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How to Diagnose and Treat Liver Problems in a Dog

Updated on April 22, 2013

Grapes: Toxic for Your Pooch

Grapes are toxic to a dog.
Grapes are toxic to a dog.

We all want our pets to be healthy, happy and live a long life, but when illness strikes, diagnosing and treating it promptly can prolong the life of your furry friend.

If your dog ingests certain chemicals, or even some innocent-appearing foods, he could develop liver problems that could reduce his quality of life. The ironic thing is that dogs can chew on dead carcasses without so much as a belch; so many owners think their dogs have nearly iron-stomachs. Sadly, they don’t.

The best course of action is to protect your dog from eating things that could damage his liver, but the second best thing is to diagnose the liver problem early and treat it proactively to protect your beloved pet.

Symptoms of a Liver Problem

Your dog’s liver performs the vital function of removing toxins and waste from his body and producing substances that help his blood clot. When your dog’s liver is affected, early symptoms of a problem might include a poor appetite, diarrhea, vomiting and yellowing of the whites of his eyes. Your dog’s stomach might also be tender to the touch, making him whine or shy away when you touch it. Two or more of these symptoms indicates a need to call your vet.

Dangerous Foods Dogs Should Never Eat

Toxins That Can Cause Liver Problems

Anything that’s poisonous to your dog can harm his liver, and while you probably know that things like drinking antifreeze can kill your dog, you might not know the extent of the poisoning risk that lurks in your house and yard. Here is a list of common toxins that you should always keep out of reach of your dog.

  • Antifreeze
  • Rodent Poison
  • Pain Relievers (like Advil and Tylenol)
  • Chocolate (Dark chocolate is worse than milk chocolate but both are bad)
  • Human Heart Medications
  • Anti-Depression Medications
  • Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
  • Skin Creams
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Grapes (Raisins, too)
  • Garlic
  • Grapes (very toxic for your dog’s liver)
  • Tobacco Products
  • Caffeine
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Household Cleaning Products

If your dog eats any of the above toxin, call your vet immediately. Keep a jar of activated charcoal on hand, which is used to treat some types of toxins, if directed by your vet. Being able to administer charcoal at home can be a lifesaver.

Other Causes of Liver Problems in a Dog

Diseases and other things can also cause liver damage in a dog. Hepatitis, diabetes and Cushing’s Disease are among dozens of diseases that can impact your dog’s liver. Being hit by a car or kicked can also damage the liver. A parasite infestation or fungal disease can also damage the liver. While your vet can diagnose liver damage, he might not be able to tell you what caused the problem, so keeping an eye on your dog and his activities, and never physically punishing your dog are imperative to his physical health.

What to Expect After Liver Damage

Some types of liver damage are reversible and others are not. Only your vet can run the tests needed to determine how much of your dog’s liver is still functioning. Your vet will order blood-clotting tests to see if your dog’s liver is still working.

Your vet might put your dog on a special dog food that will not overtax his liver. In addition, during the critical phase, your dog might need IV fluid replacement to keep him healthy.

Alternative Treatments

Before embarking on any alternative treatment, consult your vet. Giving your dog milk thistle may aid in liver regeneration and some vets will suggest supplementing your dog’s diet with daily milk thistle capsules. Since the weight of your dog determines the dosage – use only as much as your vet recommends.

Feed your dog a high quality, easy-to-digest dog food that will not overburden his liver, especially in the days following an initial liver attack. With the right care and careful feeding, if the liver damage is not too extensive, you and your pooch can enjoy each other for a long time to come.

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