Causes of Liver Failure in Dogs

Liver failure in dogs is a serious condition, being one of the major causes of death in canines. The liver has several major roles in the body: it acts as filter and a storage organ. The blood that enters the liver is cleared of all undigested waste and toxins. Besides filtering blood, the liver stores vitamins A, D, E and K. The liver provides energy reserves by storing glycogen, a substance obtained from extra glucose in the blood and released when the body needs it. The liver also produces substances which are extremely important for the organs, such as albumin. When a dog suffers from liver failure, this means that the liver has lost 70% of its function.

Causes of Liver Failure in Dogs

Since the liver has many complex functions in the body, there are also various causes which might lead to liver failure. Even if the liver regenerates periodically, sometimes it cannot keep up the pace. The most common causes are:

  • High levels of toxic substances or poisons
  • Adverse reactions to medication
  • Treatment for cancer
  • Autoimmune problems
  • Hereditary factors
  • Old age
  • Infectious agents: viruses or bacteria
  • Blood clots
  • Inappropriate diet
  • Deficient hygiene 

If your dog has high levels of poisonous substances in the body, due either to direct poisoning, very strong medication or inappropriate diet, his liver might fail filtering them and might even shut down.

Treatments for cancer are usually extremely aggressive for all internal organs, but they harm the liver the most.

Your dog might also have a genetic predisposition for liver failure, or it might be caused simply because of old age.

Viruses and bacteria are also very common causes of liver disease.

Poor hygiene can also cause liver conditions and even liver failure.

Symptoms of Liver Failure in Dogs

When liver failure occurs, the dog exhibits the following symptoms:

  • Depression and lethargy
  • Partial or total loss of appetite
  • Visible jaundice (yellow pigment typical for liver diseases visible in areas such as the ears, eyes, gums)
  • Drinking and urinating more often
  • Enlarged abdominal cavity
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
  • Coma and seizures

In case of liver disease, the rate of survival is dependant on the amount of liver tissue that has been destroyed. Therefore, taking your dog to the veterinarian from the first symptoms is crucial.

Prevention of Liver Failure in Dogs

Prevention of liver failure in dogs goes hand in hand with knowing the causes.

Even though you cannot fight a hereditary predisposition, you can still take good care of your dog’s diet and environment.

Hygiene factors are very important not only for the liver, but for the dog’s health in general. You can also vaccinate your dog against the most common pathogens causing liver conditions: leptospirosis and canine hepatitis and avoid administering your dog high doses of antibiotics.

Make sure your dog does not come in contact with toxins and poisonous materials.