The liver is an organ that carries various functions in the dog. According to PetEducation.com, the liver is capable of performing up to 1,000 tasks. Among the main tasks, the liver detoxifies the body by removing waste products; it produces several proteins responsible for the correct functioning of the body; it helps with digestion; and it stores several vitamins and minerals. It is understandable why when the liver fails, it produces a variety of symptoms that can affect almost any part of the dog's body.
Liver failure takes place when there is a lost of hepatic function greater than 75 percent. In other words, the liver has a great ''reserve capacity,'' which means that it is still capable of functioning well even when a good part of it has been affected by disease. While this is a great quality of the liver, the negative side is that once symptoms of liver failure arise, it is generally too late to treat. Yet, another great quality of the liver is that it is the only organ in the body that is capable of regenerating itself. Therefore, if a hepatic disease is caught early enough, there can be good chances of recovery.
Dogs affected by liver failure generally develop the following symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, ascites (enlarged abdomen due to the presence of fluids), weakness, lethargy, bleeding, seizures and ultimately coma. Jaundice, in particular, also known as icterus, is often a hallmark sign of liver disease. It is characterized by the yellowing of the skin due to an accumulation of bilirubin in the body. It can be seen in particular around the white of the eyes, inside the ears, near the abdomen and inside the mouth.
Dogs presenting symptoms possibly suggesting liver failure will undergo a series of tests. A complete blood count, a biochemical profile, serum bile acids, ammonia levels and a urinalysis may be tests veterinarians may decide to run. Further diagnostic tests may consist of a liver biopsy, X-rays, an ultrasound and even an exploratory surgery.
Dogs affected by liver failure are generally hospitalized and offered aggressive supportive care. Fluids, electrolytes and dextrose are given to hydrate, fix metabolic imbalances and help raise low blood sugar. If there is excessive vomiting, dogs are offered anti-emetics; antibiotics are provided as necessary; diuretics may be given to help reduce the level of ascites; and vitamin K may be given if there are blood clotting disorders. Special nutritional support and a prescription diet may be provided as well.
Prognosis largely depends on the extent of liver damage and the time frame that has passed between the insurgence of early symptoms and the initiation of treatment. All medications prescribed should be given as directed and owners should adhere to regular follow-up appointments. Generally, dogs that respond well to aggressive treatment during the first few days have higher chances of making a good recovery.
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.