Chronic Liver Disease in Dogs

Chronic liver disease in dogs typically occurs when the liver suffers damage, often due to infection or exposure to toxins. Vets don't have a specific treatment for chronic liver disease in dogs. Treatment may vary depending on your dog's individual condition. Read on to learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of chronic liver disease in dogs.

Causes of Canine Liver Disease

Liver disease in dogs can occur for a number of reasons. Bacterial and viral infections of the liver or other body organs can damage your dog's liver tissue, leading to reduced liver function. Some breeds are more prone to liver disease than others, including Terriers and Cocker Spaniels. Inbreeding can contribute to liver damage in dogs.

Other causes of canine liver disease include:

  • Exposure to toxins, including dog food additives, pesticides and certain prescription drugs
  • Injury to the liver
  • Malnutrition
  • Excessive use of vaccinations
  • Accumulation of copper in the liver, caused by copper storage disease

Often, if liver disease is caught and treated early enough, the damage to your dog's liver can be reversed. If not, damage to the liver can become permanent, and chronic liver disease can occur. Your dog's liver can continue to function even if up to 70% of his liver tissue is damaged; more than that, and liver failure may occur.

Symptoms of Chronic Liver Disease in Dogs

The initial symptoms of canine liver disease are often vague. They usually include diarrhea and vomiting. Lowered appetite and weight loss may occur. Your dog may display excessive thirst, and begin urinating more often.

As liver disease progresses, scar tissue forms in the liver, leading to a condition known as cirrhosis, or chronic liver disease. Once cirrhosis has set in, liver damage cannot be reversed. Your dog could experience liver failure if more than 70% of his liver becomes scarred.

Dogs with chronic liver disease often retain fluids, and may develop swelling int he abdomen. The abdomen could be painful if the liver is inflamed. Dogs with chronic liver disease often develop jaundice, a condition in which the whites of the eyes, the membranes of the mouth, and the skin take on a yellowish tint. Your dog may also appear depressed and listless, he may pace or circle restlessly, and he may begin to bleed internally. 

Treating Chronic Liver Disease in Dogs

Your dog's treatment plan will depend on his individual condition. Your vet may prescribe steroid medications to help reduce inflammation in the liver; antibiotics and other drugs may be needed to treat infection. If your dog is retaining fluids, diuretic drugs can help. Dogs affected by copper storage disease may need drugs such as zinc acetate to help eliminate copper from the liver.

Dietary changes are generally in order to help support liver function in dogs with chronic liver disease. Your vet will make specific recommendations, depending on the extent and severity of your dog's liver damage, as well as its causes. Nutritional supplements can also help support your dog's liver function.

While chronic liver disease can shorten your dog's lifespan, appropriate treatment and supportive care can ensure that he continues to enjoy a high quality of life for years after diagnosis.