Autoimmune Liver Disease in Dogs

Autoimmune liver disease in dogs means that the dog's immune system is producing antibodies against his own liver. Some veterinarians argue that this is not a condition per se and that it would be more correct to say that, in dogs suffering from autoimmune diseases, the liver is also affected. However, treating liver malfunctions in your dog as early as possible can save his life, as a damaged liver can cause death.

Common Immune System Mediated Liver Diseases in Dogs

While recently there seems to be scientific proof that there is an autoimmune syndrome which produces antibodies against the liver, there is still debate about the differences between an authentic autoimmune liver disease and conditions of the liver appearing as a result of other autoimmune diseases.

One of the most common autoimmune liver conditions in dogs is the idiopathic chronic active hepatitis. In this case, the causes of hepatitis are not known.

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia is a condition in which red blood cells are destroyed too fast so the body cannot keep up and fails to replace them. This leads to the lack of oxygen in all dog's organs, causing failure of the liver as well.

Autoimmune thyroiditis is a common cause of thyroid disease in dogs and can also affect the liver.

Lupus can cause inflammation of the liver which may leads to liver damage.

Symptoms of Liver Autoimmune Disease

As the liver can perform relatively well until 70% of it is affected, the dog with an autoimmune liver disease will show symptoms only in advanced stages. Still, there are some clinical signs which may appear earlier:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Stress
  • Increased need of water
  • Urinating more often and the urine might become darker in color
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea with or without blood in the stool

There are more general autoimmune disease symptoms which could appear earlier, before the liver is affected:


  • Skin disorders
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Lesion, especially in the nose
  • Seizures
  • Anemia
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Change of gait
  • Unusual body odor

As the symptoms of autoimmune diseases are easy to mistake for those of other ailments, your veterinarian will most probably need to run blood tests, urine and stool analysis or perform biopsy.

Causes of Liver Autoimmune Disease in Dogs

Just as with humans, there are more suppositions than certainties concerning the causes of autoimmune diseases in dogs:

· Vaccines are sometimes blamed to over stimulate the immune system.

· Pollutants or preservatives used in most dog foods.

· Many species might be carrying a genetic factor that leads to autoimmune diseases.

Treatment of Liver Autoimmune Disease in Dogs

Your veterinarian will probably treat the symptoms with steroids or other immunosuppressants in order to deal with the disease. While the symptoms are kept under control with medication, it is also important to strengthen the dog's immune system with changes in your pet's lifestyle:

·A preservative free diet

· Avoid environmental triggers such as chemicals or pollutants

· Keep the dog away from insects and allergens

· Keep the dog in shape with exercise.