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.
1. LISTEN TO YOUR INSTINCTS. You know your dog better than any vet or specialist. If there is something “not quite right”, encourage blood tests to see what is going on. The symptoms of canine liver disease are so subtle and can be mistaken for so many other things, ask for a liver panel test to rule it out.
2. Educate yourself about the signs/symptoms of canine liver disease so that you are able to recognize them if any are present in your dog.
3. Feed your dog a high-quality balanced diet with easily digestible protein (beef and fish are harder for dogs to digest), no animal by-products, fillers or allergens.
4. Know your dog’s normal body temperature and take it regularly and if/when they show behavior changes. Temperatures above 103F may be linked to internal infection and may be affecting the liver.
5. Know your dog’s eating and bathroom habits. If there are even slight changes that extend over a period of a week or so, seek out the advice of your veterinarian.
6. Do not allow dogs to roam freely where they can encounter animals or insects, standing water or poisonous plants.
7. Routinely vaccinate dogs for infectious canine hepatitis and leptospirosis.
8. Take your dog in for a yearly exam that should include blood, stool and urine samples in dogs 8 years of age or more. (Veterinarians will do these tests on dogs under the age of 8 as well.)
9. If tests are abnormal or presenting high range numbers, seek out the advice of an Small Animal Internal Medicine Specialist – your vet should be able to refer you to someone in your area.
10. Practice good dental hygiene for your dog. Brushing your dog’s teeth helps rid the gums and mouth of harmful bacteria that, if left unchecked, can spread to the heart, liver and other vital organs.
11. Avoid medications such as Cortisone, Rimadyl and Phenobarbital if at all possible. Also try to minimize exposure to flea and tick products, heartworm medication, anti-fungals, etc.
* If Rimadyl cannot be avoided:
A blood panel should be taken and analyzed prior to initiating Rimadyl therapy.
Every 6 months this panel should be repeated.
* If Phenobarbital cannot be avoided:
Have a chemistry panel with the liver enzymes ALT, GGT and alkaline phosphate
done every 3 to 4 months.
If all three liver enzymes are severely elevated (more than just a few points
above normal) then you should do a urine bile acid test or a pre- and post-meal
bile acid test to see what kind of damage has been actually done to the liver so you
can change the diet to the liver cleansing diet and/or reduce the Phenobarbital.
Monitor Phenobarbital levels every 6 months, more frequently if you do not have
seizure control or if there are any signs of toxicity like ataxia, wobbliness, and hind end
weakness (not after a seizure).