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Vet Talk – Liver Disease in Dogs and Cats: Is Your Pet At Risk?

Posted April 14, 2017


In my veterinary practice, liver disease in cats and dogs is unfortunately all too common. The liver is a major organ in the body, and essential to your pet’s immune system; it detoxifies the blood and is a filter for metabolites, a source of energy, produces bile acids necessary for digestion, and produces clotting factors necessary for blood clotting. Any potential issues affecting this organ are serious and need to be addressed right away as it can be fatal.


Symptoms of Liver Disease

Pet parents should be aware of the symptoms of liver disease, so that a proper diagnosis and treatment can be begin as soon as possible. Significant signs of liver disease in cats and dogs are:

  • Jaundice, which is when a yellowish tinge to the skin is seen, especially around the eyes, gums and ears. Jaundice in pets is an indication of liver disease due to the blood stream.
  • Encephalopathy, which manifests as seizures, disorientation and/or head pressing.

Other clinical signs of liver disease are similar to many common pet health disorders. These include: excess thirst and urination, vomiting, loss of appetite and fluid retention in the abdomen.

Common Liver Problems

puppy-384647_640Liver disease as a term is quite broad and is applied to any disorders affecting the liver and usually causing elevated levels of liver enzymes.

Common liver problems include:

  • Feline cholangiohepatitis, a common inflammatory liver disease associated with bacterial infection from the intestines that ascent the bile ducts.
  • Chronic hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis, where liver tissue is replaced with fibrous tissue.

Causes of Liver Disease in Dogs and Cats

Common health problems that affect the liver include:

  • Vessel abnormalities such as liver shunts
  • Endocrine disease such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, hyperthyroidism
  • Infectious diseases such as bacterial, viral and fungal diseases.
  • Neoplasia or cancer, which can affect the liver as a primary disease or a secondary metastasis from another cancer.

Other causes of liver disease involve medication / pharmaceuticals, processed food, and genetics.

If your pet is on medication for another health disorder, it is important to continue to support the liver. A good herbal supplement to help support the liver while on pharmaceuticals is NHV Milk Thistle.

Diagnosing Liver Disease

why cats need vet visitsDiagnosing liver disease in cats and dogs requires a thorough exam, complete blood work, including chemistry and blood count, a urine test and a liver function testing, which should include bile acids. Imaging of the liver with x-rays and ultrasound are necessary as well. Often it is difficult to get an exact prognosis of the liver disease without a liver biopsy. A biopsy tells us exactly what the problem is and will in turn help us prescribe an exact method of treatment.

Treating Liver Disease in Dogs and Cats

Most common medical management of liver disease in pets involves a high carbohydrate and low protein diet, which helps to reduce the amount of circulating ammonia in the bloodstream.  In addition to nutrition as management, treatment should also include vitamin supplements, lactulose to bind toxins in the gut, antibiotics, and vitamin K if the patient has bleeding problems.

Milk Thistle, Turmeric, Fish Oils, Vitamin B and E, probiotics, a liver cleansing diet, and acupuncture are also highly recommended.

It is essential that your veterinarian continue to monitor your pet regularly if they have liver disease in order to control the symptoms. Even with intensive management, patients with severe liver disease may succumb to their ailment. However, a comprehensive method of control can extend and improve their quality of life significantly.

How you Can Prevent Liver Problems in Pets?

Milk ThistleLike so many health disorders, prevention is always key. Prevention of liver disorders involves giving your pet  high quality, balanced nutrition and regular supplementation for the liver with natural herbs like Milk Thistle.  Milk Thistle contains a compound called silymarin, which helps prevent toxins from binding to the liver and also helps the liver regenerate more quickly.

Follow up

If you are worried about liver disease in your cat or dog and would like a secondary holistic opinion, please feel free to book an on-line consult with me through NHV. You can send over any blood work, imaging, and test results, and I can provide a holistic second opinion and treatment options.

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