Causes of Liver Disease in Dogs - As Varied as Liver Functions

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By Tess Thompson

To understand the causes of liver disease in dogs, it is important to have a look at its physiology. The liver is involved in multiple functions and therefore its health can affect numerous organs. Conversely, the health of various other organs can negatively affect the health of the liver too. A summary of liver functions is presented here.

  • Metabolism - The liver regulates the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
  • Detoxification - It is a multi-phased process that involves deactivating an offending drug for easy elimination and converting an inactive compound into an active form so that it can circulate through the blood stream and have an affect on the body.
  • Bile Metabolism - Bile is produced by liver cells and secreted by them into channels in the liver and stored in the bladder. Inactive compounds are eliminated in the bile, red blood cells are re-circulated through the bile system, and bile helps in absorption of fats from the intestines to the blood stream.
  • Coagulation - The liver plans and directs the complex synthesis of proteins that initiate and maintain clotting of blood.

Apart from these primary functions the liver also performs other functions like storing vitamins and housing cells related to certain functions of the immune system.

Considering the multifaceted ‘personality’ of the biggest organ in the body, it is difficult to pinpoint causes of liver disease. What adds to an already difficult job is that in many cases liver disease is secondary in nature, and the liver is affected due to a problem that originates elsewhere in the body.

  • A severe blow in the front of the abdomen may lead to breaking up of a liver lobe, which causes bleeding into the abdomen. This can even lead to the death of a dog. Bruises caused by minor accidents often heal on their own.
  • Liver disease may also be caused due to a severe attack of pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas.
  • The liver needs sufficient quantities of oxygen to function. Hemolytic anemia reduces the supply of oxygen, which can ultimately lead to the death of the animal.
  • Liver disease is also caused by bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Different types of viruses and bacteria bring about various conditions, some of which are infectious and fatal.
  • Any condition that causes failure of the right of the heart can potentially affect the liver also. Heartworms can restrict the supply of blood to the liver and cause liver failure.
  • Different types of drugs used to treat other conditions can create problems for the liver. Cortisone and other drugs commonly used to treat arthritis, heartworms, fungal infections, intestinal parasites and epilepsy can be toxic to the liver.
  • Two-thirds of the blood flows into the liver through the portal vein. Sometimes, due to a congenital defect, the vein bypasses the liver giving rise to a liver disease known as a liver shunt.
  • Last but not least; liver cancer is another dreaded liver disease in dogs, which may be primary or secondary.

It is obvious that liver diseases are proportionate with the variety of functions that the liver performs. The problem arises when symptoms of liver disease in dogs or feline liver disease remain hidden for a long time and delay treatment. Diet plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of the liver. The correct approach is to stick to a natural and home cooked diet for the pet, avoiding toxic foods and drugs, from the day you bring it home.


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