If you’ve experienced this situation, like many others, it can be extremely difficult for pets and their owners to cope with.
Watching your beloved companion become ill and deteriorate is beyond devastating.
What’s worse is many pet owners like yourself, feel there’s little they can do about it – other than feeding commercial pet food prescribed by their veterinarian and pumping their little guy full of meds.
Unfortunately, this route doesn’t always solve the issue at hand.
It may mask the illness or temporarily sooth symptoms for a period of time, but it doesn’t offer a solution.
Commercial pet foods are laden with toxins and heavy antibiotic use can be taxing on the body (especially the liver), which is why it’s important to take a holistic and preventative approach to disease.
Be aware of liver issues and illnesses and what causes them. With this knowledge, you’ll be better armed to prevent the disease entirely or stop it in its early stages.
If you suspect your dog is in the early stages of liver disease, be aware of the signs and symptoms, tests and diagnoses, and holistic treatment options.
Because the liver is one of the most important organs in a dog’s body and is responsible for so many essential bodily functions, its health is of utmost importance.
If the liver becomes damaged or compromised in any way, your dog’s health could be in danger.
The liver’s main responsibilities lie in:
• detoxifying the blood
• removing waste
• and producing bile to aid in digestion.
Not only because dogs can’t accurately tell us what’s wrong, but because it could be advanced or virtually untreatable before symptoms begin to surface.
This is also why finding conclusive results from various liver function tests can be challenging.
Sadly, it’s believed that many liver conditions go on for a while before either an owner or veterinarian recognizes signs or symptoms.
Because the liver plays such an important role in your dog’s body, there are many diseases that can affect it.
Likewise, liver disease in dogs can also affect many other parts of the body. This makes diagnosis difficult with symptoms that are often unpredictable and non-specific.
Despite the severity of liver disease, the liver is fascinatingly resilient.
Interestingly enough, its reserve capacity is quite large. This means it has the ability to perform its duties even during the onset of liver disease. In fact, the liver can still perform even if it has 70-80% of its mass affected by disease.
It’s capable of shifting into overdrive in a split second to increase its output and efficiency.
If one section (lobe) is infected with cancer, an infection, or traumatized, the remaining sections (lobes) will work harder and compensate to make sure the body’s vital functions are fulfilled.
In addition, every section (lobe) of the liver performs the exact same tasks; this makes it possible for the liver to carry out vital functions even if parts of it are affected.
While it’s certainly remarkable that a dog’s liver can keep them alive despite illness…
There’s a catch 22:
Except for the liver!
The liver is the only organ in the body that’s capable of complete regeneration.
There have been reports of cases where large parts of the liver are surgically removed, yet within a year or so the organ has regrown to its original size with no loss of function or abilities. Liver regeneration amazes clinicians all the time.
This means if we can successfully treat the disease, there’s hope for recovery.
• Waste Removal
It looks like a large, red/brown mass and is attached to the gallbladder. Though it may be hard to tell upon examination, it’s comprised of several sections called hepatic lobes.It’s purchased from a pet store, grocery store, or even online. Except it’s not found on the shelf. It comes in a different format:
The liver is an amazing organ. In fact, it’s been said that it performs over 1,000 different tasks all of which could not be carried out elsewhere and are vital to life. To list all of the functions it performs, would fill an entire book. But it’s important for you to understand what it does in the general sense if you hope to prevent liver disease or treat it.
The liver aids in several areas of digestion, the first area being the production of proteins.
Amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are metabolized in the liver. Some of the important blood proteins manufactured in the liver are “albumin” and “globulins.” Their duties consist of maintaining the pressure gradient in blood vessels, transporting compounds, and performing immune responses to protect the body.
One such example is blood clotting. Amino acids as well as other proteins are not only manufactured but also stored within the liver. The liver manages these protein supplies for efficiency, only storing what is needed, and producing extra when necessary.
Therefore, when it comes to proteins, the liver produces, metabolizes, stores, and monitors these substances.
The liver also stores and metabolizes fatty acids, triglycerides and other fats.
The liver is involved in another area of digestion: the metabolism of carbohydrates and lipids. Carbs and lipid (fats) are the energy stores in your pet’s body.
The liver is in charge of the storage and release of these substances. Basically, everything that is absorbed by your pet’s digestive tract goes to the liver first. Glucose, one of the main sources of quick energy is extracted from the blood and converted to glycogen. This is stored in the liver until needed.
It’s worth noting the importance of the liver’s storage abilities because some vital substances, like metals (zinc, copper, iron) can be irritating to other types of tissue within the body. The liver pulls through making sure they are always available.
Quantities of valuable vitamin, minerals and other nutrients are always carefully monitored because excessive amounts could also be damaging to cells. The liver also stores a lot of blood, which is why it’s able to transport a large quantity of blood into general circulation if your pet were to lose large amounts of blood.
Approximately 15-20% of all blood in the body is within the liver at any time.
Most vitamins and minerals (A, D, E, K with the exception of Vitamin C) are stored or somehow regulated by the liver.
The liver also produces bile, which consists of the compounds that are produced or excreted by the liver. Bile is released through the gallbladder with the bile duct into the small intestines.
Bile aids in the breakdown of food.
While bile is in fact an accumulation of waste products that will eventually be excreted from the body, it also aids in digestion.
Detoxifying the blood is another main responsibility of the liver.
On the other hand, other materials are collected from the blood and stored for future need.
While this is occurring, potentially harmful substances are filtered and destroyed.
To illustrate just how large a role your liver plays in cleaning up and providing valuable substances in your blood, view your liver like a saturated sponge. When squeezed, it would expel large amount of blood. 15-25% of the blood in the body goes through the liver.
The liver is the first tissue that absorbs the nutrients from the stomach and intestines since every blood vessel leaving the gastrointestinal tract goes straight to the liver.
Thousands upon thousands of miles of blood vessels run through the liver and come in contact with liver cells every day. As this occurs, the liver is constantly taking from, adding to, or changing the blood that passes through it in some way.
The liver is able to break down and excrete various compounds. Some result from the byproducts and waste of normal cellular activities (urea from protein metabolism, worn out hemoglobin, cholesterol, hormones, etc.).
Others are not natural to the body such as (antibiotics, medications, sedatives, anesthetic agents, or other agents administered to pets). This destruction of harmful substances is a serious matter.
If the liver cannot eliminate these harmful substances, your pet life could be in jeopardy.
Trauma, other diseases, poor breeding and genetics, chemicals, drugs and antibiotics, toxins, or a poor diet can potentially damage the liver. Here are some known causes:
• Canine hepatitis
• Cushing syndrome
• Primary and metastatic tumor
• Diabetes mellitus
• Fungal and bacterial infections (including heartworms)
• Carbon tetrachloride
• Toxic amounts of lead, phosphorus, selenium, arsenic, and iron
• Bleach and other household chemicals
• Household cleaners
• Paint chips
• Anesthetic gases
• Anabolic steroids
• Analgesics (including NSAIDs)
• Testosterone preparations
• Chemotherapy drugs
• Certain parasiticides given over extended periods
• Certain mushrooms
• Blue-green algae
• Certain molds (aflatoxins) – which have been found in some commercial dog foods! See here for more.
However, some generally accepted early signs of liver disease include the following. If you begin to notice any of these symptoms, it warrants a trip to the vet and investigation into the matter.
• Loss of appetite
• Weight loss
• Chronic intermittent vomiting and diarrhea (vomiting is usually more common)
• Drinking and urinating more often than normal
• Disinterest in normal activities
As it progresses, the liver cells being to die and are replaced by scar tissue. This will lead to the liver becoming firm and rubber like. This is called cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis is end stage liver disease and cannot be reversed.
It’s important to get to your dog before he or she reaches this terminal stage. If so, it’s possible to recover and for the liver to heal itself and regain normal liver function.
This means proper treatment needs to be introduced early on. 80% of liver cells must die before the liver will begin to fail, so there’s time.
• Sporadic weakness
• Behavioral changes
• Yellow appearance to the whites of eyes, in mucous membranes like the gums and tongue, or inside ears
• Urine turns dark brown like the color of tea
• Putty colored stools
• Mental dullness
• Seizures and possible coma
• Swollen or bloated look
• Thumping on abdomen produces dull, flat sound
• Found in stomach, intestines, and urinary tract, vomit, stools, or urine
• Punctate hemorrhages on the gums
• Bruises on lips or skin
• Swollen lower limbs
They look for a decrease in red blood cells (anemia). They also check for elevated or decreased white blood cell counts. Though neither of these necessarily indicates liver disease.
A comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) is a complete chemistry screen that can be administered to check for the concentration of several enzymes that may indicate alterations in liver health.
These can include:
• Electrolyte levels
• Bile acid levels
In addition, a urine analysis, radiograph of the abdomen, ultrasound of the liver, or biopsy of the liver can be performed.
A CBC (complete blood count) and is usually performed to check for symptoms of liver disease.
In fact, all of the chemicals and drugs your dog is surrounded by on a daily basis can cause or contribute your dog’s liver disease. This includes any harmful lawn chemicals or household cleaners used on floors and surfaces. It can also include any drugs or antibiotics given to your dog throughout his or her life.
The foundation for preventing and even treating liver disease is proper nutrition.
If your dog is in optimal condition nutritionally, then he or she will not need the countless drugs or antibiotics shelled out at your veterinarian’s office every year (which may or may not be contributing to liver dysfunction).
If you’re dog isn’t in optimal condition, it’s time to start. There’s no point in only treating early stage liver disease with drugs and antibiotics since they can contribute to liver disfunction.
Raw food contains valuable and natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals, which are destroyed in commercial pet foods. It’s also the biologically correct food for your companion.
In addition, commercial pet foods are full of chemicals, preservatives and toxins and are the very reason dogs are sick today. Contrary to what many people believe or may have heard, a raw diet can be an appropriate diet for dogs with liver disease.
You’ll also need to work hard to remove dangerous chemicals and toxins from your dog’s environment. You must take a holistic approach to disease by working to prevent it.
Even if your dog has already begun to suffer from the early stages of liver disease, monitoring nutrition closely, providing supplementation and removing chemicals and toxins from his environment are of utmost importance and may be the key for recovery.