Alternative veterinary diets for liver shunts in dogs

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Alternative veterinary diets for liver shunts in dogs
Liver shunt is more common in small dogs. (little beagle image by Denveros from

Liver shunt, also referred to as portosystemic shunt, is a condition afflicting dogs and cats in which the liver is bypassed by the circulatory system, and toxins are not properly cleared from the body. Liver shunt is primarily found in purebred cats and small dogs, such as Yorkshire terriers and poodles. Liver shunt may be congenital or acquired later in life. Symptoms include vomiting, failure to thrive and neurological problems, including seizures. In many cases, surgery is an option, but dogs with liver shunt may be managed to some degree by dietary changes. Be sure any diet in dogs with liver shunt is veterinarian approved.

Diets for Portosystemic Shunts

For dogs with portosytemic shunts, a diet low in purine may be beneficial. Low amounts of purine in the diet help prevent the formation of uroliths, or bladder stones. High-protein food is actually recommended, as long as it is low in purinees. Dairy-derived foods such as cottage cheese, ricotta and eggs are examples of high-protein, low purine foods. Avoid foods with organ meats such as liver, as they contain high amounts of purine. Veterinarians do not recommend vegetarian diets for dogs, although such diets have low purine content.

Acquired Liver Shunt Diet

For dogs that acquire liver shunt problems in later life, early signs of the condition might start with seizures. Sudden aggression is another symptom. Toxins are not clearing the bloodstream and affecting the brain. While cereals, pasta and grain products are generally not recommended for dogs, they are suitable for dogs with acquired liver shunt. These dogs should also eat a low salt diet. "Hill's Science Diet," sold by many vets, has a special LD formula for dogs with liver disease. It contains L-carnitine, which aids the liver in fat metabolism.

Supplements and Alternative Remedies

Never give a supplement or alternative remedy to a dog with liver shunt unless cleared by the vet. Milk thistle, a common herb given for liver ailments, increases the flow of bile and has anti-inflammatory properties. Sprinkle on the dog's food, or wrap capsules in a piece of cheese and give as a treat. Artichoke aids the liver, and leaves can be mixed into dog food. Antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E and Coenzyme Q-10 have proved beneficial to the liver. Mix into the food or buy dog food that includes this supplementation.

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