What Causes Elevated Liver Levels in Dogs?

Elevated liver levels in dogs are indicative of health problems that should be resolved at the earliest, under the guidance of the vet. This is because the dog’s liver is crucial to your pet’s continued good health as it’s responsible for the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Besides this, the liver aids in detoxifying the body and assists in the digestive process by producing bile.

Elevated Liver Levels

The liver produces enzymes to carry out different functions. Some of the enzymes that get elevated in pets include alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and serum glutamic pyruvic transaminase. If the dog has certain health problems or infections, the liver cells die and the amount of enzymes that are released increase by as much as four to five times the normal level.

This can also cause disorders that aren’t associated with the liver such as heart failure and gastrointestinal tract inflammation.

Symptoms of Elevated Liver Enzymes:

  • Increased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Anemia
  • Jaundice 
  • Blood in the stool

Causes of Elevated Liver Enzymes

There are several diseases or conditions that can cause elevated liver enzymes. These diseases may be liver diseases or diseases not associated with the liver such as jaundice, pancreatitis, Cushing’s disease, infectious hepatitis, diabetes, hypothyroidism and heartworm infection. Other causes of elevated liver enzymes include metabolic disorders such as obesity and medications like corticosteroids.


Jaundice is a condition in which the liver can’t remove a substance known as bilirubin. The accumulation of bilirubin is toxic in nature and is accompanied by elevated liver enzymes.


Pancreatitis causes increased levels of Gamma glutamyltransferase (GGT) in the liver. GGT is generally concentrated in the kidneys and pancreas, and increased levels in the liver indicate an obstruction in the bile duct.

Cushing’s disease

Cushing’s disease causes an increase in the level of hormones produced by the adrenal gland. The liver compensates for the increased level of these hormones by balancing the salt levels. This results in an increase in alkaline phosphatase in the liver.

Infectious Hepatitis

A dog can contract infectious herpes through contact with infected animals and the parasite can also attack the liver resulting in elevated levels of enzymes.

Other Metabolic Diseases

Obesity that results in the deposition of fat, diabetes that results in the accumulation of sugar in the blood and hypothyroidism that affects the metabolism of the affected pet all result in elevated levels of enzymes in the liver.

Other Diseases

Diseases such as liver cancer, liver shunts and heart attacks can all cause raised levels of enzymes in the liver.


Dogs treated with corticosteroids, anticonvulsants and glucosteroids for diseases such as epilepsy show elevated enzymes levels in the liver.

If your pet has raised enzyme levels in the liver that are more than 5 times the normal levels, he should be treated as prescribed by the vet and put on a diet that’s low in proteins and fats. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for complete recovery.