The liver has many functions within the body. It has a large capacity for storage and functional reserve. It has the ability to regenerate. These abilities can provide some protection against permanent damage. Despite this, the liver is vulnerable to injury due to the role it has in the storage, detoxification and metabolization of a variety of toxic compounds. There are many varied symptoms of liver disease in dogs. These include vomiting, diarrhea, ulceration of the stomach, fever, appetite loss, excessive thirst, weight loss, change in liver size, collection of fluid in the abdomen, blood clotting problems, seizures or neurological problems, and jaundice which is a noticeable yellow tinge in the skin, mucous membranes and eyes.
There may be gastrointestinal bleeding if the liver disease is related to ulcers or blood clotting problems. Blood samples may be tested to diagnose liver disease. X-rays and ultrasound scans can help to determine the size of the liver, any irregularities, gallbladder diseases and gallstones. Samples may be taken by biopsy or aspiration procedures. The samples will be used for bacterial culture, tissue analysis, cell analysis and, if necessary, toxicologic analysis. Less commonly used procedures and tests, for example nuclear scintigraphy, may be performed to identify portosystemic shunts and other abnormalities of the blood vessels.
Early treatment is critical for animals who are suffering from acute liver failure. The veterinarian will prescribe a specific treatment program if the underlying cause of liver failure can be identified. In dogs with long term, or end stage liver disease, or in dogs with acute liver failure where no underlying cause can be identified, then supportive treatment and care is undertaken with a view to slow the progression of the disease and reduce the risk of complications.
The veterinarian will recommend a diet for the dog which will usually consist of ensuring an adequate calorie intake. The bulk of the energy will be supplied by complex carbohydrates, for example, pasta and rice. The carbohydrates will be between twenty and forty per cent of the diet. As the fermentation of fiber in the large intestine can help to decrease the production and absorption of ammonia and reduces the risk of hepatic encephalopathy, the veterinarian may recommend a diet which is higher in soluble fiber. Dogs who are at risk of hepatic encephalopathy may need to have the protein intake restricted. The veterinarian will provide specific instructions and advice which must be carefully followed. If the dog refuses to eat then tube feeding may be necessary.
The veterinarian may prescribe vitamin and mineral supplements which can include zinc, vitamin C and B vitamins. Zinc may prevent copper absorption which can help to protect the liver. Low and decreased levels of potassium and B vitamins are common complications of liver disease and supplements are recommended often. A deficiency of vitamin C has also been reported in dogs with liver disease and a supplementation of this may be beneficial. Dogs who have a tendency to bleed are sometimes given an injection of vitamin K.
Complications of Liver Disease
The multiple functions of the liver include producing blood clotting proteins and removing the toxins from the blood stream. If the liver is not working properly, then many other organs can be affected.