Acute Liver Failure in Dogs

Acute liver failure in dogs is characterized by a rapid loss of more than 70 percent of the liver's function due to hepatic necrosis or sudden death of liver tissue. The liver is one of the major organs and plays a vital part in the healthy functioning of your pet.

Acute liver failure can adversely affect various processes in your pet such as digestion, metabolism, excretion and hormone balance. The liver is also the only organ in your pet's body that can, if given time and the proper essential nutrients, regenerate itself, even when the damage to liver functions is more than 70 percent.

Symptoms of Acute Liver Failure in Dogs:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Blood in the feces
  • Brain disease caused by liver failure
  • Jaundice
  • Necrosis of the liver and bile duct cells
  • Damage of the renal tubules 
  • Failure of the blood to clot

Causes of Acute Liver Failure in Dogs

Exposure to toxins or infectious agents can cause acute liver failure in dogs, as can an inability to breathe and the ingestion of hepatotoxic drugs or chemicals, such as the painkiller Rimadyl. Hepatotoxic drugs or chemicals are those that are responsible for causing damage to liver tissue. Other causes of acute liver failure in dogs are an impaired flow of fluids into the liver and surrounding tissues, and excessive exposure to heat.

Extensive metabolic disorders in the synthesis of proteins such as albumin, transport protein, procoagulant and anticoagulant protein factors can also cause acute liver failure. Impaired glucose absorption is another causative factor of acute liver failure in pets. These factors can cause the death of liver tissue and result in impaired liver function and loss of liver enzymes, ultimately leading to complete organ failure.

Diagnosis of Acute Liver Failure in Dogs

A physical examination, an evaluation of the dog's medical history and other tests such as a full blood panel test, urinalysis, an ultrasound and tissue biopsy can help in the diagnosis of acute liver failure. Anemia, low blood sugar, high production of liver enzymes, liver enzymes in the blood, impairment of protein synthesis and the presence of bilirubin and ammonium urate crystals in the urine are indicative of liver failure.

Treatment of Acute Liver Failure in Dogs

Treatment of acute liver failure depends on the severity of the condition. In mild cases, dietary adjustments that provide essential vitamins, minerals and fats can help the liver to recover. The preservatives, chemicals and additives present in commercial dog foods are causative factors of liver disease. These should be eliminated from the pet's diet.

In severe cases, it's vital to hospitalize the pet because supplementation of fluids, electrolytes and oxygen are essential during treatment. The pet should also be restrained from too much activity in order to allow the liver to regenerate. A normal protein diet with supplements of vitamins E and K is advisable, along with medications such as antioxidants, coagulopathy drugs, hepatoprotectants and drugs for hepatic encephalopathy.

Vaccination against infectious canine hepatitis virus can help prevent acute liver failure, as can the avoidance of drugs containing hepatotoxins. Acute liver failure is fatal to dogs and can cause death within 24 hours if left untreated. A visit to the vet at the earliest is advisable if you observe any symptoms of liver failure in your pet.