Liver Failure in Dogs: A Helpful Guide

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Liver disease and liver failure in dogs have similar signs, but liver failure occurs when liver disease is at an acute stage. Because the liver is meant to cleanse and detoxify the blood, when the organ fails to perform correctly, it can cause several systemic problems with digestion and metabolism.

Acute liver failure in dogs may be the result of poisoning, infection, or some other kind of liver-related illness. Chronic inflammation in dogs can cause damage to the liver over time. This spectrum of causes of liver failure means it can happen at any stage of life. Sometimes symptoms aren’t detected until it’s reached a more progressed stage. Although the liver can regenerate and build new, healthy cells, when there’s too much dead tissue, it can cause scarring.

While liver failure can’t be cured or reversed, medication is often prescribed to help dogs deal with pain or other symptoms. A change in diet can also alleviate stress on the liver and reduce the occurrence of symptoms. If your dog is experiencing symptoms of liver failure, speak with your veterinarian about treatment options. You’ll want your dog to be as comfortable and pain-free as possible.

This guide will outline symptoms of liver failure in dogs and discuss causes, diagnosis, and treatment as well. Liver failure isn’t necessarily a condition you can prepare for, but you can look out for signs to help address the problem as soon as it’s detected. The more information you can learn about the health of your pet, the better equipped you’ll feel caring for him.

Symptoms of Liver Failure in Dogs

When your dog is showing signs of liver disease or liver failure, it’s important to make an appointment with your veterinarian right away. Limited or delayed treatment can affect other important organs like the brain. Liver failure requires immediate treatment in order to help preserve the quality of life for your dog.

Symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss. If your dog is vomiting frequently or has bloody stool or urine, an emergency trip to the veterinarian is typically required. Additionally, if your pet seems disoriented or has developed aggressive behavior, this also could be symptomatic of problems with the liver.

Any of these symptoms can occur seemingly out of nowhere and develop quickly. Since dogs can’t communicate through words, you must be extra aware of their actions and behaviors to detect when there’s a problem. Under these circumstances, it’s better to get your dog checked out sooner rather than later. In some cases, liver disease may begin slowly and turn into liver failure if not properly treated.

These symptoms could also be indicators of other problems in addition to or instead of liver failure. Speaking with a veterinarian will help you receive a more accurate diagnosis, so the treatment that follows will be effective for the condition your dog actually has. For example, although vomiting is a severe reaction to something that isn’t agreeing with your dog, it doesn’t automatically mean liver failure.

You’ll want to track your dog’s symptoms and write down any contextual information about changes in your dog’s physical presence or behavior leading up to the symptoms. The more details you can provide at the time of your dog’s veterinary assessment, the more helpful it will be.

Causes of Liver Failure in Dogs

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Immediate causes of liver failure are most commonly associated with your dog being accidentally poisoned by antifreeze, herbicides, insecticides, or alcohol. Some types of mold and algae may also cause infections that could subsequently lead to liver failure.

Certain breeds like West Highland White Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, and Doberman Pinschers are prone to endocrine disease that may lead to liver failure. Cushing’s disease and diabetes are also more common in West Highland White Terriers, which may lead to cysts on the liver. Consult with your veterinarian about diseases your dog’s breed is predisposed to.

The causes fall on a fairly wide spectrum of severity, which means that liver failure can occur in any dog at any time. Prevention can help keep toxins limited for your dog, which will help maintain your pet’s overall health.

Diagnosis of Liver Failure in Dogs

When you take your dog in to see the veterinarian, it’s best if you’ve kept a record of your dog’s symptoms and timing. For example, if your dog has experienced a decreased appetite, when did it begin? When did you dog last eat and how much did he eat? If he’s been vomiting more frequently, how often does it happen per day? These specifics will help give your veterinarian a more complete picture of how to plan treatment for your dog.

The signs and symptoms of liver failure may be obvious in your dog, but your veterinarian will run blood work and take urine samples to assess the level of liver failure your dog is experiencing. At this time, your dog’s doctor can also check for hormone imbalances, infectious diseases, and any signs of poisoning.

It’s important that your dog’s medical history is up-to-date with any conditions your dog currently suffers from as well as a history of medications and allergies to medications. Through an accurate medical record, the veterinarian will also know which vaccinations your dog has received and any abnormalities or problems with different medicine or supplements previously experienced.

Once your dog has been officially diagnosed, there may be more than one medical condition that applies. And, based on the stage of liver failure your dog is in, the veterinarian will recommend a treatment plan to help minimize symptoms, ease pain, and provide your dog as best quality of life as possible.

Treatment of Liver Failure in Dogs

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When your dog is experiencing liver failure, there is a buildup of toxins that must be eliminated quickly. The veterinarian may schedule an enema or diuretic to clean out the system more quickly. Or, if your dog has been unable to eat as part of the symptoms of liver failure, he may need to have fluids and nutrients given intravenously. When symptoms have started to stabilize, the next phase of treatment likely will include treating the condition.

Medications, such as antibiotics or antifungal medicines, may be the answer to alleviate viral, bacterial, or fungal infections. 

The type of treatment prescribed will be based on your dog’s overall health and current condition. Treatment can take a toll on his body, in addition to already suffering from liver failure. Also, there are certain risks associated with surgery or long-term medication as treatment solutions.

Your veterinarian will run through all options of treatment for your pet and give your projected quality of life associated with the treatment and timeline of recovery. Voice your concerns and feel free to ask questions about each step of the process. When your dog is dealing with liver failure, you’ll want to keep him as comfortable as possible, but also, do all you can to help improve his health.

Dogs with Liver Failure

A liver failure diagnosis requires a change in lifestyle for your pet. It means detoxifying the home as much as possible and providing your pet with clean water as much as possible. The more you can help your dog keep his liver clean, the more you can keep symptoms at bay.

When you receive the diagnosis from your veterinarian, he or she will also recommend the frequency of checkups your dog will need to keep on track with his medication and see if any changes need to be made. In some cases, your dog’s condition is treatable and his recovery can mean an extended life span. But in other cases, the condition is more extreme and the goal may be to keep your dog as comfortable as possible for as long as possible.

It’s a good time to do a full evaluation of the daily toxins that might be affecting your pet’s daily life. By eliminating as many toxins as possible – through food, cleaners, pollution, mold, and more – it is good for your dog, but ultimately, good for your health as well.

Preventing Liver Failure in Dogs

It’d be nice if there was some magic solution that would prevent your dog from ever becoming ill. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. But there are precautionary steps you can take to help reduce the chances of liver disease or liver failure in your dog.

As a pet owner, you’ll want to keep all toxic materials out of reach of your dog. This includes spilled antifreeze, pesticide traps, and other cleaning supplies that are harmful to your pet. It’s tough to keep an eye on your pet every hour of the day, every day of the week. Run a sweep through your home to get rid of these common types of toxins or take time to put them out of reach of your dog who may be all too tempted.

Refrain from giving your pet over-the-counter medication without first consulting your veterinarian. Depending on your pet’s breed and past health history, seemingly harmless medications for pain relief may cause more damage to your pet’s internal organs than anticipated.

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Keep track of your dog’s water intake. Steer him clear of stagnant water sources which could breed algae or mold that can cause infection to spread in his body. Refresh his water dishes daily, especially if you keep one outside, which can be more susceptible to foreign materials.

Also, be mindful of the types of foods that you give your pet and that others feed your pet as well. Make it a rule in your home, especially if there are young kids, that food scraps aren’t automatically given to your dog. Processed foods, fatty foods, and food or drinks that have caffeine or alcohol can be especially harmful to your pet. This should be kept in mind when there are guests in the home as well. Not everyone may understand your dog’s special needs and may inadvertently give your pet something that is ultimately harmful to his liver or worse.

A dog quickly becomes like another member of the family and his health care should be treated as such. While liver failure can never be fully anticipated, symptoms sometimes can. When you’re able to spot the symptoms of liver problems early on, it provides more time for you and your veterinarian to strategize a treatment plan. Each situation is different, which means each plan must be unique to the dog it’s for.

Frequently Asked Questions about Liver Failure in Dogs


What should I do if my dog has ingested antifreeze?

Antifreeze poisoning is something that can lead to liver failure if not treated right away. Call your emergency veterinarian immediately for instruction. You may need to try to induce vomiting or the veterinarian will ask that you bring in your pet right away depending on the symptoms being presented or how much he has ingested. Antifreeze has a slightly sweet flavor for your pet which means he won’t be put off by right away.

How can I make life more comfortable for my dog?

As your dog ages and his health begins to deteriorate, a comfortable space is more important than ever. Keep his activity limited but engagement high. Some days he’ll feel better than others and will want to go for walks and play outside. Schedule regular checkups with the veterinarian to track his health and receive any additional recommendations to care for him.

You can be proactive about your pet’s health by feeding him a healthy diet and scheduling regular exercise and veterinary check-ups. The more information you have about how to care for your pet, the more empowered you’ll feel to make the right decisions when it comes to his health.


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