Symptoms of Liver Damage in Dogs

Liver damage can be serious and may be fatal, so identifying symptoms of liver damage can be crucial in saving the dog. The liver is a vital organ and if it is more than 80% damaged, the dog will die. If caught early, a damaged liver may be reversible and the liver may function properly even if 60% of it is damaged.

Canine Liver

The canine liver performs several functions including:

  • The removal of waste materials and toxins from the blood
  • Fat absorption, done by the bile, which is secreted by the liver
  • Regulating the chemicals in the dog's body
  • Food digestion, by producing essential enzymes
  • Blood clotting
  • Secretion of hormones

The liver may be damaged due to different toxic materials (i.e., prescription drugs) or the continuous exposure to toxic materials. There may be also other underlying conditions that can lead to liver damage, such as hepatic lipidosis or tumors. The liver may function even if more than 60% of it is damaged. However, if more than 60% of the liver is damaged and no treatment is administered, the damage can advance and may be fatal.

Symptoms of Liver Damage

A dog with liver damage may present different symptoms. The symptoms may be milder if the liver is only damaged in a lower percentage. If you notice any of the symptoms below, you should notify the vet:

  • Jaundice, a clear sign that the dog has liver problems. You will notice that the dog's eyes are yellow.
  • Yellow mucous membranes
  • Increased thirst and urination, caused by a high concentration of toxins in the body
  • Appetite loss
  • Dehydration
  • Poor skin condition, caused by the hormonal imbalance
  • Swollen abdomen, as the liver will be inflamed. When palpating the abdomen, the dog will whine or become aggressive, due to the pain caused by the pressure.
  • Chronic constipation or liquid feces, due to the lack of the essential enzymes that help the digestion
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Whining or hiding behavior
  • Halitosis or bad breath
  • Seizures
  • Coma

The dog may only display a few of these symptoms, depending on the cause and the severity of the liver damage.

Liver Damage Tests

The symptoms of liver damage are not always clear, and the dog needs a definitive diagnosis. If the liver damage is detected early, it may be reversible, as the liver has the capacity to regenerate under a suitable regimen. Blood tests, urine analysis or x-rays may be performed for a clear diagnosis.

Treatment for Liver Damage

Liver damage may be reversible if only a small percentage of the liver is affected, and provided the dog doesn't have liver cancer. A special diet is recommended to allow the liver to recover. The diet should be poor in fats and toxins. The dog may also receive some IV fluids and the toxins may be filtered from the blood, to take some workload off the liver.