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10 Signs Your Dog's Liver is in Trouble

10 Signs Your Dog's Liver is in Trouble

Critter Culture Staff



The liver plays a critical role in the body; if it's compromised, the results can be devastating and leave a dog vulnerable.

There are multiple diseases associated with the detoxifying liver. Herpesvirus, for example, can be lethal for puppies. Healthcare professionals sometimes make mistakes like injecting a Bordetella vaccine instead of squirting up the nose—this can create a liver issue.



Dog digging in garden ChristopherBernard/ Getty Images

The following outdoor toxins can lead to liver damage or even death:

  • Bulbs like tulips and daffodils
  • Amanita mushrooms
  • Cycads/sago palms
  • Fungicides
  • Pesticides
  • Mold-related toxins
  • Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae

Heavy metals and something seemingly harmless like xylitol within the household can also cause considerable harm. If your dog ingests a poison, contact your vet immediately—a healthcare professional may be able to remove or neutralize the poison.



Owner giving medicine in a pill to his sick dog. Medicine and vitamins for pets. Daria Kulkova/ Getty Images

The liver processes drugs, so it's easy to see how drugs can take a toll, especially with incorrect doses or use over an extended period. A vet will prescribe specific medications if the benefits outweigh the risks and will often check your dog's liver function in these cases.

Meds like anticonvulsants have asterisks next to them, as do some antibiotics and prednisone. Keep your medicine cabinets well out of the way of your fur baby to prevent accidental overdoses. Acetaminophen, for example, can cause liver damage if too much is consumed.


Infectious diseases

Veterinarian Giving Bulldog A Shot LWA/ Getty Images

Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites can cause liver infections. Leptospirosis (bacterial) and canine hepatitis (viral) are significant concerns, but vaccination can prevent them. The former can infect humans.

Bacterial infections elsewhere in a dog's system can also travel to the liver and cause dysfunction. Then there's histoplasmosis, a fungal infection, and toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease, both of which have a poor outlook, particularly without treatment.


Genetic risks

Cute german pinscher breed dog lay on bed and fall asleep with sleepy eyes closing. sommersby/ Getty Images

Some dogs fare badly in the genetic lottery—breeds such as Yorkshire terriers, mini schnauzers, and mini poodles are prone to inheriting risks for liver disease. The congenital disability known as portal systemic shunt (PSS) complicates blood detoxification, leading to a host of problems, including possible seizures.

Some breeds, such as Labradors, Doberman pinschers, and Bedlington terriers, may be more likely to struggle with processing copper, which negatively affects the liver.



Vet visiting with dog Jack Russell terrier. Doctors desk from the top. X-ray consultation. Fly_dragonfly/ Getty Images

Parasites and toxins can cause tumors. Benign or malignant tumors that begin in the liver aren't as common as those originating elsewhere in the body.

These so-called primary tumors are more likely in senior dogs and can spread beyond the liver too. Surgery is feasible if the cancer is limited to one liver globe, but tumors on multiple lobes have less promising outcomes.


Symptoms of liver disease

Sick young puppy with ice bag on head Carol Yepes/ Getty Images

Dogs with advanced liver disease will display jaundice or yellow-tinged skin and eyes and fluid build-up in the abdomen area. They may have a fever, or bruised skin, press their heads against surfaces in an unusual manner, or exhibit cognitive decline.

These symptoms aren't exclusive to liver disease, but vets will test liver function if they notice them. If your dog appears to be much less energetic than usual, has a comparatively poor appetite, and is throwing up or passing loose stools, set up an appointment with your vet as a precautionary measure.


Liver disease tests

Veterinary nurse performing xray of dog in veterinary surgery. Xray image of dog on computer screen showing plastic duck inside Monty Rakusen/ Getty Images

Diagnosing liver disease involves a complete blood count, a urine test, and a serum biochemical profile. X-rays and ultrasound scans provide insight into whether the liver is enlarged or abnormal, and a biopsy may be necessary.

Vets may use nuclear scintigraphy to confirm a portosystemic shunt. When you notice irregularities in your dog's behavior, book an appointment—early diagnosis and treatment are vital.


Optimal nutrition for liver disease

A purebred golden retriever dog is sitting indoors, in front of it is a bowl of raw, healthy food. FatCamera/ Getty Images

Your canine bestie's diet will have to change to support liver regeneration, reduce further damage, and maintain cognitive function. Your vet will guide you on the best nutrition plan for your dog, but foods will generally have less protein, but they will be more digestible.

Liver supplements like silymarin may be in the mix in the short term or for the foreseeable future.


Liver disease treatment

Close up of white Labrador dog at vet clinic with female owner petting him, SeventyFour/ Getty Images

Treatment largely depends on what's causing the liver dysfunction. If cancer is the problem, chemotherapy and surgery could form part of a treatment plan.

PSS and gallbladder issues could require surgery too, and infections will necessitate antibiotics and similar meds. Treatment can cost an arm and a leg; insurance will stand you in good stead.


Preventative vaccines

A veterinarian giving a sick German Shepherd a vaccine pyotr021/ Getty Images

Vaccinating your puppy against leptospirosis and canine infectious hepatitis allows you to eliminate two major potential problems related to the liver.

Booster injections in subsequent years reinforce the protection and provide peace of mind. Regardless of lifestyle, immunized dogs are safer dogs, and you won't regret taking the initiative with optional shots.


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