Has your pet been diagnosed with liver disease or do you suspect they may be suffering from it? While the symptoms—depression, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, and stomach pain—can leave your companion feeling very under the weather, the good news is the liver, more so than most other organs, has an ability to regenerate.
This means if you get your pet on the right diet as quickly as possible, you can help diminish the progression of the disease. Unfortunately, few types of liver disease can be cured, but there are treatment options to help improve your loved one’s quality of life no matter the prognosis.
How Can the Right Diet Help Treat Liver Disease?
The causes of liver disease vary—it could be the result of genetics, exposure to toxins, an infection, or even idiopathic, which means we really do not know why your pet's liver is degenerating. As a result of these varying causes, the best ways to manage liver health also vary. Following specific food and nutrition guidelines is one of the potential treatment options.
Keep in mind, there is no one-size-fits-all diet plan and recommendations may evolve as your pet’s health changes. As always, be sure to consult with a veterinarian before making any alterations to how you care for and feed your canine or feline companion.
Liver-friendly pet food can be purchased or prepared at home, but it should be noted that complete nutrition is hard to achieve with home-made food, and any attempts should only be made with the consultation of a veterinarian or certified veterinary nutritionist.
Protein Intake for Pets with Liver Disease
Depending on the type and stage of liver disease, the ideal protein intake will vary. Some types of the disease will require an increase in protein and other stages and types will require limiting protein. When limiting protein intake, veterinarians will often recommend using dairy, soy, and egg sources instead of meat sources.
What to Avoid in Food for Pets with Liver Disease
Salt content in foods should be carefully monitored to make sure your dog or cat doesn’t retain any extra fluid, a potential result of a declining liver.
Copper: Though rare, liver disease is associated with a buildup of copper. If this is the case for your pet, absorbable copper should be limited in the diet (and your veterinarian may advise you to increase the zinc of your pet’s food as it helps to minimize copper absorption).
What to Look For in Food for Pets with Liver Disease
Vitamin E, zinc, SAM-e, milk thistle, and ursodiol are vitamins and supplements that may contribute to liver health, such as Denamarin or Denosyl. They can also improve the liver's antioxidant levels, leading to less inflammation.
Vitamin K: In some cases of liver disease your dog or cat might be put on long-term antibiotic treatment designed to help the body cope with the byproducts of an altered liver metabolism. If this is the case, the vitamin K that is typically made by the body may be diminished. Since the liver depends on vitamin K for synthesis of the proteins that cause blood to clot, veterinarians sometimes recommend a vitamin K supplement be added to the diet, particularly if the patient is not eating vitamin K enriched commercial dog food.
What if My Pet Doesn’t Want to Eat at All?
In some instances, if a loss of appetite accompanies the disease, you may need to feed your pet via syringe or feeding tube if they refuse to eat otherwise. Dehydration may result and if so, electrolytes and an IV will need to be administered to get your pet’s health back on track.
Other nutritional guidelines may come into play if your pet is suffering from additional health problems on top of the liver troubles.
Beyond the Diet: What Else Can I Do to Treat Liver Disease?
Medications (such as Ursodiol for dogs or cats), surgery, and therapies may also help your pet.
For a proper diagnosis of liver disease--and to distinguish the cause and best treatment--the vet will need to conduct some tests, usually starting with blood and urine tests and often ending in a biopsy of the liver for a definitive diagnosis. A definitive diagnosis will help you implement the perfect diet plan.
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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. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.