Liver Disease in Older Dogs

Liver disease in older dogs

It feels like liver disease in older dogs is an illness not talked about as often as kidney disease, or diabetes, am I right?

We know it exists, we know dogs are afflicted with it, but I rarely hear it mentioned, except when my vet told me there was a problem with Red’s liver.

It is most commonly found in older dogs, although dogs of any age can be affected due to genetics or external/environmental factors.

What is the function of the liver?

I have heard the liver referred to as the “workhorse” of the body.  It…

  • Produces bile that aids in digestion
  • Metabolises fats, carbs and proteins
  • Helps blood clotting
  • Breaks down drugs
  • Removes toxins from the body
  • Stores vitamins and minerals

Symptoms of liver disease in dogs

Many of the symptoms of liver disease are the same as for other illnesses, so my best advice is to see your vet whenever you notice in behaviour changes, no matter how slight they may be. 

Have you noticed any of the following?

  • Peeing more
  • Weakness/lethargy
  • Symptoms of liver disease in dogsDrinking more
  • Depression
  • Blood in/ dark coloured pee
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion
  • Apathy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Seizures
  • Enlarged abdomen caused by fluid build-up

Dogs with advanced liver disease often suffer neurological and behavioural changes. This is due to the high levels of toxins in the body that would normally have been removed by a healthy liver.

Signs you may see include:

  • Seizures
  • Wandering
  • Disorientation
  • Aggression
  • Restlessness
  • Pacing
  • Drooling

Skin disorders in dogs with advanced liver disease may also occur.


Possible causes of liver diseaseThere are several possible causes including:

  • Being a common illness in old dogs
  • Infection
  • Medication
  • Trauma
  • Other diseases
  • Genetics
  • Toxins (plants, herbs, pesticides…)
  • Long term use of painkillers
  • Fatty foods

Diagnosing liver disease

Your vet will ask about your dog’s diet, medication he’s taking, any chance he got into something he shouldn’t and changes you may have noticed. Blood tests and urine tests are pretty standard “starting point” diagnostic tools in my vet’s office, and they will probably be in yours as well. The next step will depend on test results.   


As with every condition, the treatment will depend on the diagnosis. How quickly was it caught? How advanced is it?

A change in diet, milk thistle (a supplement known to be good for the liver – in humans as well!), SAMe (naturally produced by the liver and available as a supplement), medications, IV fluids to prevent dehydration, medications to control vomiting and even surgery are all possibles.


Many causes are not preventable, but here are things you can do for your old dog’s overall health and wellbeing…

  • Senior dogs should have twice yearly check ups, unless your vet is monitoring a condition and more frequent trips are needed. Routine blood tests, for example, can detect elevated liver enzymes so prompt action can be taken.
  • Take your dog to the vet as soon as you notice any changes in behaviour, no matter how minor you think they are. Early diagnosis means early treatment, and can prevent liver damage.
  • Avoid feeding fatty foods
  • Provide him with a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet
  • Appropriate exercise
  • Access to fresh, clean drinking water
  • Know the poisonous plants or insects in your area
  • Keep dangerous substances out of your dog’s reach

Liver disease in older dogs – conclusion

Even if a large percentage of a liver is diseased, it has a remarkable way of still working. Depending on the severity of the illness, dogs can live comfortably for years after a diagnosis. As I keep saying, get your dog to the vet when you notice any change in behaviour. Older dogs can go downhill very quickly, so time is of the essence.

I do hope you have found this post on liver disease in older dogs informative.

Has your dog been affected by liver problems? Was it a result of age or environmental factors? Sharing helps others so why not comment in the section below or on my Facebook page.




  1. Jana Rade

    Interesting point that liver disease isn’t nearly as highlighted than things such as kidney disease or diabetes etc. I wonder, though, whether chronic liver disease is really as common? The liver, given its function, can get hit for a number of reasons; on the other hand, it also has the ability to regenerate.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      So many things can affect the liver, it would be interesting to know the incidence of it being the “only” problem. I’ve had animals with kidney disease and diabetes but never just a liver problem. At the moment it was determined Red has lesions on her liver, but she has other issues as well.

      1. Jana Rade

        I know there is idiopathic liver inflammation but idiopathic doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a cause, just that nobody knows what it is. I think that if you really get philosophical about it, NOTHING happens in itself as no organ is an island. The insult can come from the outside, though, whether in a form of infection, toxins etc. Even cancer in the liver is extremely rarely primary.

        1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

          You’re absolutely right Jana. Idiopathic just means nobody knows what the cause is, not that there isn’t one. It’s true no organ is an island, and I know in my dog Red’s case it isn’t always known where or why the problem originated, and as a result of one issue, other organs or systems have been affected.

          1. Ginny Cichowski

            My dog has high liver “numbers” . He had it over the summer was treated with denamarin and steriods and seemed to recover. When he went for his annual examine the numbers are high again. I know it sounds very harsh but the treatment was so very expensive and if isn’t a condition that can be “cured” for better or worse I have decided to manage it myself. He is back on denamarin but my problem is getting him to eat. He will eat nothing but freshly cooked hamburger or chicken. I know he is not getting well rounded nutrition but I am at my wits end. Any suggestions?

          2. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

            Hi Ginny, I understand the concern about cost and you’re not sounding harsh, it’s just reality. The thing is, you can’t possibly treat an ongoing condition like this on your own. How will you be able to monitor how he’s doing without veterinary intervention? How will you deal with dosages and managing pain? Have you spoken to your vet about your financial concerns and if there’s a way to lower the price of treatment? If the medication is expensive have you looked for generic brands or compared prices with online pharmacies? If he needs blood tests have you found out if you can limit the number you do or the frequency? Liver problems can cause nausea and a lack of appetite. You need to get a list of foods that are safe for your dog to eat and rotate. A canine nutritionist can create a diet for you but that will likely be expensive as well.

  2. Ruth Epstein

    Great post as usual, learning so much from them especially with Layla getting older, Happy Easter and thanks

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Ruth, Happy Easter to you as well. I don’t think enough is written about caring for older pets, and the information is so critical at this stage in their lives.

  3. Lola The Rescued Cat

    I learn a lot from reading your blog. It’s good information I can pass along to friends and family members. It’s interesting that Liver Disease is not spoken about as often as Kidney Diseas.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thank you Lola, I can’t tell you how happy that makes me! It is strange, I don’t know if it’s because the liver isn’t affected as much on it’s own but rather because of another illness.

  4. Tonya Wilhelm

    This is a very helpful post. Dexter is on medications for his neurological condition, so we check his blood work and a few other things every 4 months. Knock on wood, nothing is wrong with his liver. We are battling the start of some kidney issues, but we’re on a few kidney support supplements and now that is getting back on track too.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Tonya and glad to hear Dexter is doing well on his medications, and not having any adverse affects. Don’t even talk to me about kidney issues, it’s like almost every cat or dog I’ve ever had suffered from that. I like hearing how helpful the supplements are, I wish I had a holistic vet earlier to help Red.

  5. Akhil Arya

    i appreciate this work, amazing post for us i like it.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thank you.

  6. Joanne

    My dog was 13 she was blind, she had a dry nose and hot belly. She had a cough but was a gagging cough bought food up collapsed 4 times.we took to vet who did xrays and tests and found she had pneumonia she was dibectic she was weeing and drinking a lot, she was animic found tumor in throat and some forign body in stomach she lost weight and her kidneys and lungs were bad her heart was enlarged also a reading for either lung kidney or heart should have read 22 it was over 2,000 vet said so so bad never seen this before and she could have cancer but didn’t want to opparate due to age. We could bring her home but would have to give her injections for dibitis and not sure how long we sud have with her, so we had our little girl put to sleep. I know we did the right thing but I miss her so much I need closure (did I do the right thing ) please can anyone let me know it was the kindest thing to do it really is tearing a part
    Thank you

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Joanne, I’m so terribly sorry for the pain and doubt you’re experiencing. While I’m not a vet and certainly can’t comment on any of her issues, from what you’ve written it certainly sounds like you had no other choice but to let her go. Of course the pain you’re feeling is deep, and the questioning whether or not you did the right thing natural…we’ve all been there. The thing is, when we welcome an animal into our hearts and homes we accept the responsibility of taking the absolute best care of them we can, and that includes letting them go when it’s time. They rely on us to love them enough and have the strength to say goodbye, knowing how heartbreaking it will be for us. I hope this helps.


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