Here’s the latest research on liver disease in dogs and nutrition. I’ve condensed it into an easy to read article, to help you make the best decisions possible when caring for your dog.
How Does a Dog’s Liver Function?
The liver is an integral part of your dog’s digestive system. A healthy liver processes all blood that leaves the stomach and intestines in order to support digestion, break down toxins, metabolise proteins, fats and carbohydrates, store essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, and eliminate waste from your dog’s body. Your dog’s liver also metabolizes drugs and removes all waste from their digestive system by excreting a fluid called bile.
Liver Diseases and Illnesses
All liver diseases and liver-related health issues will reduce the functioning ability of your dog’s liver. Below is a list of such illnesses (1):
- Acute or Chronic Hepatitis (Inflammation)
- Hepatic Cirrhosis (Scarring)
- Portal Hypertension (High blood pressure)
- Shunts (Deformation)
- Bile duct obstruction (Obstructing enzymes from leaving the liver)
- Storage diseases (Can’t remove waste)
What are the Symptoms of Liver-Related Illnesses in Dogs?
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Stomach ulceration
- Seizures or other neurologic problems
- Blood clotting problems
- Jaundice (a yellow tinge noticeable in the skin, mucous membranes, and eyes)
- Fluid collection in the abdomen
- Excessive urination and thirst
- Gastrointestinal bleeding can be seen in animals with liver disease due to ulcers or problems with blood clotting (2)
What are the Causes of Liver-Related Illnesses in Dogs?
- Bacterial or viral inflammation
- Obesity (causes overuse of liver)
- Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis (causes bacterial inflammation)
- Inability to remove copper (causes a build up of copper that damages the liver)
- Cancer of the liver
- Reduced ability to digest fats (Hyperlipidaemia)
- Cysts or gallstones (impedes liver function)
- Endocrine diseases (causes inadequate enzyme secretion)
- Ingestion of a toxic substance
- Congenital defects
- Autoimmune disorders
How Can I Treat My Dog’s Liver Disease?
Primarily, an accurate diagnosis of your dog’s specific illness will be vital to your success in treating their liver disease, as you’ll be able to remove the primary cause of their reduced function.
The second goal of hepatic therapy is to provide nutritional support. The premise of all diets that remedy liver disease is the same, as you’ll need to avoid overwhelming the functioning capacities your dog’s liver has, while providing sufficient nutrients for liver regeneration and other bodily functions.
Lastly, your dog may require specific therapies, such as anti-inflammatories, antifibrotics, or copper chelation, as well as liver support therapy, such as antioxidants and additional vitamins (5,6).
Protein is needed to support your dog’s hepatic regeneration and prevent negative nitrogen balance, which is why your dog’s protein intake should be increased to the highest level.
Protein restriction should only be implemented if your dog is showing signs of hepatic encephalopathy.
An increase in fat content will increase caloric density and palatability. This means the dog is consuming less quantity digesting less, while intaking an equal amount of calories. Fat is tolerated by dogs with liver disease unless they are suffering with severe cholestasis, which results in fat maldigestion.
Carbohydrates and Fibre
If your dog has liver disease, they may see a decrease in hepatic glycogen storage, which potentially increases the risk of low blood sugar levels and increases the use of protein catabolism for energy. Therefore, feeding your dog high-glycaemic treats (carbohydrate treats that break down quickly) between meals will prevent low blood sugar.
The inclusion of some fibre, especially soluble fibre, will increase the speed that food is transported through your dog’s gut, which gives toxins less time to be absorbed.
Vitamins and Minerals
Any disorder that decreases the amount of bile acids entering the intestine, enterohepatic bile acid circulation, or intestinal fat absorption requires the reduction in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Vitamin K and E deficiencies are particularly common.
It has been demonstrated that copper accumulation is often controlled using a low-copper diet. Dietary zinc can also block intestinal copper absorption, and zinc supplementation in a low-copper diet may also be beneficial following chelation therapy.
Silibinin (Milk Thistle Extract): Antioxidant that suppresses fibrinogenesis, promotes fibrinolysis, and helps protect against hepatotoxins (6).
- Prins, M., Schellens, C.J.M.M., Van Leeuwen, M.W., Rothuizen, J. and Teske, E., 2010. Coagulation disorders in dogs with hepatic disease. The Veterinary Journal, 185(2), pp.163-168.
- Cullen, J.M., 2009. Summary of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association standardization committee guide to classification of liver disease in dogs and cats. The Veterinary Clinics of North America. Small Animal Practice, 39(3), p.395.
- Xenoulis, P.G. and Steiner, J.M., 2010. Lipid metabolism and hyperlipidemia in dogs. The Veterinary Journal, 183(1), pp.12-21.
- Norton, R.D., Lenox, C.E., Manino, P. and Vulgamott, J.C., 2016. Nutritional considerations for dogs and cats with liver disease. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 52(1), pp.1-7.
- Twedt, D. C., Chandler, M. 2014. Clinical Nutrition for Common Liver Diseases. World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings