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All About Liver Disease in Dogs and Cats

A Serious Condition With Many Causes

By Meredith Alling. December 04, 2013 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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Liver disease can be caused by many different disorders that can damage the liver in some way. Since there are so many contributing factors to liver disease, doctors can have a difficult time diagnosing and treating the condition.

Liver disease is a broad term referring to any disorder that damages the liver. Dogs and cats suffering from liver disease can be in serious danger, as the liver performs a number of important functions throughout the body, including the regulation of digestion and metabolism, the synthesis of hormones and proteins, immune response, and the filtering of toxins from the bloodstream.

When liver disease progresses too far, it often results in liver failure — a condition characterized by a loss of liver function. Read on to learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of liver disease in dogs and cats.

Liver Disease Causes

There are a number of diseases, infections, medications, chemicals, and toxins that can cause damage to the liver. Liver disease can also be genetic, and in some cases, even idiopathic, meaning that the cause is unknown.

In dogs, common conditions that can result in liver damage include hepatitis, leptospirosis, diabetes, tumors, Cushing’s syndrome, and heartworm infection.

In cats, the most common cause of liver damage is hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver), followed by cholangiohepatitis. Feline infectious peritonitis, toxoplasmosis, and feline leukemia can also be associated with liver disease.

Chemicals that can produce liver toxicity include insecticides, lead, selenium, iron, arsenic, phosphorous, and carbon tetrachloride. Plants, including algae, ragwort, and some kinds of mushrooms, have also been known to cause liver damage. So, too, have a number of medications, including certain antibiotics, antifungals, diuretics, dewormers, testosterone, anesthetic gases, corticosteroids, analgesics, and anticonvulsants. In most cases, liver damage caused by medications is the result of overdose or extended use.

Liver Disease Symptoms

The symptoms of liver disease can be subtle or easily attributed to other conditions. Keep an eye on your pet and contact your veterinarian if you see any of the following:

Liver Disease Diagnosis and Treatment

Liver disease is commonly diagnosed through a combination of blood and urine testing to check for abnormalities, x-ray and ultrasound testing to assess the liver’s size and structure, and a liver biopsy to determine the cause of the disease. Once the cause has been identified, the appropriate treatment can begin.

Depending on the cause, treatment could mean surgery, medications (such as Ursodiol for dogs or cats), or supportive care. While few types of liver disease can be cured outright, many can simply be controlled, and since the liver is an organ with the ability to regenerate, certain treatments can also have the effect of reducing progression of the disease. These treatments may include:

  • Fluid therapy to control dehydration
  • Vitamins or supplements that promote liver health, like Denamarin or Denosyl
  • Diet changes that improve liver function

Liver Disease Prognosis

The prognosis for liver disease will ultimately depend on the cause, how long the dog or cat has been sick, the degree of liver damage, and whether or not the damage can be controlled or reversed.

Visit your veterinarian regularly to ensure that problems are caught before they become severe, and always contact your veterinarian if you suspect that your pet is unwell.

More on Pet Health

The Top 5 Facts About Periodontal Disease in Pets
Symptoms of Addison's Disease in Dogs
9 Sick Dog Symptoms to Watch Out For

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Liver Disease at a glance

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  • 1The liver fulfills many important body functions, so liver disease can be very dangerous
  • 2The causes of liver disease include disease, infection, certain medication, chemicals, genetics, and more
  • 3Symptoms of liver disease include loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, and more
  • 4Treatment will depend on the cause of your pet’s liver disease