5 Symptoms of Liver Disease in Your Dogs

Dog Being Checked

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When it comes to caring for your furry friend, thinking about diseases, both in the short and long-term, just isn’t a pleasant experience. However, your pets are going to depend on you to do everything you can to keep them healthy and disease-free. And when it comes to dogs specifically, it’s all-too-common that liver disease will pose one of the biggest issues. According to the National Institutes of Health, liver disease in dogs is a fairly common, yet serious condition. Without proper treatment and the right preventative care, the disease can be fatal.

So how do we avoid this terrible fate for our furry friends? As it turns out, there are a host of different tells we can notice to begin the process of diagnosis and treatment as early as possible. And in many cases, this process can mean the difference between a premature goodbye and a long and healthy lifespan for your pet.

We’ll be going over our top five symptoms of liver disease you can look out for to make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep your pet alive and thriving. Hopefully, with the right amount of caution and a bit of research, you can rest easy knowing you’ve done what you can to make things right.

The 5 Common Symptoms of Liver Disease

Loss of Appetite & Weight Loss

Dog In The Street

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While this symptom certainly applies to far more than liver disease, it is still one of the first signs of a problem with your pet. Dogs, like most animals, are creatures of habit. You’ll probably notice that your dog tends to eat at certain times, sleep in the same places, and stick close to you when the time is right.

Any change in that routine usually can mean a sign of distress, and this is particularly true with a loss of appetite. While some dogs are more excitable about their meals than others, all dogs should show some amount of appetite for food—even if it’s just dinner scraps. No appetite usually means no eating for dogs that are self-fed, which can result in some drastic weight loss.

Since we tend not to keep a close eye on our pets’ weight, when you first notice weight loss, often, the problem has been going on for far longer than you may have realized. If you’re concerned about weight loss in your dog, particularly sudden weight loss, then it may be time to go to the veterinarian's office.

Jaundice  

Dog In The Bed

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Did you know that dogs show signs of jaundice in the same way that most humans do? Jaundice is a serious condition that often relays to others that the liver is malfunctioning or just not performing its biological tasks at all. In dogs, as well as in their owners, this can manifest itself into the following symptoms:

  • Yellowing eyes
  • Yellow tongue & gums
  • Bile in the excrement
  • Dark urine

While not all of these symptoms have to make an appearance to qualify as jaundice, many of them appear together, and often, all will slowly appear at the same time. Perhaps more so than any other symptoms of liver disease to consider for your dog, signs of jaundice is cause for concern, and of course, a trigger for an immediate trip to the vet’s office.

Personality Changes

Dog Running

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Since liver disease will affect your dog’s entire body and physical state, it’s no wonder that those effects would translate over to your dog’s mental state as well. The most commonly-cited personality change in a dog with liver disease is confusion. You may find that your dog needs to be called twice or even three times before it even notices you’ve been calling their name. Your dog may also periodically become anxious or not remember how to get to certain things around the home, like their food bowl.

While these personality changes can often be associated with a senior dog, they are just as likely to be associated with the development of liver disease. This is one of the symptoms that we think could indicate liver disease if paired with one of the others on our list.

Seizures

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Did you know about 1 in 200 dogs suffer from epilepsy? Seizures are relatively common in dogs and tend to manifest themselves in certain breeds. So if your dog normally suffers from periodic seizures, reading this tell can be particularly difficult. However, regardless of your dog’s normal relationship with epilepsy, a sudden and sharp influx of seizures is never a good sign. These seizures often indicate that something is going awry with the body, and can be your dog’s reaction to the problems developing in their liver.

While seizures tend not to be a fatal condition in and of themselves, they can also be quite alarming—especially if the dog in question has never had seizures before. Remember that seizures need immediate attention. If your dog is having a seizure, always remember to help them lay down in a location that’s safe for them, and stay with them until the seizure is over.

Nothing may be more calming to your pet than seeing their owner after a seizure dies down.

Fluid Buildup

Puppy On Bed

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Since liver disease fundamentally affects your dog’s ability to process food, it’s not uncommon to see fluids building on up on their body in various locations. These pockets of fluid, much like with a decreased appetite, may not necessarily be indicative of liver disease. Still, these buildups will require attention and a vet’s touch to effectively drain. You will most often see build buildup associated with liver disease below the belly. These will feel like semi-hard spots that tend to be painless to the touch. Painful build buildup may be indicative of other problems.

In older dogs, we need to preface that these buildups may just be a regular part of the aging process. To be sure of new developments, check your pets weekly or on a regular schedule to monitor these bumps as well as whether or not they’re growing.

​Treatment & Prognosis

Dog In The Hospital

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Receiving a positive diagnosis of liver disease in your pet is never a pleasant experience. However, provided you’ve caught the warning signs and have taken your dog to the necessary offices, there’s no reason why liver disease has to be more than a minor setback. For diagnosis, your local veterinarian will often recommend diagnostic tests. These are designed to measure the efficacy of your pet’s liver function and work to uncover what a cause may be.

Your vet may also take the time to collect samples of excrement, vomit, or one of the fluid buildups in the body. A combination of all of the above is what may be able to lead to proper diagnosis. Uncovering the cause is also very important for treatment. Shunts are the most common cause in older pets—which are blood vessels that have rerouted themselves always from the liver over time.

Bacterial infections are also a common cause and can lead to kidney failure and other such problems in your pets. Of course, one of the major causes of liver disease can be a cancerous tumor, which may need to be removed as soon as possible. If the problem cannot be solved via surgery, then your vet will most likely recommend a diet that will keep your dog’s toxins lower. This will help to keep food intake at a level that the liver can currently keep up with, and reduce symptoms of liver disease fairly successfully. Surgery may be required to reroute blood to the liver, although this practice is less common.

Unfortunately, if liver disease is noticed in senior dogs, it is common to just leave the condition be. Liver disease is degenerative, but in some cases, no more so than the average aging process.

It will be up to your veterinarian to uncover a proper prognosis, and if you’re concerned, you can always seek out a second opinion to make sure that you’re doing right by your dog. While the subject is not more pleasant for us than it may be for you, having a serious and open discussion about possible signs of diseases is important to have with all caretakers of an animal. We recommend talking to the family about reporting issues in a pet directly to the main caretaker, to make sure that nothing goes unreported.

As with all other aspects of caring for your dog, keeping a close eye on things and handling symptoms of liver disease as they come is going to result in the best possible outcome and the least amount of heartbreak. We sincerely hope that our guide here has given you the tools and the confidence you need to make sure this disease will be an easy victory for your favorite furry friend.

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Dr Peter Nurre

Peter Nurre, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include internal medicine and cardiology.

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