The liver is one of the most important organs for dogs. It plays an absolutely critical role in multiple functions in your dog’s body. Approximately 1,500 functions are performed by the liver so if the liver fails, it could be a domino effect of complications.
There are many signs and symptoms that you can watch out for in your dog to make sure that they aren’t suffering from possible liver disease. First, it’s important to know what exactly the liver does and what kind of things to look out for.
What Does The Liver Do?
When your dog’s liver is healthy, it does numerous things, such as:
- Making nutrients and controlling the release of nutrients into the body
- Producing plasma proteins and blood clotting factors
- Storing your dog’s vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, D, K, and B12 and iron and copper when needed
- Breaking down drugs or any medications that your dog is currently taking
- Excreting toxic substances from the body that your dog may have accidentally ingested
These are just a few of the hundreds of functions that the liver helps with. Breaking down drugs and excreting toxic substances from the body specifically are some of the most important functions that the liver helps with.
The liver allows dogs to protect themselves against any harmful toxins that may come into their bodies. Alongside digestion and blood clotting, the liver helps remove toxins from your dog’s system to ensure his body can perform all normal functions.
Early Signs of Liver Disease in Dogs
Unfortunately, it’s easy to miss some symptoms of liver disease. Many dog owners brush over some of these symptoms or confuse them for symptoms of other problems since they’re so similar to other symptoms. It’s good to know these early symptoms though, in order to prevent any long-term liver problems. Some liver problems come with age, while others could be genetic.
There are a few symptoms that you can watch out for in your dog such as:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite or decrease in appetite
- Increased thirst
- Unbalanced walk
- Increased need to pee
- Sudden confusion
- Yellowish eyes, tongues, or gums
- Weakness or fatigue
- Blood in his pee or poop
- Sinus issues
- Dark urine
- Ligation issues
- Dry, brittle, or infected nails
- Eye discharge
- Pinkish eyes
- Pancreas issues
- Fatty foods
- Long-term use of painkillers
- Some plants and herbs, such as ragwort, certain mushrooms, and blue-green algae
Older dogs are more likely to suffer from kidney problems and the symptoms listed above, but regardless, it’s important to make sure your dog doesn’t have any of these symptoms, even if he isn’t a senior.
What Happens If You Don’t Spot the Symptoms Early Enough?
If not detected early, not only can liver damage result in complications in other parts of the body, but it can also turn into a serious brain condition called hepatic encephalopathy, where your dog can suffer from seizures.
This occurs due to abnormalities and disruptions in the communication between the portal vein and the vein that carries blood back to the heart. If this is abnormal, your dog is at a higher risk for seizures since the communication is lost between the veins.
This specific disease mainly affects smaller dogs, such as Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese, and Miniature Schnauzers. If your dog is one of these, it is even more crucial that you spot liver disease early on in order to prevent hepatic encephalopathy from developing in your furry friend.
Additionally, because kidney disease causes high levels of nitrogen in the blood (since it can’t be regulated), it can cause a high acidic level in your dog’s body called acidosis. This also can make your dog have seizures, as well as a lower body temperature and increased respiratory rates.
Unfortunately, because a lot of the liver’s functions happen behind the scenes inside a dog’s body, it’s very hard to spot signs of liver damage in your dog until it’s too late or some damage has already occurred. By the time owners spot severe signs, it usually means that some damage has already been done. So preventative measures are extremely important.
Liver cancer is also another serious condition that comes from liver damage if not treated early enough. Liver cancer is not common at all in dogs and only makes up 1.5% of cancerous tumors, but it’s still possible for your dog to develop cancer if you don’t spot the signs of liver damage early enough.
The sooner you spot any red flags, the sooner and more preventable all kinds of liver damage can be. Granted, every case is unique, but the odds are more in your dog’s favor if spotted early on.
What Toxins Damage Your Dog’s Liver?
Many dog owners are unaware that everyday items or dog medications that appear normal might actually be causing liver damage. The more often a dog is exposed to these things, the more work the liver has to do to protect itself, and therefore, the liver is overworked and has a higher chance of being damaged.
Dog owners think they are helping out their dog, but sometimes, dogs are exposed through toxins that can cause liver damage, such as:
- Heartworm medication
- Flea and tick meds
- Chemical cleaners
- Food additives
- Mycotoxins from grain and peanut products
- Heavy metals
- Autoimmune diseases
Some of these are essential in keeping our dogs healthy, but ironically enough, they may also be causing the liver damage commonly seen in dogs.
This should not be a reason to stop treating your dog’s heartworms or getting him vaccinated. Your dog’s overall health is still important but make sure to talk to your vet to make sure that the medications aren’t affecting the liver too much to the point where it’s causing liver damage. Most of the time, liver damage occurs if dogs are exposed to these toxins long-term or consistently throughout their lives, so if exposed to these toxins in moderation, your dog should be fine.
The problem with liver damage is that often dog owners are in disbelief that these very medications you think are helping your dogs are actually part of the reason why your dogs might be developing liver disease.
How to Prevent Liver Disease in Dogs
It’s hard to tell whether your dog actually has liver disease or if the symptoms he has are related to something else. Because the early signs of liver disease vary so much and could be anything, if your dog stays away from toxins, has a healthy diet, and doesn’t take medications, it is unlikely he is suffering from any type of liver damage.
Thinking that way though is sometimes part of the problem. You don’t want to wait until liver damage has already occurred, so it’s best to take early action, even before you notice any symptoms.
The best way to prevent liver damage from happening is to never even letting the early signs and symptoms happen in the first place. There are multiple ways to keep your dog’s liver healthy. If you take extremely early preventative measures, you can help reduce your dog’s risk of developing liver disease.