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
- Drinking more
- Blood in/ dark coloured pee
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- 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:
Skin disorders in dogs with advanced liver disease may also occur.
There are several possible causes including:
- Being a common illness in old dogs
- Other diseases
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Great post as usual, learning so much from them especially with Layla getting older, Happy Easter and thanks
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.
I am going through this with my 13.5yrs 3 legged staffy cross.
She had a healthy liver on her last test 6mths ago.
The vet put her on a low dose of steriods for the stiffness in her back legs as yumove advanced seemed to be upsetting her tummy.
She was great for 4 mths then started to not want to go for her walks.
Another blood test revealed high liver enzymes 431 she then started to have seizure so we started her on Delmarin liver support, stopped the steroids and started her on galiprant for her joints and the vet started her on Ephipen, a phenobarbitone for seizures which we stopped when we discovered that they were as bad for her liver as the steriods.
The main cause of High toxins in the liver are Steroids and Phenobarbitone so in my opinion the vets should not be prescribing either of these meds to senior dogs.
We will never know but I am convinced that they are making our senior dogs, like our poor girl, seriously ill and it could have been preventable.
I’m so sorry to hear about your experience Debbie. Thanks for sharing.
I to am just learning about this . My dog has had diarrhea and throwing up since yesterday. Today she is at the vet. Waiting on blood work. Results vet says heart murmur stage 4 or 5. And liver disease she is peeing blood along with other symptoms. She is very very weak. They said she was dehydrated so they r giving her I. Fluids all day. I can already see how expensive it is going to be but I have heard nothing about how much pain she is in Anyone knows about the pain
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.
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.
In our case, medication prescribed by our vet.
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.
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.
i appreciate this work, amazing post for us i like it.
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
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.
I found out my 9 yo golden retriever had lymphoma and a 13 cm mass in his abdomen on the weekend. The emergency vet was 2000. His prognosis was poor for the future. So we also put him to sleep. Chemo and surgery are very expensive and don’t prolong the life of the dog that much. Yes you did the right thing even though it hurts. Let yourself grieve and eventually your heart will heal.
my 13 yr old west is very sick with liver disease he’s being treated by specialist vet. his recovery is unknown and he is having tests and ultra sound to determine tumor or infection at $1500. per day or more. I feel like I should let him be home with me and not hooked up to IV’s etc in a hospital. I feel guilty I didn’t think he was so sick and waited 2 days before I took him to the vet. I am torn between letting him go and trying to save him.
I understand how you feel.