Hepatic Cirrhosis in Dogs

Hepatic cirrhosis in dogs is not usually a disease in and of itself. Rather, the term more often refers to the liver damage caused by liver disease. Dogs in the late stages of liver disease, or who have suffered liver damage due to other causes, are considered to have hepatic cirrhosis. Read on to learn more.

Causes of Cirrhosis in Dogs

Hepatic cirrhosis in dogs occurs when dogs suffer liver damage. There can be a number of causes for such damage. Causes of canine cirrhosis can include:

  • Bacterial or viral infection that affects the liver, such as leptospirosis or infectious canine hepatitis
  • Exposure to certain toxins
  • Use of certain prescription drugs

Sometimes, dogs develop liver disease for no apparent reason. This type of liver disease is known as idiopathic chronic hepatitis, and vets don't understand what causes it. Eventually, it can damage the liver badly enough to cause hepatic cirrhosis.

Often, by the time dogs develop cirrhosis, the liver has become so damaged that the underlying cause can be difficult to determine. That's why your vet might give your dog a diagnosis of hepatic cirrhosis, even though it isn't a distinct disease. The diagnosis of cirrhosis can simply mean that your dog's liver is badly damaged, for whatever reason, and is losing its ability to function. Hepatic cirrhosis usually causes scar tissue to form in the liver, and it cannot be reversed.

Symptoms of Liver Cirrhosis in Dogs

The symptoms of canine hepatic cirrhosis are similar to those of liver disease. Cirrhosis can cause your dog's skin and eyes to take on a yellow cast, a condition known as jaundice. Your dog may experience lowered appetite, accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting. Because the damage to your dog's liver prevents his body from taking full advantage of the nutrients in his food, he could seem depressed, listless, weak and generally lacking in energy.

Dogs with hepatic cirrhosis often produce stool and urine that's the wrong color, because their livers are no longer efficiently removing toxins from their bodies. Urine may take on an unusually orange hue, and stool may seem pale or grayish. 

Hepatic cirrhosis in dogs can also cause fluid build-up in the abdominal cavity. This can cause your dog's belly to seem swollen and bloated. 

Diagnosing and Treating Hepatic Cirrhosis in Dogs

Your vet may need to perform a number of tests, including tissue biopsy of the liver, to diagnose hepatic cirrhosis. Blood tests can help your vet evaluate the extent of the damage to your dog's liver. Ultrasounds, urinalysis, and other tests might be necessary.

Once your dog's liver disease has progressed to the stage of hepatic cirrhosis, there is little vets can do to correct the condition. Even if your vet knows what caused the liver damage, treating the cause won't reverse the damage to your dog's liver. Supportive therapy can help extend your dog's life, and improve his quality of life. Dietary changes, nutritional supplements, and drugs can help support your dog's liver function, and help his body cope with the damage.

Hepatic cirrhosis is, sadly, fatal. However, many dogs enjoy a high quality of life for quite some time after diagnosis. Some may even live for up to two years after diagnosis.