What are the symptoms of liver disease in dogs?

The main symptoms to look out for are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight Loss
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Lethargy /lack of energy/weakness
  • Jaundice (yellowing of gums, eyes and skin)
  • Swollen abdomen from fluid accumulation
  • Increased thirst/need to pee
  • Unsteady walk
  • Confusion
  • Change in behaviour
  • Seizures

You should contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice any of these symptoms. The symptoms of liver disease in dogs can be very similar to other serious conditions so the sooner you get a diagnosis the sooner you can start treatment.

What causes liver disease in dogs and how can I prevent it?

There are a number of causes of liver disease including:

  • Breed: certain breeds are predisposed to certain liver conditions, including Bedlington Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, Skye Terriers, Yorkshire Terriers, Irish Wolfhounds, Cocker Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers.
  • Age: as with humans, the risk of developing certain diseases increases as your dog gets older. Liver dysfunction is common in geriatric dogs.
  • Medications: in most cases liver damage caused by medications is the result of overdose or extended use of the following: certain antibiotics, antifungals, diuretics, dewormers, testosterone, anesthetic gases, corticosteroids, analgesics, and anti-convulsants. Some medications such as paracetamol are extremely toxic even in small doses.
  • Toxins: insecticides, antifreeze, paint solvents, lead, selenium, iron, arsenic, phosphorous and carbon tetrachloride can cause liver damage, as can some plants such as algae, ragwort and some types of mushrooms.
  • Diseases: diabetes, pancreatic diseases, untreated heartworm disease and viral and bacterial infections can all cause problems with the liver.

While not all cases of liver disease in dogs can be prevented, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk:

  • Keep your dog’s vaccinations are up to date.
  • Don’t feed your dog fatty foods and allow for plenty of exercise.
  • Keep all medications and chemicals out of reach of your dog and avoid letting him/her run free in areas where there may be poisonous plants or insects.

What are the treatment options for liver disease in dogs?

Jasper - a handsome chappy who takes Samylin to support his liver.

Treatment is aimed at resting the liver and will depend on the cause and how much damage there is. There are a number of things your veterinary surgeon may suggest:

  • Medication: Your vet may prescribe a medication such as ursodeoxycholic acid, furosemide or penicilliamine. Remember you do not have to get the medication itself from the vet; your vet is obligated to write a prescription so that you can obtain the medication elsewhere which is usually cheaper. Give us a ring on freephone 0800 0241 329 for prices on prescription medicines.
  • Dietary changes: Your vet may recommend a food specially formulated for dogs with liver problems such as Hills L/D or Royal Canin Hepatic
  • Supplements: Your vet may recommend an over-the-counter supplement such as Samylin, Denamarin or Hepaticare. These contain SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine), a substance normally produced by the liver that is necessary for many functions of liver cells.

Always ensure that you check with your veterinary surgeon before changing your dog’s diet or starting on a new supplement, even one that is available without a prescription.