Treatment of Liver Disease in Dogs - The Complete Picture

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By Tess Thompson

Its multifunctional nature and its unusually large size with six lobes makes the liver a complex organ. It is equally affected by primary diseases that originate from it and secondary problems that start from other organs but reflect upon liver functions. Veterinarians usually perceive liver disease in dogs on the basis of the age of the animal. In young dogs, a liver disease is normally caused by toxicity, diversion of blood from normal channels or viruses. In older dogs, inflammation and cancer are the usual suspects.

A specific diagnosis of liver disease is not possible as there are too many causes of liver disease in pets, and canine liver disease and feline liver disease cannot be diagnosed too easily. Moreover, the symptoms of liver disease in dogs are subtle and tend to overlap with other conditions. Feeling the abdomen usually lets the veterinarian know whether there is an enlargement of the liver. Yellow coloration of the gums, teeth and mucous membrane are indicative of jaundice, a type of liver disease that is caused by excessive retention of bilirubin. Beyond that, a series of laboratory blood tests need to be done to confirm a diagnosis.

Any treatment module must take into account the following objectives to effectively manage a liver condition:

  • Eliminate the causative factor such as poison or copper that may be damaging the liver.
  • Manage the negative affects of the causative toxin.
  • Provide aid in healing and regeneration of liver cells.
  • Ensure a good quality of life of the dog until the time liver functions are restored.

Fortunately, the liver can work properly even in conditions where a majority of its cells are damaged. In addition, the liver cells can regenerate themselves, and there is a fair to good chance of avoiding liver failure if the harmful toxins are removed. Dietary changes play an important role in this aspect of treatment. The body finds it difficult to regulate blood glucose levels if the dog has liver disease, which makes diet crucial to treatment. Your veterinarian is the right person to suggest the types of proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and fats that are best suited for the condition. The important thing to remember is that during the course of the treatment your dog should take the prescribed diet and medication and nothing else.

Besides diet change and regulation, other treatment methods are specific to the cause of the liver disease. Fluids and electrolytes are used to correct the dehydration that may be caused by a poor appetite. B-complex vitamins are added to the fluids that are given intravenously or subcutaneously. This corrects the sodium, potassium and chloride levels. Vitamin K is added if the liver disease has brought about problems with coagulation of blood.

In cases of fluid retention in the abdomen, the level of sodium in the body should be restricted. This is mostly accomplished with the aid of diuretics. Antibiotics are administered for bacterial infections. Cortisone is used if an immune mediated liver disease is suspected. Hepatitis, an inflammation caused by viruses, is treated symptomatically depending upon the severity. Cirrhosis of the liver is the ultimate condition of chronic hepatitis, where no treatment is effective. The most you can do is to alleviate pain and try to make life as comfortable as you can for your dog.


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