We cannot stress enough that the symptoms of liver disease are VERY subtle and your dog may be acting normal other than a few small differences in behavior. DO NOT WAIT TO CONSULT YOUR VETERINARIAN. Often times, by the time the symptoms below are present, the disease is quite advanced. Early detection is the KEY for treatment and survival.
Pets with liver disorders can show a variety of physical symptoms. Very few of the symptoms are specific for liver disease, but can be signs of multiple diseases and conditions. Symptoms of liver disease are variable and subtle in the early stages of the problem. All, some, or only one of these signs may be present:
Loss of appetite – Anorexia (Most Common) – THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT AND ANY EATING CHANGES SHOULD BE REPORTED TO YOUR VETERINARIAN!!!
Intermittent recurrent abdominal or gastrointestinal upsets; vomiting, diarrhea, constipation
Progressive depression or lethargy; does not want to play anymore or refuses to go for walks.
Swollen belly with a “fluid filled” look. This is also known as ascites and is actually fluid accumulation in the belly due to circulation alterations in the abdomen.
Pale gray feces. Bile pigments are what give feces it’s characteristic brown color and if the liver is not processing bile properly, the feces will not get their color.
Orange urine. The improper processing of bile results in the excretion of bilirubin in the urine in high amounts, thus orange urine.
Jaundice, also known as icterus. Any pale or white skin or visible tissue takes on a yellow hue. Again the biliary pigments are accumulating in the body because the liver is not processing them.
Bleeding problems. Many of the proteins required for proper blood clotting are created in the liver. Remove these proteins and blood clotting decreases.
Hepatic encephalopathy, or severe neurological signs; behavioral changes, seizures, aimless pacing or circling, head pressing.
Pain associated with the abdomen. This is due to the stretching of the liver capsule. May be noted when the dog is lifted around the belly or when the veterinarian probes the abdomen. The veterinarian may also notice a swollen liver while palpating with some of the more acute liver diseases
Chronic weight loss or wasting. The liver processes all the building blocks. If it fails to process, the body fails to maintain itself.
Increased water consumption and urination. Most likely due to dramatic shifts in serum and kidney salt balances.
In a recent study it was found that dogs with liver disease can also have high blood pressure. This is called hypertension, and should be monitored to see if therapy is needed
If you notice any of the above symptoms, make sure you consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. Because the liver is able to function effectively even at 70-80% capacity, the disease may be in its advanced stages by the time the condition manifests itself.