Liver Disease in Dogs and Cats

By Elizabeth Benson

What is Liver Disease?

The liver plays many roles within the body including protein, carbohydrate, and lipid metabolism, detoxification, bile metabolism, synthesis of blood coagulation factors, vitamin storage, blood filtration, and metabolism of drugs. Liver disease is a generic term and can be caused by many underlying causes including chronic active hepatitis, infections, cancer, toxins, glucocorticoid or other drug administration, metabolic disease, congenital abnormalities, neighboring pancreatitis, and many others. A complete work-up should include a thorough physical examination, blood work, diagnostic imaging, and liver biopsy.

 

 

What Symptoms Can Present as the Disease Progresses?

Early Stages:

  • Inappetance or anorexia
  • Fever
  • Vomiting/diarrhea
  • Progressive lethargy
  • Discolored feces and/or urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Increased water consumption and urination
  • Weight loss

Late Stages:

  • Persistent early stages
  • Distended abdomen – due to liver enlargement or fluid buildup
  • Bleeding problems – delayed clotting, bruising, hemorrhages
  • Seizures
  • Black/tarry stool
  • Disorientation
  • Icterus – yellowing of the skin membranes
  • Organ failure
  • Unable to rise

Crisis – Immediate veterinary assistance needed regardless of disease

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Prolonged seizures
  • Uncontrollable vomiting/diarrhea
  • Sudden collapse
  • Profuse bleeding – internal or external
  • Crying/whining from pain*

*It should be noted that most animals will instinctually hide their pain. Vocalization of any sort that is out of the ordinary for your pet may indicate that their pain and anxiety have become too much for them to bear. If your pet vocalizes due to pain or anxiety, please consult with your tending veterinarian immediately.

 

Common Signs of Pain

Panting, lameness, difficulty sleeping, pacing, abnormal posture, body tensing, poor grooming habits, tucked tail, dilated pupils, licking sore spot, muscle atrophy, decreased appetite, vocalizing/yowling, reclusive behavior, aggressive behavior, avoiding stairs/jumping, depressed, unable to stand.

How is Liver Disease Treated?

The underlying cause of liver disease will dictate the type of treatment. Mild forms of the disease can be treated medically with pharmaceuticals designed to reverse the damage to the liver. In more severe cases, involving chronic disease or cancer, surgical intervention may be an option. Because liver disease affects so many parts of the body, medical management of all symptoms is important.

What Is the Prognosis for Liver Disease?

The prognosis for liver disease is more promising when the disease is recognized and treated early. The liver is very resilient and can regenerate itself if some of it remains healthy. However the more severe and diffuse the disease, the worse the prognosis.

A personalized treatment plan is important to slow the progression of liver disease. Talk to your veterinarian regarding the best treatment protocol for your animal companion.

Testimonials

I can't recommend them enough. I had to say goodbye to my 21 year old cat companion. I read the reviews here on Yelp and chose Paws Into Grace and they made an unbearable situation not worse - from the people on the phone to the amazing doctor who... read more

Renee C.

My absolute love Dante had heart failure three months ago. After having him on many medications to help him, his enthusiasm and appetite declined last couple of days. He was in pain and we decided to help him go to heaven rather than torturing him... read more

Diane C.

I wanted to thank you for sending Dr. Brown to euthanize our beloved Myleigh on March 4, 2021. She was compassionate and accommodating, she explained every step of the procedure, and gave us some alone time with Myleigh after she sedated her, but... read more

Terry A.

Renee C.

I can't recommend them enough. I had to say goodbye to my 21 year old cat companion. I read the reviews here on Yelp and chose Paws Into Grace and they made an unbearable situation not worse - from the people on the phone to the amazing doctor who came out to the house. She was so understanding and supportive. They were all so helpful, understanding and nice. My girl got to stay at home and say goodbye in the backyard (a hummingbird flew over and it seemed like a good sign too). So glad I didn't have to take her to a cold vet office.

Diane C.

My absolute love Dante had heart failure three months ago. After having him on many medications to help him, his enthusiasm and appetite declined last couple of days. He was in pain and we decided to help him go to heaven rather than torturing him with more medications which would make him even more miserable. I called and spoke to a very kind lady who was patient as I cried through making an appointment. We made an appointment for 1:30pm. Dr. Toni arrived. She was very kind, explained everything to us and gave us the time to be with our boy after the first shot. He wasn't relaxing enough so she gave him a second shot. We stayed with him throughout the entire process and I carried him to her car in the end. It was a very difficult decision but knowing that our boy is not in pain, gives us some peace. We are thankful to Dr. Toni for her kindness and compassion. They will arrange the cremation for us. Since we are in a pandemic, we had our masks on and said goodbye to our boy in our garden.

Terry A.

I wanted to thank you for sending Dr. Brown to euthanize our beloved Myleigh on March 4, 2021. She was compassionate and accommodating, she explained every step of the procedure, and gave us some alone time with Myleigh after she sedated her, but before she attached the IV. We were relieved that we made the decision to let her go to doggy heaven at home. It was a tranquil and serene passing for her, and it very much aids us in the grieving and healing process knowing that she passed away so peacefully. Based on the grace and compassion Dr. Brown demonstrated on one of the most awful days of our lives we would not hesitate to recommend Paws Into Grace for others facing this very painful time.
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