The liver performs important functions like detoxification of the blood, production of bile for digestion and the removal of waste from the body. It is structured with six lobes and is one of the most complex organs in the body of the dog.
Early detection of a liver infection in a dog can help in improving the prognosis of pet liver diseases including feline liver disease. The unusually vast capacity of the liver to continue to function even when afflicted is mostly responsible for late detection of liver disease in dogs. Early detection is also tough since the symptoms of liver disease tend to surface only after the disease has progressed. Symptoms of liver disease in dogs may be gradual or sudden and symptomatic of certain conditions like indigestion and anxiety.
There are multiple causes of liver disease and a specific diagnosis is not always possible. Some of the major causes include:
- Drug-induced liver disease
- Infections caused by bacteria or viruses
- Ingestion of toxic substances
- Congenital disorder, like a liver shunt
- Change in blood supply due to heart disease
- An accumulation of copper
- Complications of another disorder
Excessive copper retention is mostly breed specific as some breeds like Bedlington and Highland White Terriers and Dobermans do not expel copper in quantities that other breeds do.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus or a toxin. Infectious hepatitis is caused by an adenovirus or a herpes virus. Although it can be transmitted by oral contact, it is mostly transient in nature. In certain cases, it progresses into a severe hepatitis. A dog with chronic liver disease may develop cirrhosis and sometime get an acquired liver shunt, a condition where the blood supply to the liver is altered.
Liver disease can also be secondary in nature. This means that the disease originates elsewhere in the body and is passed on to the liver. The pancreas is located near the liver and the bile ducts. Acute inflammation in the pancreas may result in a mild case of hepatitis. Similarly, a chronic inflammation of the bowel, shock, anemia and congestive heart failure may also affect the liver.
Treatment of a liver disease is expressly dependent on the underlying cause, which makes determination of the cause the most important factor before treatments are decided. For example, if trauma is the cause, the dog may need hospitalization for proper diet management and care. If the underlying cause is infection, then it is treated with antibiotics.
Liver disease causes the death of liver cells singly. Despite its capacity to regenerate its cells to a great extent, liver disease must receive immediate attention of a veterinarian. If liver disease is left untreated, more cells will die than the liver can regenerate. This can lead to progression of the disorder and ultimately to death.