What are the causes of liver problems in horses?

Written by shane hall
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There are several types of liver problems that can occur in horses. These problems have a variety of causes, including bacterial infections and ingesting certain plants. Liver disease, easily diagnosed in adult horses, can lead to liver failure. If not treated, equine liver failure is very serious and harder to control.

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There are several types of equine liver disease, including chronic and acute hepatitis or necrosis of the liver. Tyzzers disease is a bacterial infection in the liver of foals 7 to 42 days old. Pyrrolizidine alkaloid toxicosis occurs when horses ingest certain plants in the western and southeastern United States. Cholelithiasis is stone formation in the bile ducts with a bacterial infection.


Symptoms of acute liver disease include central nervous system disorders, yawning, depression, circling and forward walking. Chronic liver disease may show as rapid weight loss, photosensitivity, diarrhoea, jaundice, oedema under the belly and colic.


Treatment for liver disease in horses starts with a low-protein diet, intravenous glucose, vitamins, IV amino acids, mineral oil, oral antibiotics, steroid and sedatives (if needed).


Veterinary blood testing of liver functions will not show abnormalities until 60 to 75 per cent of liver function is lost. Prognosis is often poor, with foals needing immediate attention.


If the liver disease is diagnosed in its early stages and treatment started before becoming chronic, the liver can often regenerate itself.

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