Liver Disease in Dogs & Death

Updated July 19, 2017

"Canine liver disease is among the top five leading causes of non-accidental death in dogs and as such should be taken seriously," according to the Canine Liver Disease Foundation. The liver is responsible for a number of essential bodily functions and if it's compromised a dog's overall health is in jeopardy. Numerous conditions affect the liver. Treatment depends upon the cause of liver problems. Its efficacy varies accordingly. Prevention of liver disease is the key.

Types and Causes

Trauma, such as a blow to the abdomen, can cause liver problems. Anemia decreases oxygen to liver cells, eventually killing them. Inherited chronic hepatitis, found primarily in Bedlington terriers, Doberman pinschers and West Highland White terriers, results in toxic copper levels in the liver. Ingested, injected or inhaled toxins affect the liver. Liver cancer can be primary or secondary. Metabolic diseases such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, Cushing's disease, pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel syndrome cause secondary liver problems. Cirrhosis is the end result of severe liver disease.


Gastrointestinal symptoms include anorexia (loss of appetite), diarrhoea, constipation and vomiting. Pale grey stools or orange urine can result from improper processing of bile. Other symptoms include jaundice, abdominal pain and abdominal fluid accumulation, bleeding disorders, chronic weight loss and increased water consumption and urination, most likely due to shifts in kidney salt balances. According to Dr. Fleming at Sherwood Animal Clinic in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, liver disease can also produce hepatic encephalopathy, or severe neurological signs, behavioural changes, seizures, aimless pacing or circling and head pressing.


"An organ like the liver that is so intimately involved with other important organs will exhibit symptoms that mimic disease in these other organs," according to the Canine Liver Disease Foundation. A thorough veterinary physical examination is necessary, accompanied by detailed examination of the dog's medical and behavioural history. Generally, veterinarians do extensive blood work and diagnostic testing including a complete blood count, biochemistry panel, measurement of liver enzymes with a complete chemistry screen, urine analysis, abdominal X-rays and perhaps liver ultrasounds and biopsies.


Treatment depends upon cause, for example, antibiotics treat liver disease arising from bacterial infection. Dietary adjustments and supplements can help. Dietary changes include adjusting amounts of protein, vitamins, carbohydrates, fats and minerals that a dog ingests. Homeopathic remedies provide an additonal option. For example, burdock and greater celandine assist with the purification of blood, the stimulation of digestive enzymes and the protection of the liver from toxic substances. Milk thistle acts as an antioxidant like Vitamin E, stimulating the production of new liver cells.


Owners must educate themselves about the signs of liver disease and should take their dogs to a veterinarian if anything isn't quite right. Dogs should be fed high-quality balanced diets with easily digestible proteins (no fish or beef), no animal by-products, fillers or allergens. Yearly veterinary examinations should include blood, stool and urine samples and vaccination against canine hepatitis and leptospirosis. Home care should include dental hygiene, brushing dogs' teeth to prevent bacteria spreading to the liver. Dogs shouldn't be allowed near standing water, strange animals or poisonous plants.

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About the Author

Based in Ontario Canada and writing since 1984, Savannah Raine is a former investigative journalist and freelance magazine feature writer who operated her own publishing company until 1996. Raine holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto.