Liver Disease in Dogs and 5 Tests for Liver Disease

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Liver disease can come on suddenly and cause a lot of issues for your dog but it can sometimes get better.

  1. What the Liver Does

  2. Ultrasound of the Abdomen

  3. 5 Blood Test to Check Liver Function

  4. Treatment of Liver Disease

  5. Foods to Help if There Is Liver Disease

  6. Milk Thistle

  7. Supplemental Fluids for Acute Liver Disease

  8. Liver Disease in Dogs

What the Liver Does

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Vet Tech Tips Liver Disease in Dogs

The liver is one of the organs that helps to filter the body of things it does not need or that can harm the body. If the liver is not functioning properly then the dog normally does not feel well. If your dog starts not feeling well due to liver disease, they can show symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice (yellowing of the skin, gums, eyes), lethargy (weakness, tired more than normal), drinking more water than normal, not eating, and weight loss. If you notice these symptoms, you should bring your dog to the vet to have blood work performed to check for liver disease, thyroid issues, and diabetes, among other diseases. These diseases have similar symptoms, so we want to know what the pet is dealing with and be able to help the dog feel better.

Ultrasound of the Abdomen

Getting an ultrasound of the liver is a good idea if the blood work is not normal. This can help to know if there is a mass in the liver and if further tests need to be done to rule out cancer. It is common for the liver to get masses or growth that can be cancerous. The spleen can also have a mass on it that can cause the liver to not work as well as it should, and spleen masses can be life-threatening if the mass starts to leak or burst open and can cause major blood loss. Both organs can be looked at on an ultrasound at the same time along with other organs in the abdomen.

5 Blood Test to Check Liver Function

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Vet Tech Tips Dog Blood Work

Blood values that are associated with liver problems include bilirubin, AST, ALT, GGT, and ALP.

  1. Having a high bilirubin is what causes the skin, eyes, and gums to turn yellow or jaundiced if it gets too high. This is a sign that the liver isn’t working properly or that the red blood cells are being damaged at a higher rate than normal.
  2. AST or aspartate aminotransferase is an enzyme found in the liver, heart, and muscles. AST rises in the blood when there is an injury to the liver, or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). AST helps the body metabolize amino acids. A high value can be a result of some medications.
  3. ALT or alanine transaminase can be high due to damage to the liver from infection, liver cancer, or lack of blood flow to the liver. ALT is an enzyme in the liver that helps to convert proteins into energy for cells.
  4. GGT or Gamma-glutamyl transferase is an enzyme found throughout the body but mostly in the liver. When the GGT is high it can be from liver disease or damage to the bile ducts. GGT can also be higher if the dog has diabetes, heart failure, hyperthyroidism, or pancreatitis.
  5. ALP or alkaline phosphatase is mostly found in the liver, bones, intestines, and kidneys. Abnormal levels in the blood are caused by a liver or bone conditions. Obstruction or damage to the liver can cause the ALP to rise in the blood.

Treatment of Liver Disease

Depending on which enzyme(s) are elevated will depend on which treatment can help your dog. There are multiple herbs and supplements that can be used to help detox the liver and help the liver work better. The liver is an organ that can be repaired if there are problems with it. If it was damaged due to medications, once the medications are out of the system and some detoxing of the liver is done, the liver can get healthier again. Helping the liver to heal by detoxing the liver and not having the liver do a lot of work can help it heal even faster. Depending on what is found will determine what the next steps for the dog are. Using low-level laser therapy (LLLT) can help to heal the liver if there is no cancer associated with the disease of the liver.

Foods to Help if There Is Liver Disease

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Vet Tech Tips Liver Food

Feeding foods that support the liver and make it so the body doesn’t have to do a lot of work processing the food can help the liver to heal. If a dog does have an acute or sudden case of liver damage giving freshly cooked food can help the liver heal. Not giving proceed food can help the liver heal and then you can go back to the normal food once the liver enzymes have returned to normal for some time. Things to look for in food while trying to heal the liver include higher levels of L-carnitine, L-arginine, and lower copper levels. Check out my article on Healthy Dog Food to learn about different types of food to feed your dog.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is a supplement that helps to detox the liver. There are prescription medications from your veterinarian that have milk thistle in them that do a great job of detoxing the liver. Make sure to give any medication with milk thistle in it first thing in the morning and wait at least one hour to feed and give any other medications. This allows the milk thistle to detox the liver and not just detox the food and/or medications that are in the system. Make sure to talk to your veterinarian about any other medications your dog is on and the best time to take everything, if milk thistle will help your dog with their liver disease, how much to give, and for how long to give it.

Check out the supplements from Pet Wellbeing Inc.

Supplemental Fluids for Acute Liver Disease

With acute liver disease especially if from a toxin having the dog hospitalized and given IV (in the vein or intravenous) fluids may help until the liver enzymes start getting better. This helps to flush the toxins out of the dog’s body. SQ fluids may also be given if needed. If you need help with how to give SQ fluids at home, check out my article on How to Give SQ Fluids at Home to Pets.

Liver Disease in Dogs

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Vet Tech Tips Enlarged Liver Xray

Liver disease can come on quickly and can be very damaging to the body if it is not taken care of quickly. Since the liver is an organ that can regenerate with some treatment and detoxing of the liver the dog may be able to feel a lot better and the liver will get healthier again.

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