Liver disease is fairly common in older dogs. There are many different causes of liver disease because the liver is an organ which is involved in many different physiological processes. The liver is one of the main detoxifying organs of the body. It processes and eliminates toxins from the blood, it is involved in making plasma proteins and it stores glycogen ( a form of sugar) for later use by the body. It is involved in the digestive process, immune system, and affects appetite and growth. In Chinese medicine, the liver is so important. it is referred to as “The General”, because the liver is in charge of many functions.
Liver disease can be primary or secondary. Primary liver disease is something that starts with the liver. Secondary liver disease starts elsewhere but does involve the liver.
Causes of primary liver disease can be drugs and toxins, trauma, infections (either bacterial or viral), liver tumor or a congenital problem that the dog is born with. Secondary liver problems result from another disease that also effects the liver. Examples of this would include heart disease or heartworm disease, pancreatitis, diabetes, cancers ( spread from somewhere else in the body), or blood problems.
Symptoms of liver disease include increased drinking and urination, decreased appetite, depression and lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea (stools may be white or orange), jaundice (a yellow colouring to skin and whites of the eye), and dark coloured urine. The abdomen may be swollen and the liver enlarged. In late stage liver disease, there may be seizures or the dog may show severe confusion and appear drunk. If your dog has any of these symptoms you should consult your veterinarian immediately.
Diagnosis of liver diseases is by physical examination, blood test, x-rays and ultrasound. Sometimes a biopsy of the liver is needed to make a diagnosis.
Treatment of liver disease depends on its cause. If the cause is a bacterial infection such as Leptospirosis then an antibiotic will be needed. If the problem is a congenital shunt, then surgery is needed. If the liver was damaged by trauma, then hospitalization and rest may be required.
Regardless of the cause there are some dietary measures and supplements that are always helpful to support the liver while it recovers. S- Adenosyl or SAMe,as it is called, is a natural supplement frequently prescribed for liver disease. Herbs such as Burdock and Milk Thistle are frequently used. Milk Thistle is a great herb which helps detoxify the liver and stimulates the production of new liver cells. It is also a powerful anti-oxidant. Vitamin E and Vitamin K are also helpful in the treatment of liver disease. Dietary therapy is also extremely important and a homemade balanced diet ( raw or cooked) is often key to recovery.