Sometimes our dogs and cats are diagnosed with liver disease. Having liver disease makes you feel blah. There are a huge variety of possible liver problems. Diagnosis can be difficult but treatment is often rewarding.
The liver plays many important roles in your dogs and cats bodies.
Some of which include:
- creating and secreting bile to break down fats during digestion,
- the liver helps process nutrients from food,
- it stores vitamins and minerals
- and it removes toxins from the body.
As the liver is continuously processing so many substances, it is susceptible to damage from many different sources which can lead to inflammation of the liver, also known as hepatitis.
Early stages of liver disease can lead to swelling and enlargement of the liver. As disease progresses, liver tissue is slowly replaced by scar tissue. Once 70-80% of liver has been damaged, it becomes irreversible to treat.
The good news is, that if liver disease is caught in its early stages, it can often be effectively managed, and progression can be slowed.
At Pittwater Animal Hospital, we are able to detect and treat a variety of liver diseases. However, though we can learn important information through diagnostics and imaging, a definitive diagnosis is often only available following liver biopsy. (Liver biopsy is an invasive step not commonly performed. )
Liver disease can be developed from a large number of causes which include bacterial or viral infections, drugs, toxins, genetic factors, cancer and endocrine diseases (for example diabetes, Cushing’s and hyperthyroidism).
Some signs of liver disease include:
- Drinking or urinating more
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in behaviour
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin)
By performing blood tests, we can look out for elevated liver enzymes in the blood. This may allow us to understand the cause of the liver disease and the likely progression. A decrease of albumin may also indicate liver damage as albumin is one of the many proteins produced by the liver.
If liver disease is suspected, we will often perform a bile acid test to determine the function of the liver. This involves taking a blood sample from your pet before eating and again 2 hours after it has been fed. Both samples will be tested for bile acid levels.
Healthy livers “recycle” bile acids, so animals with healthy livers will have low readings before and after feeding. If liver cells are not functioning well, they do not remove the bile acid from the blood and levels are particularly elevated after feeding.
Imaging is invaluable when assessing a problem with the liver.
Xrays can show the size and shape of the liver as well as screen for any other changes in the abdomen or chest.
Ultrasound can look at soft tissue changes in the liver such as nodules and masses, examine the bile ducts and gall bladder as well as detect any free fluid in the abdomen. Ultrasonic imaging of nearby organs such as the pancreas and duodenum help characterize the class of liver disease.
To diagnose exact changes in the liver, examination of a piece of liver or liver biopsy is needed. This is an invasive procedure especially in an unwell animal. Animals with liver disease will often have problems with blood clotting so intensive preparation is needed before a liver biopsy.
Due to the invasive nature of liver biopsy, it is often not performed. Your veterinarian may then only be able to give you an inexact diagnosis of what process is happening in your dog or cats liver.
Early treatment is crucial for pets with acute liver failure.
For chronic liver failure, supportive treatment is directed at decreasing complications, slowing the progression of disease, and providing more time for the liver to recover.
Treatments may include:
- IV fluids in acute cases
- Antibiotics if your pet has a liver infection
- Lactulose to bind toxins in the gut
- Diet change to reduce the liver workload but still ensure that your pet receives enough calories to maintain a good weight.
- Medication to prevent nausea
- Antioxidants and hepatoprotectants to protect the liver cells
There are several things you could do to prevent your pet from acquiring acute or chronic liver failure
- Keep toxic substances such as antifreeze, rodenticides and pesticides away from your pets.
- Know which foods are harmful to your pet such as avocados, beer, macadamia nuts, caffeine and chocolate
- Dogs can be vaccinated against infectious hepatitis and leptospirosis
- Have your pet maintain a healthy diet and exercise.
- Schedule regular examinations with Pittwater Animal Hospital. We offer routine blood tests at various stages of your pet’s life. These tests will screen for any changes in liver enzymes and will help detect early signs of liver disease.
FAQs about liver disease.
What does it mean if my cat or dog has liver disease
If your dog or cat has liver disease they have a problem the toxin removal and vitamin producing system of the body. This can lead to chronic illness and death.
Liver disease can be picked up in routine screening when your animal is otherwise healthy. Changes in the blood can happen well before your pet becomes unwell.
If picked up early, it is a great opportunity to slow down the progression of liver damage. We can then identify and treat any other problems, modify the diet and carefully monitor body weight and appetite and identify factors which make things worse early.
What if my cat or dog is sick with liver disease
Sick animals will have either acute (sudden onset) liver disease which is best treated with intensive care, or they will have advanced chronic liver disease. An unwell animal with advance, chronic liver disease may have few treatment options.
What is end stage liver disease?
When your cat or dog has significant changes in their liver function they will often develop end stage liver disease. In humans, these patients would be waiting for a liver transplant. Sadly this is not something offered for most of our pets.
The signs of end stage liver disease in cats and dogs include
- chronic vomiting – many times daily
- increase in water intake
- decreased appetite – leading to not eating at all
- yellowing of the white of the eyes and gums – jaundice
- weight loss
- changes in the faecal consistency
- possible seizures
What can I do if my cat or dog has end stage liver disease?
As liver disease progresses your pet’s quality of life becomes worse and worse. Intensive treatment with intravenous fluids can improve their condition, however they will commonly deteriorate in the days and weeks after fluid therapy is stopped. Dying of end stage liver disease is extremely unpleasant, as pets dehydrate and waste away then, commonly develop a seizure disorder. Most animals will be euthanaised to avoid this unpleasant death.
When should I decide to euthanaise my cat or dog with end stage liver disease?
Due to the chronic progressive nature of liver disease, once your pet’s physical condition deteriorates things are likely to get worse in coming days. Once your pet is not eating, is vomiting constantly or has started to seizure it is time to consider euthanasia. To learn more about what happens at Pittwater Animal Hospital look at Final Care For Your Pet.
Could I have stopped my cat or dog from developing liver disease?
Liver disease isnot uncommon in our pets.Keeping your cat or dog healthy in other ways through their lives with good dental health, treatment of any infections and a good quality diet is very protective.
When should my cat or dog have screening tests for liver disease?
It is useful to have a routine blood test at desexing to establish your pet’s baseline blood values. Then any time your pet has an anesthetic, another blood test should be performed.
In dogs over 7 years and cats over 10 years a full senior assessment with blood and urine tests is invaluable for detecting and monitoring any changes in liver function.
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