Are you one of the pet owners burdened by your dog’s liver issues this holiday season? Do you feel like you don’t know where to turn or who to listen to?
The hard truth is your furry friend is beginning to show signs for the early stages of liver disease and you’re quite worried.
Before you mentally throw in the towel and start cherishing every last moment with your beloved companion – stop. Breathe. Take that frustrated energy and redirect it into a mission to heal your best friend and put him on the road to recovery.
As you might have read in our article on canine liver disease, the liver has the ability to regenerate itself.
If your dog has not yet reached end stage liver disease, there’s hope for recovery. Yet, with so much conflicting information, how do you decide which diet is appropriate for your little (or big) guy? More important, which foods will aid in recovery and which foods will exacerbate the condition further? This leads me to my first point.
Commercial Pet Foods Are Not Suitable for Dogs with Liver Disease
What’s ironic is that many people believe feeding a raw diet is acceptable for a healthy dog, but it’s less than ideal or flat out dangerous for sick dogs. They claim raw diets are risky for dogs with compromised livers because one of the main jobs of the liver is to filter out toxins.
This is a prime example of an oxymoron. Commercial pet food is the epitome of toxic.
To begin, it’s a processed food. If you had cancer or organ failure would you eat McDonald’s or processed convenience foods everyday? I’d bet you wouldn’t – unless you had a death wish.
Well, feeding commercial pet foods might deliver the same result. Commercial pet food typically contains:
- Poor quality rendered protein that can contain diseased, sick, or euthanized animals.
- Grains and/or starchy vegetables in considerably higher quantities than meat leading to nutritional deficiencies in dogs and cats
- High amounts of rendered animal fat or vegetable fat and oils from leftover restaurant grease traps. This is often sprayed over the kibble to make it appealing to your dog.
- Low nutrient foods. The ingredients used in pet foods are often a poor quality to begin with. Then these already nutrient deficient foods are cooked twice, first in rendering, second in the extruder. This harsh process destroys what vitamins, minerals or enzymes the food originally had and is the reason manufacturers must fortify the food.
- Preservatives (chemical or natural)
- Additives and emulsifiers such as: anti caking and anti gelling agents, artificial colors and flavors, curing and drying agents, condiments, humectants, grinding agents, leavening agents, palatants, lubricants, pelleting agents, petroleum by products, pH controlling agents, stabilizers, spices, sweeteners, thickeners and texturizers.
- Low moisture content
In addition, the processed nature of the food makes it difficult for your dog to digest.
A lifetime of commercial, dry pet food is the reason dogs are sick today. Dogs fed conventional kibble suffer serious nutritional deficiencies and receive daily doses of toxins, which lead to diseases of modern civilization like diabetes, cancers, and liver disease.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s a must-read article from Dog’s Naturally Magazine that goes over the results from a consumer-funded pet food evaluation. Unfortunately the results show that a shocking number of kibble brands contain dangerous toxins and molds that can contribute to cancer and liver disease. Hopefully this will motivate you to ditch the kibble.
Though any kind of commercial kibble can be less than ideal, it’s worth mentioning that commercial pet food manufactured in China should be avoided like the plague. China has a history of tainted foods with heavy use of chemicals and additives. The death count for innocent pets that consumed pet food or treats from China is considerable already.
Prescription Pet Food for Liver Disease Is No Better
You may be thinking, “duh… I’m not feeding regular pet food. I’m feeding pet food prescribed by my veterinarian.” Well, you might want to think again.
The pet food industry learned a long time ago that there’s a great opportunity to sell exclusive veterinary diets for the treatment of liver disease and other serious conditions. Unfortunately, they still contain poor quality ingredients, lower amounts of protein than normal (which can be counterproductive for dogs with liver disease – the liver needs protein to heal), starchy vegetables, and tons of preservatives and additives.
To be honest, they aren’t’ all that different from regular commercial pet foods. See for yourself.
Here are the ingredients for Hills Prescription Diet LD for Canine Hepatic Health:
“Brewers Rice, Pork Fat, Dried Egg Product, Soybean Meal, Powdered Cellulose, Flaxseed, Pork Protein Isolate, Chicken Liver Flavor, Dicalcium Phosphate, Lactic Acid, Soybean Oil, Potassium Chloride, Dried Beet Pulp, Calcium Carbonate, Glycerol Monostearate, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (source of vitamin K)), Choline Chloride, Iodized Salt, L-Arginine, Taurine, DL-Methionine, minerals (Zinc Oxide, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), L-Carnitine, L-Tryptophan, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, Phosphoric Acid, Beta-Carotene, Natural Flavors.”
Here are the ingredients for Hills Healthy Advantage Adult Canine:
“Chicken, Brown Rice, Whole Grain Wheat, Cracked Pearled Barley, Soybean Meal, Chicken Meal, Pork Fat, Chicken Liver Flavor, Dried Egg Product, Oat Groats, Lactic Acid, Soybean Oil, Vegetable & fruit blend (Green Peas, Apples, Cranberries, Carrots, Broccoli), Dried Beet Pulp, Iodized Salt, Flaxseed, Calcium Carbonate, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), Choline Chloride, minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Taurine, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, Phosphoric Acid, Beta-Carotene, Natural Flavors.”
What do you think; do they look that different?
What About The Risk of Bacteria?
Many veterinarians along with pet food industry proponents claim that raw foods contain dangerous bacteria.When it comes to illness or disease they use this argument to add fuel to the fire, asserting that sick animals can’t handle the added complication of bacteria and pathogens in raw meat.
Let me ask you one question. How many recalls have their been of commercial raw pet foods? Maybe a handful. How many have there been for kibble? Too many to count! Are you aware of how many pets became seriously ill or die from contaminated kibble each year?
Raw pet food gets a bad rap and is constantly claimed to be dangerous, but it’s nowhere near as dangerous as kibble. In fact, the pet food industry and the FDA go as far as trying to sway public opinion that raw food is more dangerous than dry food. You do the math, you’ll see their statements don’t add up.
The bottom line is that statistically, there’s a much higher risk for salmonella poisoning when feeding conventional kibble compared to raw foods. A look at the numbers should tell you all you need to know.
If you want the best chances for avoiding food borne pathogens, transition to a homemade raw diet (BARF or prey model) from food fit for human consumption.
How Do We Heal Liver Disease?
Okay, we went on a bit of a rant to explain why commercial pet foods and veterinary prescribed commercial diets for liver disease are no good. Instead of once again stating the benefits of raw feeding, let’s just get into the meat and potatoes of this post – what do we feed to reverse liver issues?
The following 7 suggestions and their explanations are provided below:
1. Remove Toxins
First and foremost, remove anything from your dog’s environment (inside or out) that can be potentially toxic and is known to contribute to liver disease.
Chemicals used in your yard and inside your home are dangerous to your dog. Make sure to always use products that are safe for pets whether it’s rock salt, lawn fertilizers or pest products. These include:
There’s probably an arsenal of dangerous chemicals in your home that are capable of harming your dog. Household cleaners and anything used on surfaces and floors can be toxic to your pets.
Remember, dogs lie on the floor, eat things off the floor, then lick themselves. They’re inadvertently ingesting chemicals on a daily basis.
Always use all natural cleaning products safe for pets. Homemade cleaning products are just as effective at eliminating germs and bacteria compared to standard household cleaners and are safe for your pets. Some dangerous cleaning chemical include:
- Carbon Tetracholride (found in fire extinguishers and cleaning agents)
- Household chemicals
While the following substances aren’t generally dangerous, toxic amounts are very dangerous and are known to cause poisoning and damage to the liver.
- Lead (commonly found in lead dust and paint chips of older homes, and a plethora of other objects)
- Phosphorus (commonly found in fertilizers, pesticides, and rodenticides)
- Selenium (commonly occurring after consuming plants or water with high selenium content. Be aware of indicator plants that require selenium for growth. They’re called obligate selenium accumulators)
- Arsenic (commonly found in rat poison, insecticides, herbicides and wood preservatives)
- Iron (occurs after pets accidentally consume vitamin and mineral supplements, especially high iron prenatal vitamins, disposable hand warmers, and iron fortified fertilizers)
Chemicals aren’t the only danger; drugs and medications pose a serious risk. Make sure your supplements, antibiotics, and drugs are kept out of reach of pets. A common cause of liver damage is accidental consumption of medications and supplements.
Human medications don’t pose the only risk. Canine prescriptions have serious side effects and long-term use often leads to the deterioration of the liver as well.
- Anesthetic gases
- Anabolic steroids
- Analgesics (including NSAIDs)
- Testosterone preparations
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Certain parasiticides given over extended periods
Last, while this is harder to control than the other areas of toxins, do your best to make sure your dog doesn’t have access to areas with toxic plants and herbs. Some known to affect the liver are:
- Certain mushrooms
- Blue-green algae
- Certain molds (aflatoxin)
2. Skip Low Protein Diets
Despite what many believe, dogs were built to eat meat and actually digest raw protein the easiest. So, it’s certainly fitting that we feed raw protein (biologically appropriate foods) when our dogs are sick. These foods don’t strain the body. Plus, proteins with high biological values leave less waste for the liver to deal with.
To help drive this point home, I’ve solicited the help of two ACAN (American Council of Animal Naturopathy) practitioners and one ACAN certified Carnivore Nutrition Consultant to contribute their views on the subject.
Practitioners Dr. Kim Bloomer, CVND, ND and Dr. Jeanette Thomason, CVND both hold doctorate degrees in Veterinary Naturopathy. They assert that when our dogs are not fed a species appropriate diet, their organs become overburdened carrying out work they were not originally designed to do.
They go on to state, “Poor quality, cooked, and or processed protein cannot be flushed through the colon effectively. Thus, the toxins are reabsorbed into the body. So when you’re deciding on the right diet for your pet with liver disease, be sure to do your homework and research. A raw, carnivore specific diet is the best and most easily digested diet there is for healing or maintaining health.”
Though, for dog owners, one of the biggest challenges in treating liver disease is sorting through all the misinformation out there.
Carole Milligan, a certified carnivore nutrition consultant, explains how it’s common for many vets to prescribe low protein diets in cases of liver disease. Dr. Bloomer and Thomason agree, saying, “Since the liver is the organ that aids in processing protein, it has been taught in veterinary medicine that because dogs with liver shunts and/or liver disease have impaired liver function, they should be fed a reduced amount of protein.”
There’s several reason you don’t want to follow this advice.
First, protein is important for liver health. In fact, poor quality proteins or too little protein for that matter can further damage the liver. Even more important, protein is necessary for regeneration of the liver. So, if you’re not feeding enough protein, your liver isn’t getting what it needs to heal.
Second, feeding less protein is incorrectly advised because it came about from tests completed with cooked or processed protein, not tests completed with raw protein! Not only is cooked or processed protein a poor quality, the moisture content is removed making the protein count higher.
To elaborate, when meat is cooked for as little as 3 minutes at temperatures above 177 degrees F, “the molecular structure is altered, the proteins coagulate and denature and essential amino acids are destroyed.” Therefore, cooked meat is actually higher in protein than raw meat! This happens because the molecular structure of raw meat changes and all moisture is removed, condensing the protein.
Raw proteins are 60-70% water. To check the protein content of the raw meats you’re feeding, visit the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
There was another study conducted in 1993 at the Utrecht University in the Netherlands on Great Dane puppies. The professor of Veterinary Medicine at the university, Herman A Hazewinkel, D.V.M., Ph.D., led the research and found:
- no detrimental effects from high levels of protein (up to 32 percent of the diet).
- low percentages of protein in the diet did affect the health of puppies negatively.
- The study concluded that high protein did not negatively effect the skeletal or cartilage development in these dogs, nor did it have detrimental effects on the function of the liver and kidney.
The point I’m trying to make. Take advice that dogs with liver disease need to be on a low protein diet with a grain of salt.
Dr. Bloomer and Dr. Thomason’s closing statements were, “It needs to be understood right here and now that our dogs are carnivores and are designed to require a RAW protein based diet to thrive – something they especially need when ailing to support their immune system in order to heal.”
3. Feed High Quality Proteins
As pet owners and caregivers, we should always strive to serve the best quality protein that we can afford.
However, when you’re dealing with a sick dog, feeding quality protein is of utmost importance. Carole Milligan explains that “the amount and type of protein fed to a dog with liver shunt or liver disease needs to be of excellent quality.” This means, we should feed raw, natural, organic, and non-medicated meats. Grass fed or pasture raised meats are best.
These meats will have:
- the right combination of amino acids
- an improved fatty acid composition
- higher levels of healthy omega-3s
- a better saturated fat composition
- increased antioxidants, vitamins and minerals
- 2 to 3 more times conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which has potent antioxidant activity and is known to protect against heart disease, diabetes, and cancers.
4. Moderate Ammonia
One of the tasks of the liver is to remove ammonia, a by-product of protein digestion. Normally when the liver removes ammonia, it’s converted to urea. Ammonia is toxic; urea is not.
It’s common to believe protein is what affects dogs with liver disease; rather it’s the ammonia from certain animal proteins that can be damaging. It’s important to note that ammonia is only problematic for certain liver conditions like shunts or advanced/end stage liver disease.
It may be necessary to moderate ammonia if your dog has a liver condition that may compromise it’s ability to process ammonia.
Dogs whose livers cannot remove ammonia may often show signs for Hepatic Encephalopathy. This is a dangerous type of brain dysfunction created by high levels of ammonia and other toxins in the blood.
Hepatic Encephalopathy is generally a symptom of liver failure and end stage liver disease. Most livers that have not yet reached this point are still capable of carrying out the duty of ammonia removal even if a small portion of the liver is affected. It’s important to be aware of this possibility and plan accordingly nonetheless.
Red meats and organs are extremely healthful for your dog but they also produce the most ammonia. They should not be eliminated entirely because they contain important nutrients that help with liver function. However, they may need to be restricted depending on what type of liver disease or condition your dog has. If feeding red meat, it should be the best quality red meat you can find.
Fish, poultry and eggs produce the least amount of ammonia and can be fed in higher quantities.
5. Moderate Fat, Feed Only Easily Digestible Fats
Bile acid is produced in the liver from cholesterol and other compounds. It’s stored and released through the gallbladder. Bile acid aids in the breakdown of food, helps with fat absorption, and moderates levels of cholesterol.
Dogs in the advanced stages of liver failure may show signs for another condition called Jaundice. This condition occurs when the liver’s ability to excrete bile is exceeded which causes the bile to accumulate in the body and the blood, staining the tissues yellow. Dogs with jaundice may have a yellow appearance to the whites of the eyes, gums, tongue, or inside ears. Their urine may also turn dark brown and their stools may be putty colored.
Because fat is processed in the liver and gall bladder, too much fat could further stress the liver. If your dog’s liver health is in question or is advanced, you might want to be careful about feeding too much fat. Fat shouldn’t be avoided because it’s important for canine health, but it should be moderated. The fat fed should also be kinds that are easily digested such as fats found from animal protein sources.
Raw meats known to be greasy and rich in fat are duck, lamb, bison, buffalo, or certain low quality cuts of beef (from concentrated feeding lots) or meat packing plants. Marrow bones also have a high fat content.
Supplementation is important for sick dogs. Though we’d like to think that feeding an all natural, organic, raw diet will provide all that our dogs need to be healthy, that’s not always the case, nor is it always easy or possible to get our hands on truly natural foods.
Supplementation is a great way to provide extra nutrients our dogs need to heal. The following is a great list of supplements that can be provided to dogs with liver disease. These can be offered in whole food form like herbs, fruits and vegetables, or with a high-quality supplement.
Note: Always consult with your veterinarian for dosage information and prior to incorporating supplements to make sure they don’t interact with anything else you may be giving your dog.
Milk Thistle – A powerful antioxidant known for protecting liver tissue and helping to regenerate damaged liver tissue. Research has proven that milk thistle may also be able to prevent or reduce medication induced liver disease or damage by flushing out medication and chemicals residing in the body. It’s also helps to improve allergies. The recommended dose of milk thistle is ¼ teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight per day. It’s advised that the daily dose not be administered at once but broken into 2-3 doses throughout the day.
B Complex Vitamins & Vitamin C– These vitamins groups are required for healthy cells. In addition, these vitamins are water-soluble. This means the vitamins are not stored in the body and must be replaced each day. Dogs with liver disease often have trouble retaining water-soluble vitamins, so it may be a good idea to supplement these.
Vitamin K – This fat-soluble vitamin is necessary for the proper clotting of blood. Vitamin K deficiency can cause internal or external bleeding. Dogs with advanced or end stage liver disease may have integral bleeding because their livers have trouble with blood clotting. Vitamin K can be supplemented with probiotic bacteria that will help restore the ability to produce Vitamin K within the body.
Probiotics – The beneficial bacteria in probiotics helps to improve immune function in the gastrointestinal tract. Acidophilus, a beneficial bacterium in most probiotic mixes contains ellagic acid and tannins that have protective liver properties. In addition, probiotics help to keep beneficial gut bacteria that may have been lost due to vomiting, diarrhea or other stresses. And as mentioned above, intestinal bacteria manufactures vitamin k, a vitamin important for liver health. This is why it’s important to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.
Bone Broth – Bone broth has a wide range of beneficial properties and should be fed to any sick dog. More importantly, bone broth contains an important amino acid for liver health. Since the liver’s job is to remove toxins from the body, its ability to remove toxins is dependent on the availability of the amino acid glycine. Bone broth is an excellent source of glycine. Glycine helps the liver to perform vital detox activities, it also aids in digestion by regulating synthesis of bile salts and gastric acid secretion. Make a pot of bone broth and serve alone or with food.
Sam E (Denosyl) – Sam E is a natural biochemical made in the body from the amino acid methionine. Studies have shown that it boosts and supports liver function. It’s been shown that it increases gluthathione levels in the livers of dogs, protects liver cells from death, and can be helpful in cell repair and healing. While you should consult your veterinarian, recommended dosages are often 200 milligrams per fifty pounds of body weight provided in between meals.
Certain Amino Acids –L-Carnitine and L-Arginine are liver supporting amino acids. L-Carnitine is recommended in 500 milligrams per fifty pounds of body weight daily and L-Arginine is recommended in 250 milligrams per fifty pounds of body weight daily.
Incorporate Liver Cleansing Foods (Apple Cider Vinegar) – Some foods can have very positive effect on the liver and are known to promote bile flow. One such example of a liver cleansing food is apple cider vinegar. It helps to harmonize the liver and promote cleansing. Feel free to add ¼ – 1 teaspoon into food.
7. Provide Clean, Filtered Water
Dogs can certainly drink tap water but think about why you drink filtered water. Tap water can contain contaminants like heavy metals, excessive minerals, chlorine, or pesticides.
If you have a sick dog or a dog with liver disease, providing clean filtered water will help remove additional toxins, making things easier on your dog and their liver.
We love our dogs like our children and while there’s no doubt that your dog’s liver issues may be keeping you up at night, there is something you can do because liver has the ability to regenerate!
I recommend learning all you can about liver disease (see blogs run by trusted, pro-raw veterinarians here) and taking a holistic approach to treating it through proper diet and supplementation.
Be sure to visit your veterinarian to have blood panels and other tests completed to determine the condition and functionality of your dog’s liver. Being aware of what type of liver issues or disease your dog has will be key in formulating an appropriate diet and deciding on supplements needed.
Follow the 7 steps provided above and hopefully your dog will be on the path to recovery.
Please note: Comments are best used for discussion on the topic as a whole. Feel free to help others by sharing knowledge, something that has worked for your dog, or provide suggestions for others looking for help with liver disease.
If you’re looking to discuss your dog’s medical condition, contact me through email. I’m no longer able to respond to individual health queries in the comments area. But I will continue to approve comments so that you can converse with other readers.
And last, I’m not currently providing liver disease recipes due to legal/liability reasons but am looking into how I can best offer this in the future! Sign up for the Primal Pooch email list (through the homepage) to stay abreast of these changes.