Preventing Liver Disease in Dogs Tips for a Healthy Liver

Liver disease in dogs is a serious health concern that can lead to severe complications if left untreated. As a pet parent, there are measures you can take to help prevent this condition and ensure your dog's liver remains healthy.

In this blog post, we will provide you with essential tips on preventing liver disease in dogs - from understanding the importance of regular vet check-ups to maintaining a balanced diet and exercise routine.

What are the main live functions of dogs?

The liver is like the body's chemical processing plant and without it, your dog's health could be seriously compromised. Let's check out the main functions of the liver in dogs and understand their importance:

  • Metabolism of Nutrients: It helps process and stores essential nutrients from food, such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats. It converts these nutrients into substances that the dog’s body can use. For instance, it converts glucose into glycogen for storage, breaking it down for energy.
  • Detoxification: One of its primary roles is to detoxify the blood. It filters out harmful substances like drugs, toxins and waste products. By doing so, the liver helps maintain the purity of the body's internal environment.
  • Bile Production: The liver produces bile, a yellow-green fluid that aids digestion. Bile helps break down fats and eliminate waste products from the blood.
  • Blood Clotting: It produces proteins that are crucial for blood clotting. Without these proteins, minor injuries could lead to severe bleeding.
  • Immunity: It removes bacteria from the bloodstream, helping to fight off infections.
  • Storage: It stores vitamins (like A, D, E and K) and minerals (like iron and copper), releasing them into the blood as needed. This ensures that your dog has a steady supply of these essential nutrients.
  • Hormone Regulation: The liver metabolises various hormones and regulates their levels in the body. This includes steroid hormones, thyroid hormones and others.

dog and owner

Liver-damaging factors in dogs

The liver is a vital organ in dogs, responsible for various functions, including detoxification, protein synthesis and digestion. Therefore, liver health is critical to the overall well-being of your pet. Several factors can lead to liver damage in dogs, each with its unique causes and effects.

  • Age and Genetics: Aging can naturally degrade a dog's liver function over time. Some dogs may be genetically predisposed to liver disease, making them more susceptible to liver damage.
  • Infections: Viral or bacterial infections like Infectious Canine Hepatitis, Leptospirosis and Salmonellosis can cause acute liver disease in dogs. These infections can trigger inflammation and other complications leading to liver function impairment.
  • Endocrine Diseases: Conditions like diabetes mellitus, hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's disease) and hyperthyroidism can impair liver function due to their effects on the body's hormonal balance.
  • Heartworm Disease: This parasitic infection can cause liver failure in dogs by damaging the heart and blood vessels, leading to complications that affect the liver.
  • Exposure to Toxins: Dogs exposed to heavy metals, certain herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, rodent poisons and aflatoxins (produced by mould) can suffer from liver damage. 
  • Poor Diet: A diet contaminated with aflatoxins, heavy metals, fluoride, pesticides and other environmental toxins can contribute to liver damage. Unfortunately, some pet food companies use ingredients condemned for human use, which can adversely affect your pet's liver health.
  • Medication Overuse: Certain medications, such as those for flea and tick prevention, heartworm, phenobarbital, steroids and antibiotics, need to be detoxified by the liver. Overuse of these medications can overtax the liver, leading to potential damage.

The most common dogs liver disease

  • Chronic Hepatitis: This is a long-term liver inflammation that is more common in dogs than cats. Chronic hepatitis can lead to extensive liver damage over time, as the continuous inflammation slowly destroys the liver cells. Various factors, from viral infections to genetic predisposition, can cause it.
  • Infectious Canine Hepatitis: This viral disease directly affects the canine liver, causing inflammation and scarring. It's highly contagious and can be transmitted through contact with the urine, faeces or saliva of an infected dog. Vaccination is available for this disease.
  • Acute Liver Disease: This condition can occur suddenly due to various causes, such as exposure to toxins, heat stroke or severe bacterial infection. Acute liver disease can be life-threatening and requires immediate veterinary attention.
  • Chronic Liver Disease: This form of liver disease occurs gradually and can result from ongoing health conditions such as diabetes or Cushing's disease. Over time, chronic liver disease can lead to liver failure if not managed properly.
  • Hepatitis: Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can be either short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Several factors, including infections, exposure to toxins and certain medications, can cause it.
  • Portosystemic Shunt: A portosystemic shunt is a birth defect in which the blood vessels bypass the liver, leading to a buildup of toxins in the body. Dogs with this condition may exhibit stunted growth, seizures and other neurological symptoms.
  • Cholangitis: This is an inflammation of the bile ducts, which carry bile from the liver to the small intestine. Some of the signs include jaundice, loss of appetite and abdominal pain.
  • Hepatic Neoplasia: This refers to liver cancer dog develops in the liver or spreads from another part of the body. Symptoms can vary widely but often include weight loss, decreased appetite and lethargy.

Can you prevent liver diseases in dogs?

Liver disease in dogs can often not be entirely prevented, but there are several measures you can take to reduce the risk.

One of the key ways to prevent liver diseases in dogs is to maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine. Obesity and related health conditions like diabetes can lead to liver disease, so keeping your pet at a healthy weight is crucial.

Removing toxins from their environment is another important step. If ingested, household cleaning products, certain plants and other poisonous substances can cause liver damage.

In some cases, nutritional supplements can help support liver health. Milk  thistle is most commonly used as an additional treatment for liver disease.

Vaccination can play a role in preventing certain types of liver disease. For instance, leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can cause liver disease but is preventable with a vaccine.

Early detection of liver issues can often lead to more effective treatment and better outcomes. If your dog has been diagnosed with liver disease, your vet may recommend supportive care to help reduce liver inflammation and scarring.

It's worth noting that not all liver diseases can be prevented and the approach to prevention may vary depending on the specific type of liver disease. Always consult your veterinarian for the best preventative measures for your pet.

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How to remove toxins from your dog's liver?

Detoxifying your dog's liver can be achieved through several natural methods. Here are some strategies:

  • Use of Herbs: Milk thistle is a popular herb known for its liver-boosting properties. The active ingredient in milk thistle, silymarin, aids the liver in processing toxins and prevents liver damage. 
  • Dietary Changes: A diet rich in veggies, particularly greens like spinach, broccoli, celery or asparagus, can support the liver's detox mechanisms. Foods high in sulphur compounds and glutathione, such as broccoli sprouts and asparagus, are essential for your pet's detox pathways. Home-cooked, high-carb meals may optimise liver function.
  • Hydration and Nutrition: Keeping your dog hydrated with clean water is another crucial step. A diet rich in antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids, vitamins and minerals like selenium and sulphur can help detoxify the liver.

How to keep your dog's liver healthy?

1. Provide a Balanced Diet

A balanced diet is crucial for overall health and maintaining a healthy liver. Ensure your dog's diet is rich in high-quality proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Avoid giving them foods toxic to dogs, like chocolate, grapes and onions. Give your dog liver treats that provide optimal liver care. 

2. Keep Your Dog Hydrated

Hydration plays a significant role in detoxifying the body and keeping the liver healthy. Always ensure your dog has access to clean water.

3. Regular Exercise

Regular physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight and prevents obesity, which can lead to liver disease. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise through daily walks, playtime or agility training.

4. Limit Exposure to Toxins

Dogs can easily ingest toxins from their environment, which can harm their liver. Limit their exposure to harmful chemicals, pesticides and certain medications, otherwise your dog will need to undergo a severe medical treatment. 

5. Regular Vet Check-ups

Routine veterinary check-ups and preventive care are crucial to detect any signs of liver disease early. Your vet can conduct blood tests and ultrasounds to assess your dog's liver health.

6. Use Liver Health Supplements

Supplements like milk thistle, SAMe, or those containing antioxidants can support liver health. Always consult with your vet before starting any new supplement regimen.

7. Maintain Dental Hygiene

Poor dental hygiene can lead to bacteria entering the bloodstream and affecting the liver. Regular tooth brushing and dental check-ups can help prevent this.

8. Avoid Overfeeding

Overfeeding can lead to obesity, which puts extra strain on the liver. Feed your dog appropriate portion sizes and avoid excessive treats.

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How to choose the best dog liver supplement?

When choosing the best liver supplements for your dog, there are several key factors to remember.

Firstly, always opt for products from well-known brands. This is crucial to ensure the quality and safety of the supplement.

Reading labels carefully is another important step. The label should clearly list all the ingredients and their quantities. Make sure there are no harmful additives or fillers.

More isn't always better when it comes to supplements. You need to follow the recommended dosage to prevent side effects.

Remember, each dog is unique, so what works for one may not work for another. Your dog's breed, age, weight and overall health status are all factors that should be taken into consideration.

If your dog has a specific health condition, such as liver disease, it's advisable to consult with your vet before starting any new supplement regimen. They can provide guidance on the best supplements for your dog's specific needs and how to properly administer them.

Lastly, consider your dog's preferences. Some dogs prefer chewable tablets, while others do better with powder or liquid supplements.

Choosing the right liver supplement for your dog involves careful consideration and research. Always prioritise quality, safety and your dog's specific needs.