemic shunt (PSS) was at 87% while MVD without PSS was at 13%. There was no data available on PSS of the other five MVD cases. Parenchymal and/or interstitial hepatitis was at 34.1% (109 of 320, 23.5% of all diagnoses), which was the second most popular non-proliferative liver disease in the dog. Parenchymal hepatitis included canine chronic hepatitis at 22.9% and liver fibrosis at 11.9%. Interstitial hepatitis included cholangiohepatitis (55.0%) and cholangitis (7.3%). Another most encountered liver disease was hepatic degeneration (15.3%).

Among 136 cases of MVD, Yorkshire terriers ranked first at 19.9%, followed by toy poodles (11.8%), and papillons (9.6%). Miniature dachshunds ranked first (18.3%) among 60 cases of cholangiohepatitis, followed by American cocker spaniels (8.3%), miniature Schnauzers (8.3%), and Pomeranians (8.3%). Labrador retrievers and Doberman Pinschers ranked first among 25 cases of canine chronic hepatitis.

Among 139 cases of canine proliferative liver diseases, 74 cases were primary epithelial tumors (53.2%), including hepatocellular adenoma (26.6%) and hepatocellular carcinoma (24.5%), 26 cases were nodular hyperplasia (18.7%), 23 were primary non-epithelial tumors (16.5%), and 16 cases were metastatic tumors (11.5%). 97 cases (21% overall) were primary hepatic tumors.

Among 113 neoplastic cases other than nodular hyperplasia, hepatocellular adenoma ranked first (32.7%) followed by hepatocellular carcinoma (30.1%). The highest incidence of hepatocellular adenoma was found in Golden retrievers, Shibas and mixed breeds (13.5%). Shih Tzu was found to have the highest incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma (35.3%), along with Yorkshire terriers (11.8%).  



What Is Liver Disease?

Liver disease is defined as any abnormality in the liver that impairs its ability to perform its functions normally. There are different types of liver diseases. For example, bile duct obstruction happens when the tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder are blocked. 

Moreover, liver shunt or PSS occurs when blood from the intestines, stomach, pancreas, and spleen does not go through the liver, which prevents the blood from being detoxifies. Autoimmune disease can scar the liver and liver tumors—which are common in older dogs—can be cancerous or benign. However, benign tumors can press on your dog’s liver or other organs.

What Are the Causes of Liver Disease?

The causes of liver disease depend on the type. For example, acute liver disease happens when your dog is exposed to a toxic substance or poison or after being exposed to excessive heat. Some toxins can cause organ malfunction, causing secondary liver damage.

Bile duct obstruction can develop from an infection, generalized inflammation, a tumor, gallstones, or a mucocele or a build up of thickened bile. Liver shunt may be present at birth or may occur due to another liver issue. Chronic active hepatitis can occur due to an overactive immune system, infection, a build up of copper in the liver (which is usually genetic), toxins. This can also happen when the liver could not completely recover from other damages it sustained.

Parasites, fungi, bacteria, and viral infections can also lead to chronic liver issues. For example, leptospirosis, which is found in the urine of rodents and wildlife, can cause major liver damage when an unvaccinated dog contracts it.



What Are the Signs of Liver Disease?

Signs of liver disease can vary and can include vomiting, appetite loss, stomach ulceration, diarrhea, seizures, and other neurological problems. It can also include blood clotting problems, fever, jaundice, fluid collection in the abdomen, weight loss, excessive urination and thirst, and changes in the size of the liver.  Weakness can also be a symptom of another disease unrelated to the liver, but your veterinarian can pinpoint its root cause.



How Is Liver Disease Diagnosed and Treated?

Blood tests can help detect and diagnose liver disease while x-rays and ultrasonography can determine your dog’s liver size and identify any irregularities, gallstones, and gallbladder diseases. Aspiration or biopsies can be performed to obtain samples for bacterial culture, cell, and tissue analysis. Your veterinarian can also perform toxicologic analysis when appropriate.

Less common tests such as nuclear scintigraphy may be done in some cases to identify liver shunts and abnormalities in the blood vessel. It is important for your dog to receive early treatment if it is afflicted with acute liver failure. If your veterinarian identifies the underlying, they will prescribe your dog with specific treatment. If your dog has long term or end-stage liver disease or if it has acute liver disease when no underlying cause has been detected, supportive treatment is needed to slow down the disease, to minimize complications, and to allow the liver to regenerate and compensate.

Dietary changes may also be needed to curb liver disease. Your dog’s diet should include enough calories for it to maintain a healthy weight. Restricting your dog’s protein intake is usually required when it is susceptible to developing haptic encephalopathy. Overall, be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions or recommendations for diet, medications, and follow-up exams and tests.

It is strongly recommended to have your dog routinely checked to ensure that its liver is healthy. Vaccinate your dog from other liver problems like leptospirosis, a disease that can cause major damages to your pet’s liver. However, some symptoms of liver disease such as weakness may also be another sign of a disease unrelated to the liver. In that case, consult your veterinarian.