All About Liver Disease in Dogs and Cats A Serious Condition With Many Causes

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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 alternatives such as Denamarin), 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.

Denamarin for Dogs and Cats: Managing Liver Disease

Liver disease in dogs and cats is a potentially life threatening condition, but if caught in time it can be treated. One helpful way to support liver health is by adding the supplement Denamarin to your dog or cat’s diet. This chewable tablet contains two different liver-supporting components that work hard to keep your pet’s liver running smoothly.

What Is Liver Disease?

When your pet’s liver stops functioning properly, bad things happen. This organ plays an important role in the digestive process, acting like the body’s checkpoint by scanning nearly every mineral that passes through, weeding out the good from the bad. The liver also helps to make proteins.

When a pet has liver disease, the liver fails to do its job, allowing toxins to pass through, or blocking the passage of nutrients. Symptoms can be vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drinking and urination, swelling of the liver, and cell death. Once the cells in the liver start dying off, they are replaced with hard scar tissue. This process is known as cirrhosis, and there is no cure for it. Luckily, cirrhosis is the last stage, and up until that point, the damage done to the liver is reversible.

How Can I Tell If My Pet Has Liver Damage?

A few symptoms of liver damage include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drinking and urination
  • Swelling of the liver
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • Hepatic encephalopathy (brain disorder caused by excessive amounts of ammonia)
  • Spontaneous internal bleeding
  • Ascites (fluid buildup in the abdomen)

Treating Liver Disease with Denamarin

For pets in the early to middle stages of liver disease, Denamarin can help them turn back the clock on the damage done to their liver. Containing S-adenosylmethionine, a compound proven to stimulate glutathione production, along with silybin, a biologically active component shown to help proper liver function, this supplement is proven to help pets suffering from liver disease. It is not, however, a replacement for prescription liver medications, like Ursodiol for dogs and cats.

How Does Denamarin Work?

The main ingredient in Denamarin (and the sole ingredient in Denosyl) is the S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), which causes a rise in hepatic (or liver related) glutathione levels, which are essential for proper liver function. SAMe has also been proven to help protect liver cells from cell death, reducing the risk of cirrhosis, as well as bolster liver cell regeneration. Beyond that, SAMe has also been shown to enhance bile flow in cats.

The secondary ingredient is silybin, which is an antioxidant proven to help liver function by preventing the oxidation of various cell types, and improve protein synthesis, both of which help with cell regeneration.

When Is It Safe To Give My Pet Denamarin?

Just because Denamarin is over the counter, doesn’t mean it should be given without consulting your vet. Before you give your pet any sort of supplement, contact your vet. Aside from getting professional medical advice, a few rules of thumb for giving your pet Denamarin are:

  • Do not give it to pets under 6 weeks of age
  • Pets without liver disease do not need to be given Denamarin
  • Pets taking Denamarin should be given water along with the tablets to ensure that the pills are swallowed
  • Depending on the weight of your pet, give them anywhere from one to three tablets per dose
  • There are no known side effects of taking Denamarin, nor are there any contraindications (i.e., medications it should not be taken with)
  • Make sure to store your Denamarin in a cool, dry place to ensure the tablets stay fresh

More Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a dog live with liver disease?

The lifespan of a dog with liver disease can vary greatly depending on the cause and severity of the disease. In some cases, liver disease can be managed with medication and proper care, allowing a dog to live a relatively normal lifespan. In other cases, liver disease can be progressive and life-threatening, leading to a shortened lifespan. On average, dogs with liver disease tend to live 2-3 years with proper treatment, but some dogs may live longer or shorter depending on individual circumstances.

What are the early signs of liver disease in dogs?

Liver disease in dogs can have a range of symptoms that may appear gradually or suddenly, depending on the underlying cause and severity of the disease. Some of the early signs of liver disease include a loss of appetite, which can lead to weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhea, which can cause dehydration. Another sign of liver disease is abdominal swelling, which may indicate the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen due to liver failure. Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, is another common sign of liver disease, as is increased drinking and urination. Weakness and fatigue, bruising or bleeding easily, and bad breath or a musty odor can also be early signs of liver disease in dogs. If you suspect that your dog may have liver disease, it is important to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and treatment.

How fast does liver disease progress in dogs?

The progression of liver disease in dogs can vary greatly depending on the underlying cause and the severity of the disease. Some forms of liver disease can progress slowly over months or even years, while others, such as acute liver failure (ALF), may progress rapidly and become life-threatening in a matter of days or weeks. Factors that can influence the progression of liver disease in dogs include the underlying cause of the disease, the age and overall health of the dog, and the presence of other health problems. Early detection and prompt treatment are important for managing liver disease and slowing its progression, but the speed at which the disease progresses can vary from case to case.

What foods cause liver damage in dogs?

There are several foods that can cause liver damage in dogs, including moldy or spoiled foods, foods containing toxic mold, such as mushrooms, and foods containing high levels of copper, such as liver. Foods containing aflatoxins, such as peanuts or corn, or foods containing large amounts of vitamin D, such as cod liver oil, and high levels of iron, such as raw meat, can also lead to liver diseases. Foods containing high levels of fat, such as fatty cuts of meat or grease from cooking, can also lead to liver problems in dogs. Make sure your dog does not eat grapes or raisins that can be toxic to a dog’s liver.

How do vets treat liver disease in dogs?

Currently, it is impossible to treat liver disease unless the vet can identify the toxin that caused liver ailment. However, the vet can prescribe supportive treatments. Feeding a low-fat, low-protein diet that is easy on the liver can help reduce stress on the organ and improve its function. Medications such as anti-nausea drugs, pain relief drugs, antibiotics, and supplements can help manage symptoms and improve liver function. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged or diseased liver tissue or to correct other conditions that may be contributing to liver disease. Liver support therapy may include the administration of intravenous fluids, electrolytes, and other supportive treatments to help the liver function more effectively. Also, supplements such as S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) and milk thistle can help support liver function and reduce inflammation.

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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 with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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