Liver Disease in Dogs – Cause,Symptoms,Diagnosis and treatment

Liver Disease in Dogs

Liver Disease in Dogs – The liver is a very important organ that plays a central role in the dog’s metabolism. Unfortunately, whether young or old, dogs are not immune to liver disease. But what are these diseases and what can be done to prevent and treat them? 

Absolutely! Here’s a breakdown of liver disease in dogs, with key takeaways for responsible pet ownership:

The Liver: Your Dog’s Multitasking Superhero

  • It’s a big, complex organ that works tirelessly behind the scenes.
  • Key Functions:
    • Storing and converting energy from food
    • Processing nutrients and controlling blood sugar
    • Producing proteins vital for blood clotting
    • Detoxifying the body by filtering waste products

What is Liver Disease?

  • A broad term for when the liver malfunctions, causing various problems.
  • Types of Liver Disease:
    • Inflammation (Hepatitis): Caused by infection, toxins, or immune system malfunction.
    • Degeneration (Hepatosis): Gradual breakdown of liver cells, often due to diet or toxin exposure.
    • Liver Failure: Severe damage where the liver can’t function properly, potentially fatal.
    • Liver Cancer: Growth of abnormal cells forming tumors.

Causes of Liver Disease

It’s not always one thing, but some common culprits are:

  • Age: Older dogs are more prone to liver problems.
  • Genetics: Breeds like Dobermans, Cockers, etc., have higher risks.
  • Toxins: Medications, household chemicals, poisonous plants
  • Infections: Leptospirosis, canine hepatitis, parasites
  • Obesity/Poor Diet: Overloads the liver with fats and harmful substances.

Symptoms: The Trouble with Early Detection

  • General unwellness: Lethargy, loss of appetite, weight loss
  • Digestive Issues: Vomiting, diarrhea, bloating
  • Jaundice: Yellowing eyes, gums (this means it’s already serious!)
  • Dark urine

Diagnosing Liver Problems

  • DON’T self-diagnose: Symptoms overlap with many other illnesses.
  • Vet Visit is Essential: They’ll do…
    • Thorough exam, take a detailed history
    • Bloodwork
    • Ultrasound imaging
    • Possibly specialized tests for infection, etc.

Treatment: Depends on the Problem

  • No simple cure-all – treatment targets the CAUSE of liver damage.
  • May Include:
    • Medications (antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, etc.)
    • IV fluids to combat dehydration
    • Specialized liver-supporting diets
    • Supplements
    • Surgery (only in specific cases)

Prevention is KEY

  1. Balanced Diet: High-quality food, avoid table scraps, manage weight.
  2. Vaccinations: Protect against liver-damaging infections.
  3. Parasite Control: Prevent worms and tick-borne diseases.
  4. Toxin Awareness: Keep medicines, chemicals, dangerous plants out of reach.
  5. Regular Checkups: Especially for older dogs or high-risk breeds.

Key Takeaways

  • Liver health is crucial for your dog’s overall well-being.
  • Don’t ignore vague symptoms – early vet visits make a HUGE difference.
  • Work with your vet to create a prevention plan tailored to your dog.
  • Liver problems can be scary, but with proper care, many dogs live good lives.

Anatomical and Histological Structure of the Liver:

The liver is a large parenchymal organ located in the right hypochondrium. The liver in dogs is dark red in color and relatively large in size – up to 4% of body weight.

The liver has a convex diaphragmatic and slightly concave visceral surface facing the internal organs. On the visceral surface of the organ, there is a gate, in the area of which the portal vein and hepatic artery enter the liver. The common hepatic duct and lymphatic vessels emerge from the porta hepatis.

All liver functions are performed by one type of liver parenchyma cell – hepatocytes. From them, beams are formed that form the hepatic lobule, which is the morphological and functional unit of the organ. In dogs, the liver lobules have a diameter of up to 1 mm.

Hepatocytes have a multifaceted shape. They contain one, two, or more nuclei, well-developed organelles, and inclusions. The cytoplasm of cells contains the granular endoplasmic reticulum (ER), ribosomes, small mitochondria, and lysosomes. The Golgi complex and smooth ER take an active part in the synthesis of bile and glycogen. Glycogen is deposited in the hepatocyte in the form of granules. The cells also contain significant quantities of other inclusions – fat and pigment.

On the surface of two adjacent cells facing each other, intralobular bile canaliculi are formed, through which bile flows. At the periphery, the canaliculus lobules acquire their own membrane and form interlobular bile ducts, which are part of the triads.

The hepatic beams have two poles: the bile pole, facing the lumen of the intralobular bile duct, and the vascular pole, which borders the cavity formed by the endothelium of the sinusoids.

Why Is It Important To Have A Healthy Functioning Liver?

To better understand the origin of liver disease in dogs, it is important to look at the anatomy and main functions of the liver.

The Different Functions Of The Liver:

The liver is an important metabolic organ in the dog’s body. It therefore has not just one, but several important functions:

Fat Metabolism:

The liver extracts fats from the blood and stores them in hepatocytes. If the dog’s body needs energy, these fat deposits are transformed into energy.

Carbohydrate Metabolism:

Sugar molecules are stored in the liver as glycogen. If the dog’s body consumes more energy, the glycogen stores are transformed again into sugar. To do this, however, the liver needs the help of the pancreas, because it is in the latter that insulin is produced. This hormone allows sugar to be absorbed by liver cells.

Protein Metabolism:

Proteins are made up of amino acids. The liver cannot store excess amino acids and therefore transforms them into ammonia (NH3). Ammonia, however, is toxic and is therefore transformed into urea in the liver. The dog then eliminates this substance through urine.

Clotting Factors:

Blood clotting depends on so-called clotting factors (proteins), which are produced in the liver. If the amount of clotting factors (such as fibrinogen) is insufficient, it is called a bleeding disorder (coagulopathy).

Unfortunately, as much as the liver performs different functions in the dog’s body, there are also possibilities for different liver diseases.

Classification of Liver Disease in Dogs:

The liver performs many complex functions, which determines the variety of pathophysiological disorders that manifest themselves in diseases of this organ. Liver diseases in dogs can be divided into three large groups.

Inflammatory Diseases:

These are acute or chronic liver diseases that occur in response to damage or the action of a pathogen (infection, toxins). They are accordingly divided into:


Bacterial (leptospirosis, abscess), viral (infectious canine hepatitis), and parasitic (roundworm, Toxocara);


Chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and fibrosis caused by toxins and drugs, autoimmune processes.

Non-inflammatory Diseases:

Non-inflammatory diseases, also known as degenerative diseases (degenerate – deteriorate, deteriorate). They include:

Vacuolar hepatopathy (liver pathologies at the cellular level). Lipidosis (fatty liver), amyloidosis (deposition of protein-carbohydrate components in liver cells), diseases of accumulation of copper, vitamin A, vitamin D, hepatocutaneous syndrome, etc.;

Acute Liver Failure:

many causes (medication, poisoning, illness, etc.) can cause lasting damage to the functioning of a dog’s liver and lead to liver failure.
Infectious hepatitis is a viral disease that affects, among other things, the functioning of the liver.

Liver Cancer:

Liver cancer is characterized by the presence of tumors in the liver.


One of the dangerous liver pathologies is hepatitis. It is characterized by systemic damage to the structural units of the organ – hepatocyte cells.

More often, hepatitis is diagnosed against the background of toxic damage. There is also an infectious form of hepatitis.

Dog hepatitis is not dangerous to humans. But it is extremely dangerous for the life of the animal itself. Often, a late visit to the veterinarian ends in death for the dog.


A common liver disease in dogs is hepatosis. This is a collective name for several pathologies, which are characterized by dystrophic changes in the parenchyma of the organ. Hepatosis is characterized by the absence of pronounced signs of the inflammatory process.

Hepatosis in dogs most often occurs due to fatty liver. It is characterized by rapid development, accompanied by signs of general intoxication and a change in the color of visible mucous membranes. An animal with hepatosis looks depressed and indifferent.


Liver diseases include amyloidosis. Pathological processes are associated with increased deposition of protein components (amyloids) in hepatocytes as a result of prolonged inflammation.

In veterinary medicine, liver amyloidosis is diagnosed less frequently in dogs than in cats. But, nevertheless, there are a number of breeds predisposed to this pathology:

Causes Of Liver Problems In Dogs:

It should be noted that a dog’s liver is quite fragile. It is important to take care of the dog’s health to prevent liver problems from developing.

Note that different aggravating factors can lead to liver failure:

  • Aging ;
  • Heredity;
  • An intoxication ;
  • A viral or bacterial infection;
  • Medication.
  • Dog obesity or an unsuitable diet is also considered to significantly increase the risk of liver problems in dogs.

Symptoms of a Dog with Liver Disease:

It’s common to confuse the symptoms of liver disease in dogs with those of other health problems. And for good reason, a dysfunctional liver causes fairly generic symptoms:

  • Vomiting;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Bloated stomach ;
  • Apathy;
  • Yellowing of the eyes and gums;
  • Dark urine;
  • Loss of appetite ;
  • Weightloss.

The most characteristic symptom remains jaundice (the animal’s eyes, gums or skin take on a yellow tint). Unfortunately, he announces that the disease is already at an advanced stage. Hence the importance of consulting a veterinarian as soon as the first symptom appears, even if it seems benign.

Diagnosis Of Liver Disease and Failure in Dogs:

Diagnosis of liver diseases in dogs must be comprehensive. First of all, a thorough history and examination is needed. Most of the symptoms listed above are nonspecific, that is, they can manifest themselves in diseases of the liver, for example, in diseases of the intestines, and pancreas, some infections, and poisoning. Accordingly, before treating a dog’s liver, you need to conduct a full diagnosis:

Careful History-taking:

The doctor will analyze in detail the aspects of keeping the pet, its diet, previous diseases, medications, preventive treatments and vaccinations, etc.


At the appointment, the doctor will assess the condition of the mucous membranes, their color, humidity, pain in the abdominal wall, body temperature, etc.

Clinical Blood Test:

It will allow you to assess whether there is an inflammatory process in the body, hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells), anemia, an infectious or acute inflammatory process, and sometimes a clinical blood test can even suspect a neoplastic (tumor) process.

Blood Chemistry:

Will allow you to assess the degree and nature of liver damage, the level of intoxication, and organ damage.

General And Biochemical Urine Analysis:

Changes in the analysis, such as the presence of bilirubin, ammonium biurate crystals, and changes in urine density, may indicate liver disease.

Ultrasound Examination Of The Abdominal Cavity:

It will allow you to assess the size of the liver, changes in its structure, the condition of the biliary tract, and blood vessels, and the presence of neoplasms.

Infection Studies:

Such as leptospirosis, and infectious canine hepatitis.

Liver Disease Treatment in Dogs:

For any disease, therapy must be comprehensive and include several factors. As we said earlier, the liver is an organ that covers many functions; liver diseases have a significant diversity, not to mention the fact that they are often a complication of another disease.

Therefore, treatment for a dog’s diseased liver can vary greatly depending on the cause of the disease, the severity of symptoms, age, and other factors. Treatment may include the following measures and groups of drugs:

  • Antispasmodics and painkillers;
  • Droppers. Often, liver diseases are accompanied by dehydration, intoxication, and electrolyte disturbances. Intravenous infusions help normalize these indicators, and recovery occurs faster;
  • Antidotes. In case of poisoning with known substances, antidotes can be used to quickly neutralize poisons and toxins;
  • Antibiotics/antimicrobials. For infections and infestations;
  • Hepatoprotectors. This is a group of drugs that have a positive effect on the restoration of liver cells;
  • Diet. During illness, you need to transfer your pet to specialized dietary food (specialized food or an individual diet prepared by a doctor). The food should be easily digestible, not burden the liver, and contain sufficient amounts of antioxidants, vitamins, and protein;
  • Antihelminthic drugs;
  • Antiemetic drugs. With vomiting or nausea;
  • Enterosorbents. For diarrhea and poisoning. They bind many toxic substances in the intestines. Thus, they are safely excreted from the body with feces;
  • Some pathologies require surgical intervention. For example, with large tumors or shunts.

Prevention Of Liver Disease And Failure In Dogs:

In order to prevent liver disease in your pet, you need to follow just three simple rules:

  • Balanced, complete diet;
  • Timely preventive measures (vaccination, treatment against parasites);
  • Medical examination (can be combined with annual vaccination).

Let’s talk about each point in more detail.


You can feed your pet commercial complete food. The main thing is to choose the type of product that suits him. There will usually be information on the label to help with this. For example, food for miniature breeds up to 6 years old or food for adult dogs with high activity, etc.

If you are a fan of homemade diets, then you need to approach its preparation correctly. You should not give your pet food from the table (cookies, sweets, fried, salty, etc.).

The source of protein is the most important part of the diet. It should be easily digestible and complete, there should be enough of it. You can use turkey, chicken, beef, and meat by-products (just be careful with liver, it should be given very carefully and rarely, due to the excess vitamin A in it).

Essential fatty acids (found in vegetable oils and fatty fish) must be added to the diet, and carbohydrates (porridge, vegetables) are needed for normal intestinal function. To create optimal proportions, it is better to contact a veterinary nutritionist. You can even do this online – in the Petstory mobile application. You can download it using this link.


Diseases such as leptospirosis and canine viral hepatitis affect the liver. The good news is that vaccines have long been available for these infections.

All pets need to be vaccinated, even if they don’t go outside or if you don’t allow other dogs near your pet while walking.

The fact is that you can bring many infections home on clothes or shoes, and for infection (for example, parvovirus enteritis of dogs) it is not at all necessary to come into direct contact with the infected person; contact with his excrement is enough, which is quite possible when sniffing the ground.

If you often walk with your pet in the field or forest or hunt with it, then vaccination against leptospirosis should be given special attention.

Treatment for Parasites:

The situation with treatment against parasites is the same as with vaccination. It doesn’t take any special effort for a new life to emerge inside your pet. He can simply sniff or lick the unfortunate pebble (or not a pebble), and after a couple of weeks, he will secrete parasite eggs everywhere, including your home.

Flea and tick treatment is equally important. Fleas carry some types of worms, and ticks cause vector-borne diseases that affect many organs, including the liver.

Treatment for helminths must be carried out for preventive purposes once every 3 months (for puppies up to a year, once every month and a half). It is necessary to treat your pet against external parasites during the entire time when the air temperature outside is above zero.


Not all liver pathologies can be detected in time by external examination or symptoms. As we have already said, symptoms can be hidden for a long time or appear very rarely.

Therefore, it is important to periodically check your pet’s health with a veterinarian. For young dogs under 6 years of age, a routine examination and routine blood tests every 1-2 years are sufficient. For dogs older than 6-8 years,

it is advisable to conduct an additional ultrasound of the abdominal cavity once a year, since with age there is a risk of degenerative changes in the liver and neoplasms, and if they are detected in time, treatment will take a minimum of time, money and nerves.

Aapt Dubey
Aapt Dubey

Aapt Dubey, a devoted canine enthusiast and experienced dog Owner, brings boundless passion to our team. With a heart full of love for our four-legged friends, Aapt is dedicated to sharing insights on dog care, behavior, and training to make every pup's life happier and healthier at

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