Ways to keep a dog’s liver healthy
A healthy liver is essential to prolonging a dog’s life.
But if your dog has a liver concern, do not worry. There are ways to address this. It may take time and more effort on your part, but the liver can be nursed back to health or “balance.”
Understanding the liver
Harmony in the liver leads to harmony in life, says Chris Bessent, author of Liver Disease in Dogs: A Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective in the Dogs Naturally website.
The liver, Bessent notes, is “central to some of your dog’s most vital functions.”
The liver does the following:
1. aids the body in its ability to clot blood;
2. breaks down harmful toxins;
3. helps in daily digestive functions;
4. removes waste products from the blood;
5. helps keep the immune system strong;
6. produces antioxidants; and
7. stores vitamins and fat.
Due to these important tasks, the liver can cause imbalance and illness in your dog’s body when the liver is not functioning well.
Bessent notes that “In Chinese medicine Qi is the energy, or life force, that travels throughout the body along meridians, or pathways in the body. The liver has its own associated liver meridian that travels along the inside of the hind limb and then to the organ and is involved with related functions in the body.”
Thus, any problem with the liver also affects the meridian (not just the liver itself) and other functions that the liver meridian influences such as the gastrointestinal system.
Possible causes of liver imbalance
Holistic veterinarians, Bessent says, sees a connection between the liver and a variety of different symptoms.
These vets thus identify factors that have serious effects on the liver. These are:
1. an elevated amount of toxins in the environment,
3. some vaccination, and
4. emotional distress in the dog due to lack of attention, basic care, and exercise.
They believe a dog’s emotional stress will eventually manifest in physical forms we call symptoms.
“When owners bring their dog for evaluation, I like to get their own account of the dog’s recent behavior and physical ailments. Anything they recently noticed can help in the diagnosis,” he adds.
Thus, always observe your dog. Look out for a change in your dog’s behavior as this may indicate liver disharmony.
Some of the behavioral changes are
4. a tendency to become territorial when it comes to possessions, and
5. fear aggression.
The physical symptoms of liver disharmony are:
1. anal sac issues,
3. eye discharge,
5. gastrointestinal problems,
6. excessive panting,
7. thickened saliva,
8. purple or reddened tongue (except for breeds of dogs known for having purple or black spots) , and
9. a quickened, “taut” pulse .
“The liver controls the pelvic and anal regions and can thus produce complications including chronic anal sac issues and bowel problems. It can also create gastrointestinal problems such as consistent vomiting, gurgly guts and vomiting bile,” Bessent says.
Allergies and seizures
He adds: ”Allergies can also be related to liver malfunction. Symptoms would include itching, especially in the paws, abdomen and face. Their skin may also be red and hot to the touch. Their coat may have a greasy or phlegmy smell. “
The allergies are reactions to dangerous toxins, pesticides, or allergens in the environment.
When a dog has an allergic reaction, it disrupts the flow of qi to the liver and subsequently, throughout the body, and makes the dog more susceptible to future allergic reactions.
A dog with liver imbalance may also have “inflamed eyes” or eyes with excessive discharge.
Bessent notes that “Conventional veterinarians would prescribe steroids to treat the allergy but may have difficulty finding the underlying problem. Additionally, commonly prescribed steroids can have a harmful effect on the liver.”
Holistic veterinarians will instead recommend treating the underlying problem of the allergy, performing acupuncture and providing herbs to bring balance back to the liver.
Seizures in dogs --a serious physical manifestation of liver disharmony -- are often labeled as epilepsy and treated as such by conventional medicine.
But seizures can be managed by acupuncture and herbs (particularly liver harmonizing herbs).
Holistic approach to correct the imbalance
Here are Bessent ‘s recommendations to correct the liver imbalance:
1. acupuncture by a holistic veterinarian.
2. acupressure to be done by the owner at home.
Acupressure is the application of physical pressure using hands to acupuncture points.
Bessent explains: ”Dogs have five commonly used acupressure points on each side of the body pertaining to the liver. There are two points on the back and three on the inner hind leg, totaling in ten acupressure points. If performed correctly, acupressure will relax a dog and put him to sleep! And don’t worry if you hit the wrong spot. Your dog will still enjoy a nice massage. “
3. moderate exercise
4. provide your pet an easily digestible diet such as fish, chicken, beets, spinach, squash and broccoli. Make sure your dog is not allergic to fish or chicken. Please ask your vet. Some vets prescribe hepatic dry dog food. But since this has preservatives, we give both the hepatic dog food and natural food or cooked veggies.
5. the diet should also be low in fat and protein.
6. feed your dog several times a day, instead of giving a big meal once a day. We feed a dog with a liver concern three times a day.
7. give the dog the correct amount of vitamins, particularly B vitamins.
8. minimize pharmaceutical use, or giving meds to your dog.
9. minimize or avoid use of substances with chemicals in your home and lawn. Try to use cleaning supplies that contain organic ingredients or are environmental- friendly ones.
10. limit the amount of vaccines for a dog with liver concerns. “Do only those that are necessary, and if the dog has to undergo anesthesia for any procedure, try to make sure everything is done under the one anesthesia treatment to limit the number of times it must be administered, “ Bessent says.
Herbs for a healthy liver
Milk thistle helps prevent toxins from lodging in the liver.
Bessent says milk thistle is “considered hepatoprotective, which means it prevents damage to the liver. Milk thistle is best when it’s fresh grown and organic.”
We give milk thistle in capsule form once a day.
Bessent also reveals that “artichoke enhances the regeneration of damaged liver cells, and dandelion increases the production of bile by the liver.”
But dandelion has to be properly prepared for consumption by both humans and dogs. Please look for a holistic vet and ask where you can source this, or an acupuncturist with a supply of properly prepared herbs.
“There are many wonderful herbal formulas available for all aspects of liver disharmonies. Each aspect of a liver disharmony may require a different herbal formula. For example, gastrointestinal issues will have a different liver formula prescribed than a formula to treat seizures. Because of the complexity of liver disharmonies, it’s best to consult a holistic veterinarian trained in Chinese medicine for a complete exam and the appropriate therapy, “Bessent stresses.
A lifetime concern
Bringing back balance to the liver is a long process and may be a lifetime concern.
“ A dog with a ‘liver constitution’ has a lifelong tendency to develop a liver condition as a result of emotional, environmental or physical stress he or she may have endured. Older dogs have a particularly difficult time bouncing back, especially if they have been exposed to long- term steroid use, which can add insult to injury in the liver.
But don’t lose hope. Consult a holistic veterinarian and ask about acupuncture and herbal supplements. The right treatment can promote liver harmony for years to come,” Bessent says.