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Liver disease in dogs: What to do to help your pet

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The liver, being the second largest organ, plays crucial roles in the body. It processes medications, eliminates toxins, and produces vital substances like albumin and blood clotting factors. It actively participates in nutrition by aiding in the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Due to its complex nature, managing liver disease poses significant challenges.

“Since the liver possesses the ability to regenerate and has a considerable functional reserve, noticeable clinical signs of damage only manifest when the liver damage is quite severe and advanced,” said Dr. Samantha Bey, DVM, in “Nutrition and Liver Health in Dogs” published in the FuraPets website.

“This implies that a dog experiencing liver disease might have endured substantial and prolonged metabolic imbalances before a diagnosis is established and a treatment strategy created,” added Dr. Bey.

What is liver disease in dogs?

Liver disease takes many forms. Severe liver disease can lead to malnutrition by reducing appetite and disrupting the normal processes of nutrient digestion, absorption, and metabolism.

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Often, liver damage results in the leakage of liver enzymes into the bloodstream. To assess for liver disease or failure, your veterinarian will conduct a blood test and/or bile acid test.

Rafa, a Save ALL rescue, is a parvo virus survivor. The antibiotics he took at a very young age– months old—to survive this fatal illness compromised his liver. With proper diet and management, a dog suffering from liver problems can live a long and happy life. (Save ALL photo file)

“Typical medical guidelines for treating dogs with liver disease involve addressing the root cause and managing the symptoms. Short-term hospitalization with intravenous fluids may be necessary to initiate longer-term therapies. Medications prescribed for liver disease often require extended use, sometimes for the duration of the dog’s life,” Dr. Bey noted.

Clinical signs of liver problems in dogs include:

• Vomiting

• Diarrhea

• Excessive thirst and urination

• Lethargy

• Loss of appetite

• Jaundice (eyes, skin, and gums turn yellowish color)

• Swollen abdomen

• Blood clotting

• Seizures

• Disorientation

Liver disease can progress to Hepatic Encephalopathy, which affects the nervous system. It is important to narrow down the exact type of liver issue your dog is having before choosing a treatment plan or new diet.

How can nutrition contribute to the treatment of liver disease?

Utilizing nutritional management alongside suitable medical treatment (or surgery when necessary) can be an effective approach. In the context of liver disease, nutritional management aims to control the clinical symptoms rather than directly addressing the root cause.

According to Dr. Bey, the nutrient profile should:

• Maintain normal metabolic function;

• Provide an adequate and highly digestible caloric density;

• Support liver repair and regeneration;

• Decrease further damage to the liver;

• Maintain appropriate levels of sodium, chloride, potassium, and the other active minerals.

Your veterinarian will assist you in selecting a suitable diet for your dog. In most cases, the overall protein content is lowered than standard to ensure sufficient protein for supporting liver healing. It is important for these dogs to consume food for the healing process.

Will my dog need to consistently consume specialized food and medications?

“Effectively managing liver disease in dogs is an intricate process, and regular assessments are essential to ensure your dog’s recovery is progressing positively. Monitoring factors such as appetite, activity level, weight, and body condition is crucial,” said Dr. Bey

While many dogs with resolved liver issues can discontinue medications and transition to regular life-stage maintenance food, this outcome depends on the specific diagnosis. Dogs with chronic liver disease typically require a long-term therapeutic diet and liver-support medication. Your veterinarian will collaborate with you to make informed decisions for the well-being of your dog with liver disease.

Creating a dietary plan for your dog’s liver health

Given that dogs with liver disease need a dietary adjustment, there are particular measures to follow in modifying a dog’s daily food routine. Naturally, it is crucial to consult with your veterinarian to address your dog’s individual needs. Typically, your vet will suggest a diet for a dog with heightened liver enzymes, which may involve commercially prepared or homemade meals, or a blend of both.

Dr. Bey emphasizes that as part of a treatment plan, a diet for dogs with liver disease includes these basic goals:

• Provide good nutrition to maintain energy and health.

• Promote liver regeneration and reduce stress on the organ.

• Prevent and minimize potential complications, such as hepatic encephalopathy.

Liver disease can result from diverse factors, including birth defects, abrupt injuries, exposure to toxins, or the presence of cancer. Without proper intervention, the condition can progress. Regular veterinary examinations are important in detecting liver disease at an early stage, facilitating the development of an effective treatment strategy for the well-being and longevity of your dog.

About the Author: Niko Gabriel Salgado is a graduate of consular and diplomatic affairs from De La Salle College of Saint Benilde, and worked at the House of Representatives. He is now an entrepreneur and a volunteer of the animal welfare group Save Animals of Love and Light- Save ALL.

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