An owners guide to liver disease in dogs

The liver is vitally important. It is involved in virtually every biochemical process in your dog’s body. Therefore, liver disease in dogs is a serious medical condition. So, what exactly causes it?


There are many different causes of canine liver disease. A severe blunt to the front of the abdomen can cause trauma to the kidney. This is a common problem when dogs get hit by cars. Another cause is an infection from viruses, fungi, and bacteria. Heartworms can also lead to disease if they grow severe enough to block the flow of blood to the liver. So, what exactly should you be on the lookout for?


As mentioned earlier, the liver is involved in about every biochemical process. Damage to the liver can cause problems to any other part of the body. Therefore, this disease leads to unpredictable signs. Fortunately, the liver has a lot of reserve capacity, so it can function with up to 80 percent damage. However, this also means that your dog won’t start showing symptoms until the disease is well-advanced.

Your dog will likely experience recurrent abdominal pain. He will also be prone to gastrointestinal problems leading to diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Since the liver will stop processing bile properly, your dog’s feces will be gray instead of brown. Other dogs also suffer from weight loss, increased drinking and urination, and jaundice.


Diagnosis of canine liver disease involves a urinalysis, complete blood count, and chemistry screen. The veterinarian will also take an x-ray of your dog’s abdomen. This will show any change in liver size, as well as abnormalities in circulation and mineralization. An ultrasound is also useful in checking for this disease. The most definitive method of diagnosis is to take a biopsy of the liver. This involves removing a piece of the organ surgically or with a biopsy needle. The liver is capable of regeneration, so any removed piece won’t cause any problems.


Treatment of liver disease in dogs depends on the level of damage and the underlying cause. Toxic substances that can cause damage to the organ have to be removed. It is also important to place your dog on a special diet. This will help decrease the liver’s workload, so it can hopefully recover. Dogs are also susceptible to secondary infections, so they will need to be treated with antibiotics.