Stages of Cirrhosis in Dogs

When pet owners refer to the stages of cirrhosis that a dog experiencing liver damage will go through, they are generally referring more specifically to liver disease as a whole. In actuality, cirrhosis is one of the several stages of broad liver disease in pets, and there are generally not considered to be multiple stages of cirrhosis. That being said, cirrhosis can differ in its overall severity and may be distinct from patient to patient and even throughout a certain dog's bout with liver disease. In either case, cirrhosis is a late stage of liver disease and generally indicates a dog that is close to total liver failure.

First Stage Cirrhosis

The first stage of liver disease leading to cirrhosis is a general inflammation of the liver. This can occur quickly or, more likely, will develop over many years and through a gradual progression. The inflammation of the liver can come about for a variety of reasons, but it's typically a response to one of several different potential harms that can befall the liver, including infection or obstruction of some kind. The inflammation is characteristic of the liver trying to heal itself through natural processes. Throughout this first part of the process of cirrhosis, your pet will show no visible signs of pain or discomfort, and blood tests will be normal.

Second Stage Cirrhosis

The second stage of liver disease leading to cirrhosis is called fibrosis. Fibrosis occurs when prolonged inflammation of the liver results in the building up of scar tissue in the liver. This scar tissue comes to replace the healthy liver tissue, which subsequently results in constriction of blood flow through the liver. As this occurs, the liver will not be able to detoxify the blood as well as it typically does, and results will begin to show in blood tests. Your pet will still likely not experience any dramatic symptoms, however, as outward symptoms of liver disease and cirrhosis are generally quite late to show.

Third Stage Cirrhosis

The third stage of liver disease is cirrhosis itself. In cirrhosis, a critical portion of the liver has been converted to scar tissue such that the liver will not be able to heal itself through healthy processes. This typically occurs when as much as 75 percent of the liver has been fully damaged. Only now will your pet start showing symptoms of liver disease, including the following:

  • Jaundice
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Stomach distension
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Loss of appetite and weight

Once your pet reaches cirrhosis, you and your vet can only hope to preserve the remaining tissue that is functional in the liver and help to maintain your pet's condition at the level that it's at.

Fourth Stage Cirrhosis

The fourth and final stage of liver disease is liver failure. If left untreated, this condition is almost always immediately fatal. Any pet going through liver failure should be treated by an emergency veterinarian as quickly as possible for immediate treatment.