The large size of the liver stands testimony to the multifunctional roles that it plays in the health of a dog. Its importance can be gauged from the fact that 25% of the blood pumped out with each heartbeat goes into the liver alone. Another significant aspect of the liver lies in the fact that it stores its capacity for emergencies and uses only a small amount of its potential at any given time. This inherent property actually works against your pet as the symptoms of liver disease in dogs remain hidden for a long time. The liver has an advantage that is matched by very few organs in the body. Liver cells can regenerate themselves allowing a disease-struck liver to resume normal functions in many cases.
The liver is also involved in practically all that goes on in the body. It is involved in growth, supply of nutrients, providing energy and filtering toxins. It also aids other organs in their functions. Understanding liver disease in dogs is a complex process. The causes behind liver malfunction, however, can be tabulated for easy understanding.
The liver is located in the most forward part of the abdomen of a dog, so far up that it almost touches the diaphragm, the muscles that helps in breathing in mammals. Any injury in that part of a dog’s body, being hit by a car for example, can fracture a liver lobe and cause bleeding into the abdomen. A minor contusion heals by itself, but excessive bleeding can cause death. A heatstroke and torsion of the liver lobe can also restrict liver functions.
Trauma, viruses, drugs, bacteria, bile, (a digestive secretion of the gall bladder) and toxic foods can cause inflammation of the liver. An inflamed liver is known as hepatitis.
An inflammation of the pancreas can indirectly spread to and cause liver disease.
Hemolytic anemia, an immune mediated disease can restrict availability of oxygen to liver cells, thus killing the cells.
Most of the liver problems are accompanied by bacterial infection, making the use of antibiotics a routine matter while treating canine or feline liver disease. Heartworms are internal parasites that can block the flow of blood into the liver. Like any other disease that causes the failure of the right side of the heart, blockage of blood supply can cause serious liver problems.
One of the main functions of the liver is to treat and discard toxins occasionally ingested by dogs. In addition, some drugs administered for various diseases can also affect the liver. Cortisones and other drugs for treating heartworms, arthritis, fungal infections, epilepsy medicines and de-worming medications can all negatively affect the liver.
Cancer is by all means the most serious of all liver diseases. Cancer can be primary (arising from the liver itself) or secondary (a cancer that reaches the liver on metastasis from another organ). It is usually detected late and shortens the life span of the dog even after treatment.
A liver disease in dogs is usually secondary. Problems elsewhere in the body reflect on normal liver functionality. Moreover, the symptoms of a liver disease are subtle and some dogs do not show any symptoms early in the course of the disease. All pets of eight years and above should be examined regularly, preferably every year. An early detection will help to improve the prognosis of liver disease.