A brief introduction to dog liver disease

The canine liver is a vitally important organ, one which is involved in practically all biochemical processes and physiological pathways. As a result, when one of the many possible forms of dog liver disease arises, the consequences can be numerous and severe.

Anatomy of the Liver

Located in the forward part of the abdomen near the diaphragm, the liver is the largest organ in the canine body and consists of six lobes divided into three regions. This organ receives nutrients through the portal vein and through the hepatic artery. Approximately one third of the blood flowing into the liver travels through the hepatic artery while approximately two thirds travels through the portal vein. While the nutrients that travel through the portal vein originate in the digestive tract, the blood entering the liver by the hepatic artery comes from the heart.

Physiology of the Liver

As already alluded to, this complex organ plays a role in nearly all of the body’s biochemical processes. However, some of the most significant functions of the liver include the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids. Another major function of this organ is that it serves as a detoxification system, breaking down and removing toxic substances from the dog’s body. An interesting characteristic of the liver is its amazing reserve capability, requiring only a small portion of liver cells to work at one time. However, the downside of this characteristic is that liver disease may not be detectable until it reaches an advanced stage. At the same time, liver cells do have the ability to regenerate, allowing for full recovery from dog liver disease in some cases.


There are numerous different potential causes of dog liver disease, including traumatic events and medical conditions. Examples of trauma that can give rise to liver disease include being hit by a car, heatstroke, or the ingestion of toxins such as pesticides and certain pharmaceuticals. Other potential causes of canine liver disease include various infections and anatomical or physiological defects of the liver that are present at birth. When it comes to other medical conditions that can give rise to dog liver disease, the possibilities are quite numerous. For instance, anemia and heartworms can lead to damaged liver cells, as can heart disease, cancer, and pancreatitis.


Due to the incredible reserve capability of the canine liver, disease of this organ may not become apparent until the problem has advanced quite significantly. Moreover, symptoms and warning signs of dog liver disease tend to be quite subtle and variable in the beginning. However, as the problem progresses, symptoms will become more and more apparent. One of the most classic symptoms of dog liver disease is jaundice, which involves the yellowing of the dog’s skin, gums, and the whites of its eyes. Other classic warning signs include loss of appetite, weight loss, excessive thirst (polydipsia), and increased frequency of urination (polyuria). Lethargy, depression, and a swollen belly are also typical symptoms of canine liver disease. In some cases, diarrhea and vomiting will also occur. In advanced stages of the disease, the afflicted canine may experience confusion, weakness, and even convulsions.


Since the liver is involved in the functions and biochemical processes of so many other organs, the symptoms of dog liver disease are often indistinguishable from those of other diseases. In addition, problems with the liver could actually be a secondary effect of a disease originating in another part of the body. As a result, thorough procedures are necessary in order to reach a firm and confident diagnosis of dog liver disease and to identify its cause. Typically, diagnostic processes that will be carried out in a case of suspected liver disease include a physical examination and blood tests. In addition, x-rays and ultrasound may also be used in order to allow the veterinarian to examine the liver for physical abnormalities. In some circumstances, exploratory surgery and a biopsy may be necessary as well.

Traditional Treatment

When a dog is suffering from canine liver disease, the necessary treatment will depend upon the cause of the disease. For example, when a bacterial infection has given rise to the disease, antibiotics will likely need to be administered. When an underlying medical problem such as anemia or cancer is at the root of the liver disease, the underlying condition will need to be dealt with. As a result, required treatment methods can vary quite significantly between cases of dog liver disease.

Holistic and Natural Treatment

In addition to the traditional treatment methods required in a particular case of canine liver disease, certain holistic health management strategies can also be very helpful with regards to treatment. Dietary adjustments and natural supplements can optimize nutrition while reducing the stress placed upon the liver. Providing certain nutrients through specific foods, natural supplements, or homoeopathic remedies can also help protect the liver and promote its health. For example, Vitamin E stimulates the production of new liver cells and prevents the build up of toxins. Therefore, in appropriate cases, natural supplements and other holistic health strategies can provide a very beneficial contribution to the treatment process for a dog suffering from canine liver disease.