Prognosis of Liver Disease in Dogs

Updated March 23, 2017

According to the Canine Liver Disease Foundation, liver disease is the fifth-leading cause of canine deaths that aren't accident-related. Signs your dog might have liver disease include periodic vomiting and diarrhoea, loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice, grey faeces, orange urine and weight loss. You should take your dog for an exam if he has any of the signs, because there are multiple causes of liver disease. The prognosis depends mainly on what type of disease your dog has.


A healthy liver performs multiple duties, including waste removal, detoxification, bile production and is a critical part of digestion. The liver is crucial to protein and carbohydrate metabolism. It also stores energy derived from glucose in the form of glycogen, along with several vitamins, like A, D and E. A diseased liver can continue to function without signs of illness until up to 80 per cent of the organ is damaged.


Types of the many liver diseases include pancreatitis, anaemia, infectious or chronic hepatitis, parasites, medications and cancer. Pancreatitis is caused by inflammation of the pancreas, which also causes inflammation of the liver and bile ducts, due to proximity. Hepatitis is chronic or acute inflammation of the liver. Several drugs commonly prescribed for dogs can cause liver damage, including anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-seizure medications.


Mild liver disease, caused from things like anaemia, diabetes, and parasites--if infestations are discovered early--usually has a good prognosis. You can expect your dog to recover, perhaps with permanent dietary modifications or a lifelong prescription. More serious diseases have poorer prognoses. For example, your dog will likely fully recover from one instance of acute pancreatitis, but the chronic form can lead to potentially fatal complications, including disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), which interferes with the dog's ability to stop bleeding and to form clots. Liver cancer in dogs is usually well established before detection, and malignant cancers have a poor prognosis. Operable benign tumours have a fairly good prognosis.


Untreated, or untreatable, liver diseases often develop into cirrhosis, which is end-stage liver disease. Cirrhosis causes irreversible liver scarring that interferes with normal liver function. The prognosis for cirrhosis is poor.


Because the liver can function without showing signs of disease for long periods of time, some diseases will have reached a point where there is little your vet can do. Yearly exams, including labs to measure liver function, can show diseases sooner. Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM, recommends giving milk thistle to any dog using a medication likely to cause liver damage. If you own a dog breed predisposed to one of the liver disorders--Doberman pinschers are prone to copper-associated hepatitis, for example--it is even more important to get preventive care.

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