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Health & Wellness

Understanding liver disease and how it affects dogs

Liver disease covers a wide range of conditions, making every dog's experience with it different.

Believe it or not, liver disease isn't just one sickness that affects dogs. It's an umbrella term for any condition that impacts a pup's liver.

That means there aren't standard symptoms or treatment options for liver disease — every pet's case can be different. It's important for pet parents to look out for a wide range of signs so they can get help if their dog needs it. Here's what you need to know.

What causes liver disease in dogs?

Liver disease isn’t just one medical condition. “It’s a very general term for any disease that affects the liver,” Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, explains. 

According to Dr. Singler, liver disease can be a congenital condition (aka present at birth), something that appears over time or infection, inflammation, cancer, a disease caused by toxins, hereditary conditions or other disease types that affect the liver. 

Symptoms of liver disease in dogs

Because liver disease can mean so many different conditions, the symptoms will vary and depend on the root cause. Generally, Dr. Singler says to look for lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss as signs of liver disease.

“Severe disease can present through yellowing of the skin, gums and whites of the eyes, seizures, a bloated belly, neurological changes and trouble breathing might be present,” D. Singler adds. 

If your dog is showing any liver disease signs, especially signs of severe conditions, you should promptly call your vet or schedule an examination to diagnose what’s causing these symptoms. 

Is liver disease in dogs curable?

The ability to cure liver disease depends on the root cause. “Some instances can be managed with diet and/or medication, and others will continue to get worse over time,” Dr. Singler shares.

RELATED: Understanding the 4 stages of kidney disease in dogs

Treatment for liver disease in dogs

Again, treatment for liver disease depends on the root cause. For example, some pups will need more serious intervention like surgery to remove a tumor or close a liver shunt, Dr. Singler says. 

“Other dogs may need immunosuppressive medication, liver-supporting supplements, a prescription diet, medication to reduce toxin formation in the gut that won’t be cleared well by the liver, antibiotics, dewormers, IV fluids, hospitalization, blood transfusions, vitamin K to prevent excessive bleeding or other medications as needed,” Dr. Singler adds.

Frustrating as it might be, every case of liver disease is different and will require different treatment. It’s best to consult your veterinarian about your dog’s particular type of disease to know which solution is best.

Is liver disease preventable?

The nature of liver disease means that prevention is only possible for certain forms. However, some types are preventable with regular vaccination, protection from toxin exposure, good nutrition and regular veterinary care to catch and treat any conditions early, Dr. Singler explains.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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