Symptoms of Liver Disease in Dogs

By Tess Thompson

The liver has innate properties of regenerating itself and can function easily even when a major part of its mass has been affected by a disease. This is the double-edged nature of the largest organ in the body. It is advantageous in as much as it means that it keeps on working to its full potential for a long time even when it is affected by a liver disease. On the other hand, it also restricts manifestation of symptoms of liver disease in dogs while the disease continues to progress.

Liver disease in dogs presents multiple symptoms, which are often confusing as they can relate to many mild disorders. The liver being the main industrial center in the body, performing multiple functions, is connected with practically all the biochemical processes that a body needs to function at optimal levels. As such, liver disease can affect any part of the body and in turn be affected by viral or bacterial infections in other organs or body systems. Some of the main symptoms of liver diseases in dogs are discussed in detail below:

The most common symptom is anorexia or loss of appetite. Loss of appetite is often accompanied by other gastrointestinal and abdominal upsets like diarrhea, vomiting and constipation. Lack of proper metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins and the resultant weight loss leads to further complications. Disruption of normal physiological processes leads to anemia, which in turn causes progressive depression and lethargy. The dog may refuse to go out on walks and become intolerant to exercise.

Pale gray stools
Bile is made up of electrolytes, cholesterol, bile acids, bilirubin (an orange yellow pigment in bile that forms as a product of hemoglobin), and globulins. It is produced and channeled by liver cells for storage in the gall bladder. Bile is important for drug elimination, recirculation of red blood cells and absorption of fats from intestines into the blood stream. Bilirubin, which is toxic, must be detoxified and excreted into the intestines for further break up into urobilinogen. Urobilinogen gives stool its dark brown color. Liver disease may obstruct the bile duct and hamper this excretion resulting in pale gray colored feces.

Once the bile duct starts obstructing secretion of bile from the gall bladder the resultant accumulation of the toxic bilirubin in the blood stream leads to jaundice. The dog may show a yellow discoloration in the skin and mucous membranes.

Bleeding disorders
Liver synthesizes proteins that initiate and maintain the complex biochemical process of clotting. A liver disease can impair the normal clotting system, which results in bleeding disorders.

Ascites (Accumulation of fluids)
Accumulation of fluids in the abdominal cavity is more common in a canine liver disease rather than a feline liver disease. It is caused when the blood flow from the portal vein is diminished. The resultant rise in blood pressure causes fluids to leaks from the portal vein into the abdomen. This manifests as external symptom of a distended stomach. A severe condition hampers breathing as pressure on the diaphragm increases. A dog’s stomach can also appear to be bloated if the liver is abnormally enlarged. An enlarged liver induces pain in the abdomen, which can be aggravated when the dog is lifted from the stomach.

Symptoms of liver disease in dogs are so varied that they are difficult to compile in a short write up. Besides physical symptoms, liver disease is also indicated through a condition known as Hepatic encephalopathy, or severe neurological signs like seizures, unnecessary pacing or circling, and other behavioral changes.


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