A dog's liver is a workhorse, metabolizing carbohydrates and fats, breaking down toxins, and producing bile, proteins, and cholesterol. Vulnerable to a wide variety of illnesses, the liver keeps going, doing its job after it's suffered significant damage. The dog liver disease life expectancy for a dog depends on the disease as well as how long his liver has been affected. The good news is the liver is resilient, able to regenerate new tissue.
Look for the signs
One of the first signs that a dog's liver is compromised is jaundice, the yellow hue his eyes, skin, and mucus membranes take on when his liver isn't healthy. Other symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and lethargy.
The vet has a variety of tests that will help diagnose what's wrong with him and narrow down what sort of liver ailment your dog has. Common causes of liver disease found in dogs include trauma, infection, portosystemic shunts, cirrhosis, and cancer.
Living with acute liver failure
When a dog's liver suddenly loses 70% or more of its ability to function due to tissue death, the dog is in acute liver failure. Since there are a variety of causes of acute liver failure, the symptoms may vary. Generally, they include a loss of appetite and vomiting, as well as jaundice.
If a dog is suffering from acute liver failure, he must receive emergency veterinary treatment. He'll receive fluid therapy, as well as treatment and medication to stabilize his other bodily functions.
The dog liver failure survival rate depends on how quickly he received veterinary treatment and the extent of resulting damage. If he can pull through his emergency, his prognosis will depend on addressing the cause of his liver failure.
When cancer strikes the liver
There isn't just one type of liver cancer for dogs. The typical signs of liver disease apply—vomiting, anorexia, lethargy—and also may include excessive thirst and urination, fluid accumulation in the abdomen, as well as seizures, weakness, and loss of coordination.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common form of liver tumors. Treatment usually includes a lobectomy, and the prognosis ranges from good to poor, depending on how far cancer has spread and how much of the liver is affected. Life expectancy for a dog with hepatocellular carcinoma can be several months to as long as three years, depending on how localized the tumor was when discovered.
Dogs with bile duct tumors have a poor prognosis, generally surviving a median of 6 months after surgery, as this cancer tends to recur locally and metastasize. Other liver cancers, including neuroendocrine tumors and hepatic sarcomas, tend to have a poor prognosis, as they're aggressive and metastasize.
Surviving with chronic hepatitis
When a dog suffers from ongoing inflammation of the liver, he has chronic hepatitis. There are many different causes for chronic hepatitis, including long-term or repeated exposure to toxins, infections, and some breed dispositions. In some cases, the cause of the liver's degradation defies discovery.
This type of liver disease requires prompt veterinary treatment, and the prognosis varies widely; the Merck Veterinary Manual notes some dogs can live more than 5 years after diagnosis. As with other liver diseases, the sooner get a diagnosis and treatment initiates, the more positive your dog's outcome.
Understand cirrhosis of the liver
Cirrhosis of the liver is the final stage of chronic liver disease and the outlook for a dog with cirrhosis is unfavorable. When a dog has reached the point of cirrhosis, scar tissue replaces the liver's healthy tissue and functioning cells. The liver can no longer regenerate and heal itself. Veterinary care at this point focuses on the quality of life, providing supplements and medication to help a dog live comfortably in his final months.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- The Merck Manual Pet Health Edition: Disorders of the Liver and Gallbladder in Dogs
- PetPlace.com: Structure and Function of the Liver in Dogs
- Seattle Veterinary Specialists: Liver Tumors
- National Canine Cancer Foundation: Hepatobiliary Tumors
- Willows Veterinary Centre and Referral Service: Acute Liver Failure
- The Merck Veterinary Manual: Canine Chronic Hepatitis