Liver Disease in Dogs
The liver is an essential organ in the body of a canine, just like in humans. It performs many functions that help keep the canine body healthy. In fact, a normal liver carries out an estimated 1,500 essential biochemical functions. Liver disease is a leading cause of non-accidental death among dogs, ranking among the top five causes across all age groups and among the top four causes specifically, in older dogs.
In this post you will learn all about the canine liver, how it functions, signs of canine liver disease, how to use nutrition to help support you four legged family member, what foods to feed and supplements to use, and more. Jump to any of these sections:
- Functions of the Canine Liver
- Liver Disease in Dogs
- Causes of Liver Disease in Dogs
- Treating Canine Liver Disease
- Nutrition and the Canine Liver
- Commercial Dog Food For Liver Disease
- Homemade Dog Food For Liver Disease
- Supplements For Dogs With Liver Disease
This guide to the best foods and successful remedies is helpful for both dogs who currently have liver disease as well as presentation of liver disease through nutrition.
Functions of the Canine Liver
The primary function of the canine liver is to process and detoxify substances in the body. It plays a crucial role in metabolizing nutrients, including proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, which are essential for energy production and overall growth.
The liver also helps in storing vitamins, minerals, and glycogen (a form of glucose), which are released into the bloodstream when needed.
The liver produces bile, which is stored in the gallbladder and released into the small intestine to help break down fats during digestion. Bile also aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
The liver plays a vital role in metabolism. It processes nutrients, such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, into usable forms. It also regulates blood sugar levels by storing excess glucose as glycogen and releasing it when needed.
The liver is responsible for filtering and detoxifying harmful substances from the bloodstream. It breaks down toxins, drugs, and waste products and converts them into less harmful forms that can be eliminated from the body. It aids in resisting infections by producing immune factors and filtering bacteria from the blood stream.
The liver manufactures important proteins such as albumin, which is required for blood clotting.
Liver Disease in Dogs
Canine liver disease refers to various conditions that affect the liver in dogs. The liver is an important organ involved in digestion, metabolism, detoxification, and storage of nutrients. When a dog has liver disease, it means there is a disruption in its normal functioning.
Clinical signs and symptoms of canine liver disease can vary but may include:
- Loss of appetite and weight loss.
- Vomiting and diarrhea.
- Increased thirst and urination.
- Jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and eyes.
- Hepatic encephalopathy- neurological signs and changes such as; seizures, disorientation, depression, head pressing, temporary blindness, and personality changes.
- Lethargy and weakness.
- Ascites- visible swelling of abdomen due to the accumulation of fluid.
Causes of Liver Disease in Dogs
Causes of canine liver disease can be diverse and include:
Infections such as viral, bacterial, or parasitic ones can lead to liver disease in dogs. Specifically, leptospirosis, untreated heart worms, and certain molds that grow on corn, have been linked to liver disease.
Toxins or Medications
The overuse of painkillers and other liver damaging medications can lead to liver disease.
Metabolic Disorders or Imbalances
Certain metabolic disorders or imbalances, including those associated diabetes, hyperthyroidism, pancreas functioning, and Cushing’s disease can lead to diseases of the liver.
Genetic or Congenital Conditions
Several types of genetic or congenital conditions can cause or led to liver damage and disease. One of the more common genetic conditions that fall under this category is Copper Storage Disease. This is when excessive amounts of copper accumulate in the liver and can not be removed. While this may happen if a dog is consuming a diet with excessive copper, it is more often a genetic condition.
Trauma or Injury to the Liver
Blunt trauma is the most common cause of injury to the liver. Examples of ways in which a dog’s liver can be injured from trauma include dog fights, falls, vehicular accidents, gunshots.
Treatment of Canine Liver Disease
Treatment of canine liver disease depends on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. It may involve:
- Medications: Depending on the specific cause, medications can be prescribed to manage infections, reduce inflammation, or support liver function. Common medications are Ursodiol and Denamarin
- Dietary changes: A special diet may be recommended to alleviate the workload on the liver and provide necessary nutrients.
- Fluid therapy: Intravenous fluids may be administered to keep the dog hydrated and maintain electrolyte balance.
- Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be required to remove tumors or correct structural abnormalities.
- Supportive care: Additional supportive measures like rest, monitoring, and regular veterinary check-ups are essential for the dog’s recovery.
It’s important to note that liver disease in dogs can be complex, and proper diagnosis and treatment should be done by a veterinarian who can provide specific guidance based on the individual dog’s condition.
Nutrition and How It Affects The Liver
A well-balanced diet is crucial for maintaining a healthy liver and management of hepatobiliary disorders includes correcting and preventing malnutrition, maintaining a metabolic balance required for healing and regeneration, and reducing the need for hepatic “work”. It should include high-quality proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. This helps provide the necessary nutrients for liver function.
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Goal and Guidelines For A Diet For Liver Disease
When a dog has liver disease, it is crucial to provide a diet that supports liver function and helps minimize stress on the liver.
The primary goals for nutritional management in hepatobiliary conditions consist of:
- Maintaining normal metabolic processes- correcting and preventing malnutrition.
- Correct electrolyte disturbances.
- Avoid toxic by-product accumulation.
- Promote hepatocellular repair and regeneration.
- Reduce the need for hepatic “work”.
- Reduce intestinal production and absorption of neurotoxins.
Here are some general guidelines for feeding a dog with liver disease:
- High-quality protein (20% DM): In dogs with chronic hepatitis and/or cirrhosis, restricting protein is often beneficial as it can reduce nitrogen excess. If your dog needs some protein in their diet, it should be of high quality and easily digestible. Options like lean poultry (chicken, turkey), fish (salmon, whitefish), and eggs can be considered. However, the quantity and type of protein should be determined by your vet.
- Controlled fat intake (10-15% DM): Limiting the amount of fat in your dog’s diet is important because the liver may struggle to process fat properly. Opt for low-fat sources of protein and consider reducing or eliminating fatty treats and table scraps.However, do not completely eliminate fat, as dietary fat can be beneficial as they are an importance source of energy and essential fatty acids. In addition they reduce carbohydrate intolerance, have a protein-sparing effect, augment fat-soluble vitamin absorption, and enhance palatability, which is important for dogs that have lost their appetite.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates can be a significant energy source for dogs with liver disease. They also include important fiber (indigestible part of carbohydrates). Fiber helps reduce the availability and production of nitrogenous waste in the GI tract. Fiber also helps to regulate the resorption of water in the the lower digestive tract. These carbohydrates should be cooked and easily digestible.
- Vitamins, Minerals, & Antioxidants: Vitamin deficiencies are common in hepatic patients. This is because these patients often have increased losses due to vomiting and urinary loss, decreased storage and increased requirements. Folate, riboflavin, thiamin, nicotinamide, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, vitamin B12, Vitamin K1, Choline, and Inositol are of particular importance. Antioxidants such as Vitamin E and Vitamin C, as well as the minerals Selenium, Zinc, and Iron also should be considered as they are often affected by liver disease. Always follow your vet’s advice regarding supplementation.
- Herbal Supplements: Certain herbs are known for their detoxifying and supporting effects on the liver. A few common herbs to consider adding to your dog’s diet if they have liver disease are; Milk Thistle, Dandelion Root, and Ginkgo Biloba. More information below on these herbal supplements.
- Small, frequent meals: Instead of feeding large meals, divide your dog’s daily food into several smaller portions throughout the day. This approach helps reduce the stress on the liver and aids digestion. Even a meal at bedtime can be appropriate and helpful for a dog with liver disease.
- Water: Ensure that your dog has access to fresh, clean water at all times. Proper hydration is essential for liver health and overall well-being.
Commercial Diets For Dogs With Liver Disease
Many commercial food manufacturers have formulas specifically designed to support dogs with liver disease. Look for foods labeled “Hepatic Support”. Below are my top recommendations for commercial dog foods for supporting the liver. The list includes both prescription as well as non-prescription options.
Homemade Diets For Dogs With Liver Disease
Using the guidelines above we can look deeper into how to prepare a homemade diet for a dog with liver disease. We will look further into what foods to include and what vitamins and minerals are important to supporting the canine liver.
Foods Sources To Include in a Diet For Dog’s with Liver Disease
|Fats & Oils
|Wheat Germ Oil
|Liver (lamb or
|Fish Liver Oil
|Liver Fat Extract
|Defatted Wheat Germ
|Buckwheat Leaf Juice & Seed
|Tissue & Cellular Extracts
Vitamins and Minerals:
Several vitamins and minerals support the hepatic system. Some important ones include:
- B vitamins: B vitamins, including B12, folate, and riboflavin, are essential for liver function. They assist in energy metabolism and support the liver’s metabolic function including helping maintain the liver’s ability to process nutrients.
- Vitamin K: This vitamin is crucial for blood clotting, and a deficiency can affect the liver’s ability to produce necessary clotting factors.
- Vitamin E: This vitamin acts as an antioxidant, protecting liver cells from damage caused by free radicals.
- Zinc: It plays a role in liver regeneration and supports immune function. This mineral supports liver function and aids in the metabolism of nutrients. It also plays a role in the synthesis of proteins and enzymes.
- Selenium: Selenium is an important antioxidant that helps protect liver cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals and supports the immune system.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These healthy fats have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce inflammation in the liver.
Supplements for Dogs With Liver Disease
The following are supplements to add to your pet’s meal regardless if you are feeding a homemade diet for liver support or a commercial diet. It is always recommended to check with your veterinarian or a canine nutritionist when altering your dog’s diet, particularly when you have a dog with a health issue.
Milk thistle is a well known in traditional herbal medicine for providing support to the liver. It contains silibinin and silymarin, both of which have powerful antioxidant properties. It is the most popular herbal supplement to to promote liver health.
This supplement largely consists of Milk Thistle extract (100 mg 80% Silymarin and 30% Silybinin) to support the liver but unlike other milk thistle supplements it also contains other essential vitamins and minerals that support the liver including; Inositol (20 mg), Choline (20 mg), DL-Methionine (20 mg), Pantothenic Acid (10 mg), Vitamin B-1 (5 mg), Vitamin B-2 (5 mg), Vitamin B-6 (5 mg), Alpha Lipoic Acid (5 mg), Vitamin B-12 (10 mcg).
SAMe, short for S-adenosyl-L-methionine, is a naturally-occurring compound found in the body that largely plays a roll in the liver function. It turns into the most vital antioxidant substance for the liver, glutathione. It is also believed to help resolve blocked bile flow. SAMe also plays a leading role in liver regeneration. Read this Peer Reviewed Article from The National Library of Medicine.
Denamarin is the most commonly recommended by veterinarians liver supplement for dogs and cats. It contains SAMe as well as Silybin (Milk Thistle).
A traditional liver tonic, dandelion root helps protect the liver from oxidative stress. It is also known to stimulate bile production and flow, aiding in the digestion of fats and the elimination of toxins and waste production from the liver.
This herbal remedy can provide natural stabilizing support for the liver, digestion, heart disease, blood sugar maintenance, and the immune system in your dog. Dandelion Root helps canines to metabolize potentially harmful chemicals. Dandelion Root supports the production of liver enzymes that metabolize toxins in the body so they can be excreted. The herbal formula also promotes normal blood pressure, good circulation, and healthy insulin levels.
Best All-In-One Whole Food Canine Liver Support Supplement
My number one recommended supplement brand remains to be Standard Process, and their Canine Hepatic Support is no different. What sets the Standard Process brand apart from other canine supplements is using whole food sources and combing them with organs and glandular which are part of the nutritional needs of omnivores.
Canine Hepatic Support is formulated to support dogs’ liver metabolism & hepatic circulation and is recommended for canine patients with increased metabolic demand.
It focus on holistic ways to increase bile production and flow as well as increase hepatic immune function.
It includes whole food sources that support the liver including PMG Extracts.
Remember, these guidelines are general, and the specific dietary requirements for your dog may vary based on their condition and severity of liver disease as well as the dog’s age, breed, and overall health and existing conditions. It’s crucial to consult with your veterinarian or a canine nutritionist for a personalized diet plan tailored to your dog’s needs. Regular monitoring and follow-up visits with your vet are important to assess your dog’s progress and make any necessary adjustments to the diet.
For more information, please visit our Homemade Dog Food Recipes, which include recipes to support the liver, as well as nutritional support for Dog Allergies, Canine Diabetes, Canine Pancreatitis, Canine Kidney Disease, Cushing’s disease. Or Schedule A Consultation with a Canine Nutritionist.