Liver Cirrhosis in Dogs

Liver cirrhosis in dogs refers to the damage done to the liver by disease or poison, rather than to any disease of the liver in itself. Canine cirrhosis can have a number of causes, and can severely damage liver function. Here's what you should know about liver cirrhosis in dogs.

Causes of Liver Cirrhosis in Dogs

Hepatitis is one of the primary causes of liver disease in dogs. There are three types of hepatitis that can affect dogs. They are:

  • Copper storage disease hepatitis
  • Chronic idiopathic hepatitis
  • Infectious viral hepatitis

Copper storage disease hepatitis, or hepatotoxicosis, is a condition in which the liver fails to process copper adequately. Copper storage disease leads to liver damage when excess amounts of copper build up in the liver. Copper can begin to accumulate in the liver due to abnormalities in the way the liver secretes copper into the dog's bile, or due to abnormalities in the way copper binds to proteins in the dog's liver. Copper storage disease is an inherited condition common to breeds including the Doberman Pinscher, Skye Terrier and West Highland White Terrier.

Vets don't know what causes chronic idiopathic hepatitis. Vaccines are available to prevent infectious viral hepatitis.

Other causes of liver cirrhosis in dogs include cancer, anemia and exposure to toxins. Bacterial, viral or fungal infection can cause liver damage, as can heart disease and pancreatitis. Long term use of some prescription medications, such as corticosteroids, can cause liver cirrhosis in dogs. Congenital deformities of the liver or the area surrounding the liver can also cause damage.

Symptoms of Liver Cirrhosis in Dogs

The symptoms of liver cirrhosis may vary depending on the cause of the cirrhosis. When liver damage occurs, your dog will experience the following symptoms, in addition to any symptoms associated with an underlying illness:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Swelling and tenderness of the abdomen
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Loss of appetite

Diagnosing the Cause of Liver Cirrhosis

Your vet will need a complete medical history and a thorough physical exam in order to diagnose the cause of your dog's liver damage. Blood tests, urinalysis, X-rays, ultrasounds and other diagnostic tests may be in order.

Treating Liver Cirrhosis in Dogs

Treatment for canine liver damage will vary depending on the underlying cause of the liver damage. In the case of copper storage disease, one of the most common causes of liver damage, treatment will involved administering copper binding agents to remove excess copper from the liver. Dogs with copper storage disease will also need to undergo dietary changes and may need nutritional supplements to help support liver function. Copper storage disease continues to progress even when treated, but with treatment your dog could enjoy many more years of life.

Treating the underlying cause of cirrhosis can, in most cases, stop the progression of damage. No matter what the cause of your dog's cirrhosis, he'll need to make dietary changes and could benefit from supplements that support liver function. Your dog can't regain the liver function he's lost, but treatment can help him retain enough liver function to live a normal life.