Diagnosing Dog Liver Disease

By Tess Thompson

Liver disease in dogs can occur at any age, but some breeds are more predisposed. Some dog breeds have less than normal bilary excretion of copper, leading to toxic levels of copper storage in the liver. Others are more prone to chronic hepatitis, inflammation of the liver caused by a virus or toxins.

It is very rare to see a pathognomonic indication that signals presence of a particular disease beyond any doubt. The liver is a complicated and multifaceted organ, interconnected with many other organs. It is responsible for many biochemical processes that go on in the body. Diagnosing liver problems in dogs and cats is all the more difficult, and requires a planned diagnostic plan before its presence can be established beyond any doubt.

There has been a great amount of advancement made in understanding conventional blood tests, laboratory reports, and new imaging techniques. However, essential as they may be, definite diagnosis is rarely based solely on these findings. History, predisposition, age, and a physical examination are equally critical to exactly locate and confirm or feline canine liver disease.

Although observant owners and the details provided by them are helpful in indicating the presence of liver problems in dogs and cats, a physical examination can help to rule out other problems that the dog may be facing. Generally, physical examination starts from abdominal palpation to see if the dog experiences pain in the area. Examination of the lymph nodes and listening to heart murmurs of a dog are the next steps to understand the role of the cardiovascular system in the overall health of the dog.

Elevated levels of liver specific enzymes ALT and AST (SGPT and SGOT) in the blood are enough to indicate the prevalence of liver disease. Further confirmation is provided by high levels of bilirubin in blood and urine. Radiography and an ultrasonic examination reveal enlargement and telltale signs of any changes in the internal anatomy of the liver that may have occurred. An ultrasound will also reveal any signs of pancreas diseases in dogs and cats.

If the diagnose is not complete by this time, the veterinarian may suggest exploratory surgery. The liver may appear tan or yellowish in color, a bit bigger than normal size, and with swellings on its borders. It will also show other organs near the liver that are usually involved with liver disease, like the pancreas. At this stage, a biopsy may be performed and a large piece of liver may be sent for histopathology. Histopathology involves a microscopic examination of the liver tissue to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

Normally, cancer cells from other parts of the body travel to the liver through its dual supply system that sends blood to the liver. Proper diagnostic procedures can reveal if the liver is under threat from this deadly disease or whether a tumor is causing the problem.


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