I knew Canine Liver Disease was among the top five killers of dogs, but what I didn’t realize were how many people were dedicated to healing their dogs naturally and wanted help with raw feeding.
After posting an article on how a raw diet may help liver disease, I’ve been flooded with emails and comments asking for help. In fact, so many that it seems like I’m paddling up stream. Inquiries are coming in faster than I can answer them. If there’s one trend I’ve noticed among hundreds of concerned pet parents, it’s dog owners want to know what to feed and where to start.
I’ve heard you loud and clear.
Hopefully this post will answer some of those questions and provide raw feeding guidelines for dogs with liver disease. Use the suggestions below to formulate meal plans and recipes to support canine liver function.
I want to remind everyone that I’m not a veterinarian and the information in this post is not meant to replace veterinary advice or recommendations. This is my opinion and I’m here to suggest additional options you may want to explore. Likewise, it’s important to be realistic in understanding that a raw diet is not a cure-all for any illness or disease.
I also assume you know how to feed a raw diet. If new to the concept, consider reading through raw feeding resources and educational information to learn more about feeding a raw diet.
Whew. Now that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the basics.
The benefit of a raw diet is simple. It delivers superior nutrient support, something of immense importance for any dog that is ill. It’s also a source of easily digestible foods. Because a raw diet is species appropriate, it avoids placing an unnecessary burden on internal organs and body systems.
Now it’s likely you’ll encounter naysayers that claim raw diets are dangerous for sick dogs. I disagree. In my opinion, a diseased animal should not be eating:
- Processed foods, period
- Low quality ingredients or ingredients not fit for human consumption
- Low moisture foods
- Foods with synthetic vitamins and minerals
- Foods with preservatives, emulsifiers, additives or other chemicals
- Grains & starches
A compromised body needs high quality, natural food. This is exactly why it makes sense to feed raw foods that are easy to digest and contain the highest amount of vitamins, minerals and enzymes to facilitate healing.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
Diet alone will not reverse liver disease if the underlying problem is not addressed.
This is a big one. Even if your dog appears to be improving and liver blood values return to normal ranges, if you don’t address the underlying problems causing liver disease, it may return. Suppression is not the goal. You want to address the problem then take steps necessary to promote healing.
There are many triggers for liver disease including inherited problems, preexisting conditions and illnesses, environmental toxins and chemicals, and medications. Address medical conditions to the best of your ability. If it’s the later, remove them from your pet’s surroundings so a full recovery is possible.
Commercial Raw Diet or Homemade?
While there are many wonderful commercial raw food brands on the market that are certainly more convenient, I don’t recommend them for sick dogs for only one reason: the control factor.
It’s not that they’re unworthy in any way, it’s that you have no way of knowing the quality of the ingredients included and in what quantity. A homemade raw diet will provide the most control. If my dog were suffering from an illness or disease, I’d want to control everything that goes into his or her mouth. With a homemade diet, that’s certainly possible.
Raw meaty bones and muscle meat are the foundation of any raw diet. Know what else? Protein is critical for healing and regenerating the liver.
Start by reviewing the protein options below. Notice the protein sources containing B complex vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin K, as they’re especially important for dogs with liver disease.
And you were told raw meat diets lacked nutrients…
Organ and Offal Sources
Organs are a smaller, but still vital part of any raw diet. Below you’ll find organ meat and other raw offal to include. Again, notice the foods containing B complex vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
Plant Matter: Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs
The raw feeding community is torn when it comes to the use of fruits and vegetables in a raw diet.
Based on comparative anatomy and the striking genetic similarity to wolves, dogs are carnivores. As carnivores, they don’t have a dietary requirement for plant matter. But this doesn’t mean fruits and vegetables don’t have a place in your dog’s diet. Many people now believe the right plants can be a fantastic form of supplementation.
It’s possible to feed a diet of only raw meat and provide all the nutrients your dog needs to thrive. Except, not every dog owner can afford to feed a variety of meat or even find it. This is where supplementing with fruits and vegetables may come in handy.
How to Feed
If feeding plant matter, it should be fed raw. Though an extra step is required to help dogs digest plants and make use of their beneficial nutrients. Is this a sign it’s not biologically appropriate? Yes, but this is the modern world and not everyone correctly simulates an all meat raw diet with enough variety.
Pureeing or juicing fruits and vegetables will break down the tough cell wall (back to high school biology we go!), giving your dog a head start in digesting those foods better. Then, simply add the puree or juiced mix to raw meat. If your dog refuses to eat his veggies, consider adding an egg, bone broth, beef/ chicken stock, or a few other disguises for encouragement.
What to Feed
There’s not enough room in this post to go over all of the fruits, vegetables and herbs that can be beneficial to the liver. Here are some guidelines without getting into too much detail.
Dogs generally don’t eat much fruit; it also has the tendency to ferment in the digestive tract. Feed fruits sparingly but if you do wish to include some, I’d recommend apples and berries.
When it comes to vegetables, opt for leafy green veggies since they mimic the grasses and native plants dogs would actually munch on in the wild, or in your backyard. Avoid starchy root vegetables and nightshades as they can aggravate digestive issues and certain health conditions.
Feed herbs! They have potent healing capabilities and even contain more phytochemicals than some fruits and vegetables. They’re also a great way to supplement a raw diet if you don’t believe your carnivorous friend should be eating fruits and vegetables. Feed fresh and grow them yourself if possible.
- Dandelion Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Swiss Chard
- Lettuce Varieties
- Other Leafy Greens
- Burdock Root
- Milk Thistle
Most plant matter is harmless, unless your dog has a known allergy. I would also be careful when it comes to copper. Some vegetables and leafy greens like Kale for instance are high in copper so they might not be appropriate for dogs with copper issues. Herbs are more potent and should be fed in smaller amounts as well. Keep in mind, it is possible to over supplement.
Skip Grains & Starches
There’s a good deal of information out there supporting the theory that grains and starches have no place in a dog’s diet. In fact, do you have any idea how many carbs are required by dogs to sustain life?
None. Zilch. Nada. Zero.
Grains and yes, even starches, contribute to a host of health issues including reoccurring infections, allergies, digestive issues, diabetes, and obesity. Most people are aware of this rap sheet assigned to grains but are completely unaware that starches are just as useless and detrimental.
Skip starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, parsnips, plantains, pumpkin, acorn squash, butternut squash, etc. Opt for leafy greens and herbs instead, they’re nutrient dense and serve as a better alternative if you feel compelled to feed plant matter.
Supplementation is a great idea and so is including items that help with immunity and healing, especially substances that can heal the liver or help a damaged liver carry out important bodily functions.
- Digestive Enzymes – Though a raw diet contains naturally occurring enzymes, it might be beneficial to supplement with enzymes to improve digestion and the absorption of nutrients.
- Probiotics – Aid in digestion, improve the immune system and foster the growth of good bacteria and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. Especially important for dogs on antibiotics that kill beneficial bacteria.
- Milk Thistle
- B complex vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin K
- Bone Broth
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Liver supporting amino acids (L-Carnitine and L-Arginine)
Carole Milligan, a carnivore nutrition consultant from Pawsitive Carnivore Pet Health provided the very helpful essential oil guidelines I’m about to share with you.
What are essential oils? They’re basically concentrated essences of plants. These oils or aromatic liquids are extracted from plant materials like flowers, leaves, buds, bark and roots and they have powerful and potent healing capabilities. In fact they were some of the first medicinal products used in ancient times and have been mentioned in Egyptian writing and even the Bible.
Essential oils have a wide range of benefits. Among them, they’ve been widely recognized both traditionally and medically for their living supporting and healing qualities.
- Fennel (Foeniculim vulgare) – Can be applied to the abdomen area. Fennel supports digestion, is an antiseptic and tonic for the liver, and can even protect the liver from toxins.
- Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) – Can be applied to the abdomen area. Gernaium assists gallbladder, liver, and kidney function, promotes hormonal balance, discharges toxin from the liver, and can help dilate bile ducts to assist in liver detoxification.
- German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – Can be taken in several forms: capsule, dripped on food, and/or applied along the spine or abdomen area. German Chamomile helps the liver discharge/reject poisons, cleans the blood, and assists with gastritis, gall bladder and liver issues.
- Helichrysum (Helichrysum paradisi) – Can be taken in several forms: capsule, dripped on food, and/or applied along the spine or abdomen area. With high anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, Helichrysum helps detox and simulate liver cell funtion, regenerate tissues and clean the blood.
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis CT Cineole) – Can be taken in several forms: capsule, dripped on food, and/or applied along the spine or abdomen area. Rosemary cleanses and detoxifies the liver, cleanses the blood, and can help with liver hepatitis and cirrhosis.
- JuvaFlex (blend of the essential oils above) – Can be taken in several forms: a drop on food, applied along the spine and abdomen area, or over the liver. This special blend uses oils that have a positive effect on the immune system and that help cleanse the liver.
Opt for therapeutic grade essential oils for optimal results and safety. I only use and recommend Young Living essential oil products as they’re pure and natural. These products are derived from crushing, grinding, or steam distillation vs chemical methods of extraction from other brands, which may leave trace chemicals behind. Keep in mind that essential oils are highly concentrated and it’s recommended that you use them sparingly.
If you’d like to save on YL essential oil products, head over to the Young Living member sign up page. You have the option of receiving products at wholesale pricing by signing up as a wholesale member. All that’s required is a small yearly purchase, though I’m sure you’ll find many great, natural products that are beneficial to you and your pets. Don’t forget to include Carole’s distributor ID (1285108) in the enroller field and my distributor ID (2025442) in the sponsor field!
What to Keep in Mind for Ammonia, Bile & Copper Issues
Consult with your veterinarian to assess the liver condition before beginning a raw diet. This is important because dogs with certain liver conditions like shunts or advanced/end stage liver disease will need to moderate ammonia in the diet.
If ammonia restriction is required, feed less red meats and organs since they produce the most ammonia. You may not want to eliminate them entirely though, as they have important nutrients that help with liver function.
Instead, cut back. Feed more poultry, fish, eggs, and pork. If feeding red meat, even in small quantities, buy the absolute best quality you can afford. Preferably grass fed, antibiotic, and hormone free.
If your dog is affected by a condition that causes an abnormal accumulation of copper in the liver, you’ll need to be diligent when formulating a meal plan. This condition may go by the following names:
- Copper Toxicosis
- Copper Storage Hepatopathy,
- Bedlington Terrier Hepatitis
- Copper Storage Disease
- Copper-associated Hepatopathy
This is an important dietary consideration. Abnormal copper storage can lead to hepatitis, damage, and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) over time. It’s important to note, copper restriction is necessary only for animals with the conditions above.
Meats generally low in copper are:
- Beef (muscle meat, not organs)
- Turkey (white meat)
- Chicken (white meat)
Meats generally high in copper are:
- Pheasant or Quail
- Organ Meats
When feeding organs for copper issues, some animal livers contain more copper than others. Beef liver is higher in copper than chicken or pork livers. Regardless, the zinc and b vitamins in liver help to reduce the risk of copper toxicity. Though if your dog has an issue with copper, opt for chicken or pork liver.
Bile acid helps in the breakdown of food. More specifically, it helps with fat absorption and moderates levels of cholesterol.
If your dog is in the advanced stages of liver failure, he or she may show signs for a condition called jaundice. This is when the liver’s ability to excrete bile is exceeded. It causes bile to accumulate in the body and the blood, leaving tissues stained yellow.
Dogs with jaundice will have a yellow appearance to the whites of their eyes, tongue, gums, and even the inside of their ears. Urine may become dark brown and stools could turn putty colored.
Bile acids help process fats and moderates cholesterol. If the liver is having trouble excreting bile acid, excess fat could further stress the liver. Dogs with jaundice or in advanced stages of liver disease should not feed too much fat. Fat is important so you may not want to avoid it entirely, just restrict it. It’s also important to feed fats that are easily digested like fats from animal protein.
Protein sources that are greasy and higher in fat are:
- Marrow bones
Feed what’s in your budget and what you can reasonably afford. Human quality meat will always be superior to rendered proteins and meat not fit for human consumption, so you’re already ahead of the game by purchasing quality foods.
If there’s wiggle room in your budget, spring for natural meats that are antibiotic and hormone-free. Grass-fed meats are ideal but are typically more expensive. Grass fed meats will have a superior nutrient profile including more antioxidants, more omega 3’s, a better omega 3 to 6 ratio, and they generally contain less fat.
Here’s a helpful guide to help you navigate meat terminology when shopping.
Balance & Variety
Balance is something that occurs over time in a varied diet. There’s no need to measure or calculate percentages when it comes to vitamins and minerals. I can promise it’s a waste of your time. Balanced pet food may seem like an answer to our fears but it’s really just a way to sell more dog food.
Do you balance each of your meals or do you strive to eat a variety of good quality foods? I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble but you don’t need to be a scientist to feed healthful and appropriate foods to your dog.
Think of balance in terms of variety. If you feed your dog chicken and chicken leg quarters every single day or for a majority of their diet, then I’d agree your dog is not receiving a balanced diet. On the other hand, if you feed a variety of protein sources, organs, offal, and other supplements, then I’d say you’re doing just fine. I always recommend feeding as many protein sources as possible (at least 3). From there you can choose to supplement even more. In fact, there are many wonderful, canine-focused, natural vitamin and mineral supplements that you can purchase if you fear you’re following short in terms of variety and balance.
Though if you follow the guidelines in this article, there’s a good chance your dog may be eating better than you.
Putting It All Together
Now it’s in your hands. You have a great list of items that you can use to formulate meal plans and recipes geared towards healing liver issues. Combine raw meaty bones and muscle meat in varying protein sources, organ and offal, supplements, and some plant matter if you choose to do so. Consult the raw feeding resources page to learn the approximate percentages of these items in a raw diet.
Share recipes you’ve tried with your dogs and personal success stories. Let’s get the discussion going and help support one another.
Please note: comments are for discussion on the topic as a whole. Feel free to help others by sharing something that has worked for your dog or provide suggestions for others looking for help with liver disease. Though, if you have specific questions about your dog and their medical condition, contact me through email. Please understand that it’s hard to answer complicated, in depth questions in the comments area. Questions about your dog’s situation are better suited for email, thank you!
Regardless of what happens from here, I commend each and every one of you for doing your research and seeking natural, alternative options for your companions. I wish you the best of luck and hopefully a full recovery for your dogs.